Applying to law school requires you to showcase your writing skills in the form of statements, essays, short-answer questions and other documents.
Every applicant must submit a personal statement, résumé and letters of recommendation, and most law schools offer applicants the opportunity to submit additional information about themselves in the form of optional essays. Although these essays are termed “optional,” it is actually in your best interest to submit any essay for which you can articulate a strong, well-drafted response that provides relevant additional information.
The most common two types of optional essays are: (1) a diversity statement and (2) a “Why ‘X Law School’?” essay. Some law schools may provide additional prompts to which you are permitted to respond. For example, Georgetown Law offers applicants the choice among four prompts for an optional 250-word essay (e.g., “How would your friends describe you? Did they miss anything?”) as well as the option to submit a video statement in place of an essay. Michigan Law suggests eight essay topics, and applicants are permitted to submit up to 2. Regardless of the nature of the essays, consider them an opportunity to round out your application and provide another writing sample.
Guidance to the Application Documents
- Personal Statement
The personal statement is your opportunity tell law schools about yourself and paint a picture beyond your academic credentials. The statement should provide the reviewer with insights about the applicant and the applicant’s interest in pursuing a legal education. Applicants often use the personal statement to provide further insight into their personality, background, personal interests, or matters that are not fully present in other parts of the application.
The personal statement must be the applicant’s original work in their own words. Each school has guidelines that govern requirements for length, but generally it should be no more than two double-spaced pages. The personal statement must be included with the application at the time of
submission. The personal statement’s header must include the student’s name, LSAC account number, and be titled “Personal Statement.”
- Letters of Recommendation
Most law schools will require two letters of recommendation and many show a strong preference for academic references for applicants, unless you are more than five years out of college.
In requesting a letter of recommendation, your goal should be to contact someone who knows you over a period of time and thinks well of your work. Try to reach out to professors and supervisors who have seen you in either academic or professional contexts and can readily compare your work with that of other students, including previous and current GW applicants. Settings in which your writing, communication, research, and analytical skills are being utilized and observed are usually best. This person should be both willing and able to take the time to write a thoughtful and thorough evaluation. If the recommender is well-known in his or her field, this can be an added plus, but only if the other factors are there. In other words, it is preferable to have a strong, detailed letter of recommendation from someone who knows you well than a few lines from a famous professor who can say very little about you specifically.
When asking for letters of recommendation, it is important to get a genuine sense whether he or she is indeed willing to write for you. Your request should be phrased in such a way that, if the potential recommender does not feel comfortable writing for you, he or she can gracefully decline. Pressuring someone to write a letter for you is likely to result either in a lukewarm or qualified recommendation, which ultimately may do more harm than good. A tactful question, for example, might be, "Do you feel you know me well enough to write a strong letter of recommendation supporting my applications to law school?" With that in mind, you should aim to make this request in person if possible; if not, then a phone call is appropriate. Only if no other way is feasible should you ask someone by email to write you a letter of recommendation.
Once he or she agrees to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf, it can be helpful to discuss your academic interests and your career plans with your recommender. Letters are most effective when the writer can describe you as being well-suited to a particular goal. Remember that career goals are a work in progress and that you can easily discuss your general interests, as well as specific plans, depending on your situation. Your recommender will also be curious about your background. To that end, providing an updated resume, current transcript, and any other relevant information is usually very helpful.
Once your recommender agrees to write on your behalf, it is always useful to mention your timeframe and, if necessary, a general deadline by which you would like this letter submitted. Giving a recommender at least 3-4 weeks to write a letter on your behalf is a good rule of thumb. Be sure to be as flexible as possible, while still maintaining a realistic sense of when this task must be completed. After the initial request has been made, you should feel free to follow up appropriately, but not excessively.
Sending Letters of Recommendation
Since most law schools give more credibility to confidential recommendations, we strongly suggest that you indeed waive your right to view your letters of recommendation.
All law schools will accept letters of recommendation from the LSAC's Letter of Recommendation (LOR) Service. If your letters of recommendation are being sent directly to LSAC, please make sure to provide your recommender with the corresponding LOR Form and a stamped envelope addressed to LSAC to expedite this process. It is your responsibility to keep track of the status of your letters of recommendation.
Once your letters of recommendation arrive at LSAC, you will be asked to direct your letters on file to individual law schools through the LOR Service; you will make that determination based on each law school's required number of letters, or the applicant's desire to target certain letters to certain law schools. It is not at all necessary to have targeted letters of recommendation for specific law schools, though if it's appropriate in your situation, then it is certainly an option.
Addenda (addendum is the singular noun form) are optional law school application attachments used to briefly explain questionable content or inconsistencies disclosed in the application. In the addendum, you can take the opportunity to explain something in your background that may be perceived by law school admission committees as a “weakness.” Criminal activity or a drastic change in GPA from one semester to another are examples of why a student may consider including an addendum in their application.
Law schools definitely review application addenda. While the addenda can certainly help address questionable items in an application, applicants should not rely on an addendum to cancel out the effect of a low GPA or LSAT score.
Use the opportunity to be honest, transparent, and to show the committee that the issue you are highlighting is not an accurate reflection of your academic potential or character. Show integrity by
disclosing the full story of your situation, explain your behavior concisely, and accept responsibility for how your conduct impacted you and others. You may want to speak to what you have learned from these experiences and what changes have occurred that will support your ability to be successful in law school and beyond. Follow the formatting guidelines provided by each school to which you are applying.
- Diversity Statement
A diversity statement is a common type of optional essay that encourages applicants to reflect on any personal diversity that they may contribute if selected as a member of the incoming class. The most important thing to realize is that “diversity” is interpreted broadly by law school admissions offices and is not limited to race or ethnicity. Diversity includes any element of your identity, circumstances, or experiences that you believe may give you a diverse perspective from fellow classmates or a different lens through which you view the world.
Relevant types of diversity may include (but are not limited to) race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religious identification, sexual orientation, military experience, single parenting, nontraditional age, underrepresented major (e.g., STEM majors) or first-generation student status. It is not, however, sufficient to merely identify a type of diversity. You should go one step further and articulate (1) how that diversity has impacted you personally and (2) why it may give you a unique perspective that enriches the law school class. It is not easy to articulate why your diversity matters, so it may take significant time to prepare a solid first draft. If you don’t feel that you have a meaningful type of diversity, then don’t submit a diversity statement. More importantly, don’t stress about not submitting a diversity statement! It is truly an optional statement and you will not be penalized for choosing not to submit one.
- Why? Statement
Many law schools offer applicants the opportunity to use a separate “Why ‘X Law School’?” essay in order to articulate specific reasons why the applicant believes the school would be a strong fit.
Presumably, if you are applying to a school, there were reasons that led you to apply to that school above other similarly situated law schools. If a school permits such an essay, you should make the effort to write one.
Start by identifying your actual reasons for applying, then do more research. What classes would you be most interested in taking? What clinics interest you? Does the school have a particular focus or philosophy that you appreciate (e.g., law and economics, law in action)? Does the school place a significant number of graduates in the area in which you are most interested (e.g., public interest law, “big law”)? Does it have smaller class sizes than the average law school? By providing evidence of your strong interest in a school and of an appropriate fit, you can increase your likelihood of admission. So do your research, but don’t just regurgitate information from the website or other sources. Internalize the information, and reflect on why that information is important to you. If you truly can’t find something substantive to say about the school, reconsider applying there.
Here are some basic suggestions about preparing résumés and some sample résumés to use as examples. Please make an appointment with the GW Career Services Center professionals to review your draft résumé.
Berkeley Law Resources:
- What Is a Résumé?
- Effective Résumés
- Writing Your Résumé
- Résumé Suggestions
- Finalizing Your Résumé
- Sample Student Résumés (PDF) These are included as a PDF to preserve formatting, an essential element of effective résumé-drafting.
Presentations and Webcasts
- Video: 1L Résumé Workshop (2021)
- Video: 1L Résumé Workshop (2020)
- Creating Public Interest and Public Sector Résumés (Webcast, Windows Media Player)
- Creating Private Sector Résumés (Webcast, Windows Media Player).
- Mac users: download the PowerPoint version.