coherent thoughts and ideas and that helps me know the applicant better. 1 hope it will be interesting and that after reading it 1 will have a better sense of who the person is and what kind of student that person will be when he or she joins the class. The more a statement conveys how a person thinks, what he or she thinks is important, or other such insights, the better. You should think of the statement as an opportunity to round out pieces to the puzzle that makes up your application. Write about issues or problems you think about and how you have dealt with them. The more personal you can be—the more you can bring in your own background or history—the more valuable the statement can be.
To avoid mistakes you must walk the narrow line between being too cautious or too "creative" in the personal statement. If you are too cautious and only provide us a shopping list of such standard things as what you've done, where you've been, and why you want to go to law school, you may come across as bland or uninteresting, or fail to convey what kind of mind you have. A shopping list is frequently just a recapitulation of materials found elsewhere in the application and adds nothing of what the person would contribute to the class. If you are too creative, the statement can be too cute—attention-getting but not impressing.
I like to see an applicant willing to take a risk but comfortable with the material being presented. If you're ready to take a risk with an unusual approach, you should produce a high-quality result, and one with which you are comfortable. For example, the person who would like to send us some poetry would be well advised to send us a sample of poetry, indicating that poetry is important to him or her, rather than trying to turn the statement into a poem. An example of a high-risk, low-reward statement would be a statement in the form of a brief. The applicant may be trying to demonstrate knowledge of how to write a brief, but it is definitely not an original idea and loses impact with the contortions required to fit the format. Another example of a potential mistake is the urge to begin with a quote. We're more interested in what you have to say than in what you've found that some famous person or writer has to say. There are a limited number of relevant quotable quotes. Commonly, applicants have quoted de Tocqueville or Shakespeare. I can recall one person who quoted his grandmother, but now that it has been done it is no longer original.
Sometimes people get so involved in the thinking process that they will write very long-winded statements. Some of the best statements are quite short (a page or two) and to the point. The one or two one-sentence statements I have seen have not been effective.
Peel away the preconceived notions about what you think is expected, then think about what you want to convey to the committee and how that ties in with everything else in your application. Think about leaving the committee with an impression of you. Be comfortable with whatever you write. The personal statement is the only part of the application over which you have complete control when you apply to law school. Write it, take another look later, and then have someone who really knows you and whose judgment you trust read it and determine if it is reflective of who you are.
One of the more effective statements I have read was about ideas with which the applicant was wrestling. It was effective because it conveyed understanding of important philosophical issues and related them to external ideas and ideas with which the applicant had been engaged academically. Only a true intellectual can do this well.
In some of the most successful statements, applicants have reflected on who they are, what they're all about, and why they have done what they have done, and have left the committee with one or two thoughts about them. The personal statement is personal. In a way, it is like an interview that you control: You are the one who decides what the committee is going to ask you, and you're the one who responds. Consider that you have roughly 15 minutes with the committee, and that you have the opportunity to convey a message that they all will read. Think about any questions that might arise as a result of what you've written—as if you did have an interview based on that material—and answer those questions.
There are anywhere from two to six readers, depending on whether the first two people agree. Without consensus, the application isjpassed on to more readers. One year we had 8,500 applications, and there have been numerous years when we've had over 7,000. Our entering class is 540.
Director of Admissions University of California at Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall)
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