terms of substance, we're looking for things that set the applicant apart from everyone else who will essentially have that individual's identical GPA and LSAT score. We view the personal statement as the applicant's opportunity to inform us of anything in particular that he or she might want the admissions committee to know.
We don't have a standard form; we leave it pretty open-ended. We do warn applicants that our job is to choose law students, not lawyers, so to that extent we're interested in their academic potential, not exactly why they want to go to law school or what they want to do with their law degree upon graduation (because people often change their minds). In some cases, applicants have some burning interest or a significant event in their lives that compels them to go to law school for a specific reason, or else they have volunteered or worked actively in some area that interests them very much. And in those cases, of course, they should talk about why they want to get into environmental law or why they want to do public interest. So there are always exceptions, but, in the main, people who don't have that experience or unique interest ought to be talking about how they are different from everybody else.
It's a mistake having a sentence saying "I've always wanted to go to Harvard Law School." Some applicants forget to do the change in their computer, so we get a personal statement really meant for another school. And it's surprising how many spelling and grammatical errors we get. The personal statement is very important to us; it's a reflection of the applicant and the care with which he or she approaches law school. It's really a representative piece of work.
Applicants should outline what they want to say in the personal statement and write clear, concise sentences, keeping in mind who their audience is and what our purpose is. I would stay away from trying to be cute. There's no really good substitute for a cogent sentence. Humor, unless it s done really well, often falls flat on its face.
Each and every application here is read at least once, and many of them may be read as many as three, four, or five times by as many different people. If an application passes the initial screening, it may go on to a second screening by an admissions committee (faculty and students who operate in teams of two).
Director of Admissions Stanford Law School
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