Law School Personal Statements

girl on laptopIf you are like most people, you may find the task of essay writing to be difficult enough. Coming up with the right ideas, figuring out how to explain them, capturing the precise language, editing (grammar, spellcheck, checking spellcheck, etc), revising, throwing out ideas, deleting stale language, only to learn that your essay has become about something else entirely. It is a maddening, time consuming process that involves multiple parts of your brain working altogether at once, a cacophony of voices talking past each other, and attention to a wide array of issues, both major and minor, global and local, all at once.

Now, if the essay at hand is a highly constrained one which will determine the course of your existence, the task probably becomes even more daunting. How can anyone work under such intense pressure, when so much is at stake? Yet pretending that the personal statement isn’t important is just naive – it really does impact your future. Given the stakes involved, how are you to find the strength – let alone the substance and style – to craft a flawless personal statement? Writing is hard enough without the pressure.

The world-renowned legal writing expert and Yale Law School Professor, Robert (Rob) Harrison, has just the trick: Connect with your Multiple (Writing) Personalities. You see, all of the different tasks and voices involved in essay writing can and should be separated out. Besides freeing you up from the cacophonous headache, doing so can help you write in a more controlled, relaxed mode. The key to doing so is realizing that there isn’t just one of you writing – there are four of you. Identifying and unraveling these four writing personalities from one another will help you conquer your personal statement.

Meet your four writing personalities: The Lunatic, The Architect, The Carpenter and The Critic. Each of these writing personalities has a different agenda, which is often dissimilar from the others. Engage them one at a time, as they are needed, and you will make the process much easier for yourself.

Even though the Critic is last in the list, we want you to meet him first. He is probably quite familiar to you. The Critic is, well, your Critic. He stands there over your shoulder, annoyingly pointing out every typo before you even finish your sentence, questioning your claim before you even finish the thought, wondering aloud whether the entire essay is worthwhile at all. On the one hand, you probably hate him. On the other hand, without his critical evaluations, your writing really would suffer. Besides, sometimes your Critic has positive praise and enthusiastic feedback. So, the Critic certainly plays a critical role.

Often, applicants get stuck writing because they allow the Critic to hang around for the entire process. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to build a house if a design critic was pacing around the worksite constantly questioning your decisions and insisting that you start all over again? It would be pretty much impossible.

Thus, the key to using your Critic effectively and productively is to ask him to leave the room while you begin the process. Your Critic should be one of the last people to look at your work before you submit it to LSAC. Just as your dream school’s dean of admissions shouldn’t be breathing down your neck as your write, neither should your Critic. Let him wait outside as you give yourself a chance to work without his snooping around. Worry not, you will let him in when you have something to show him. But we hope that showing him the door in the meantime will free you up to work at relative ease.

The Lunatic is an idea producer. He is, as his title suggests, slightly imbalanced and has little regard for structure, spelling, grammar, or aesthetics. The Lunatic just writes whatever comes to his mind – nothing else. He is the ultimate free associator, the ultimate artist. He just lets whatever is on his mind flow out onto the paper – zero filter.

How do you get in touch with your inner Lunatic?

Set a timer for 10-15 minutes, shut off your email and turn off your phone. If you work well with music, turn it up. Some people find that that their ideas flow more easily when they write by hand, given them a more tactile experience. Do whatever works for you. Take a deep breath, and then just write. And don’t stop until the timer rings.