“Do I Have to Explain Why I Want to Be a Lawyer?” and Other Questions

1. Do I have to explain why I want to be a lawyer?

You should probably explain why you want to be a lawyer in the following circumstances:

  1. If you're switching careers
  2. If you're coming from an atypical liberal arts major (e.g. music) and have no extracurricular activities that indicate your legal interest
  3. If the personal statement prompt tells you to (obviously)

Read each application's instructions carefully. Some schools leave the essay wide open; others ask you to explain your professional goals or motivations. The majority suggest mostly personal topics, but mention your professional motivation as one possibility.

If a school asks why you want to study law, your task is to tell a story about your motivation. Show the committee the whole arc of your decision. What set you on this path, and how did you arrive at this moment?

Most students write something that’s both personal and professional, telling a story that either culminates in their decision to study law or arrives at an epiphany which will help them succeed as a lawyer. Pivoting to law at the end of the essay is a reliable way to add a sense of closure and purpose.

2. Do I have to say why I want to go to a given school?

You don’t have to explain why you want to go to a given school unless the school asks, but it’s never a bad idea to show some school-specific love at the end of your essay, provided that you sound informed and genuine.

Don’t bother mentioning a school’s ranking or reputation. Dig deeper—and do your homework. If you say you want to work with a certain professor, for example, then make sure that professor is really on the faculty (and not, say, passingly related to a center).

If a school gives you the option of writing a “why X” essay, write the essay, and keep your personal statement personal.

See also How to Research a “Why X” Essay.

3. Do I have to write a different personal statement for each school?

You can usually write one statement and tweak it for different schools. Again, though, you have to read the directions. If your essay doesn’t answer the question, you’ll have to change it or write a new one.

David's Instructions

4. How long should my essay be?

Read the directions. (Have you noticed a pattern in these answers?) Essays of two or three double-spaced pages, or about 600-850 words, tend to hit the sweet spot.

More questions? See also Law School Admissions FAQ.

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