This week’s lesson was prompted by Demon student Kenzie, who writes,
Would it be possible to discuss in one of your upcoming lessons how to end a personal statement? I have my story and my facts. I understand your commandments and plan to use them. But when it comes to tying everything together for the ending, I think way too much weight is always put on the “conclusion” paragraph of writing. Granted, it is the end—and could tie everything together or cause the paper to fall apart—but I don’t believe in tying my story into how I will “succeed” in law school because I think anyone who does that is just creating fluff and more bullshit. I simply want to be able to end my personal statement in a way that is strong but not too over the top.
Thanks, Kenzie. Ben and I recorded a new episode of the Thinking LSAT podcast just this morning, and with your email in mind, I paid particular attention to the ending of each statement. They were very bad. Just desperately, extremely not good. Terrible enough, in fact, that I’m going to put this in bold:
You probably don’t need an ending. Seriously, just omit.
You don’t need it! Where does it say in the personal statement prompt that your statement must have a beginning, a middle, and an end? Where does it say, “This is seventh grade, and you need to learn how to write a five-paragraph essay, so you better damn well introduce what you’re going to write about, then write about it, and then write about it again in a lame, obvious conclusion”?
It doesn’t say that. So you don’t need to write that way.
One of the most common pieces of personal statement advice Ben and I have given over the years is “cut your first paragraph.” A close second is probably “cut your last paragraph.” Most endings suck and just don’t need to be there. Here’s an example:
Thank you for taking the time to read my application, and I look forward to discussing my future opportunities at your school.
The thank-you part is polite, I guess, but it’s also a waste of time. Schools need applicants. They advertise, waste money on glossy brochures, and literally travel around the country giving candy away, trying to trick people into applying. You do not need to thank them for reading your application—they should be thanking you. You might have even paid them an application fee! As far as the “I look forward to discussing…”—what? Most schools don’t offer interviews, so this will look naive. Even if they do offer interviews, it’s presumptuous to assume you’re going to get one. So just don’t say this. The statement would be stronger without this ending, no matter what came before it.
Here’s another one:
I admire the work I am involved in but feel limited in providing additional support to the immigrant community. I will obtain the legal knowledge to polish my client advocacy skills by attending law school. I am confident that (LAW SCHOOL) immigration (programs/clinics) will provide me the education to provide quality service and put me on the best path to becoming an immigration attorney, an attorney that shares the lived experiences of their clients.
The first sentence of this ending starts by undermining the applicant. You’re supposed to be selling me on the badass work you’ve done, not complaining that you are “limited” in what you do. Your reader sells law school for a living, so they already believe that your options will be broader after law school than they were before. Please don’t shit on your current job. Omit this.
The second sentence does the Captain Obvious “I will learn skills in school” thing, which, no shit! That’s what school is for. What’s the point of including this?
The third sentence is a transparent attempt to make the applicant look more interested in a particular school than they actually are. This sort of blatant copy-paste job isn’t going to fool anyone. Don’t waste the space, and don’t take the risk that LSAC might send the wrong essay to the wrong school! Name-dropping the right school has no upside, but name-dropping the wrong school has a significant downside. Just don’t do it. Omit.
Brace yourself; here’s another one:
As you can see, based on my experience, I think I would be a strong candidate and make a positive contribution to your law school. My preference would be in transactional law, where I’m making deals, not breaking them like litigation.
The first sentence crosses boundaries with the overly familiar “as you can see.” No. Please don’t presume to tell your readers what’s in their own heads. Worse, the thing that this applicant believes the reader can see is something that’s in the applicant’s own head! You’re thinking that I’m thinking that you’re thinking that I’m thinking… No. Stop it. And even if we put this mental state-sturbation aside, the reader already knows you’re applying to law school, so obviously they know you think you’re a strong candidate. No shit.
The second sentence takes an unnecessary potshot at litigation, which will come off as both rude and naive. Your reader knows a lot more about litigation than you do. This idea that transactional attorneys make deals and litigators break them is a holier-than-thou—and also incorrect—assessment of the legal industry that you’re not qualified to make. Omit.
I am grateful for the guidance and resources afforded to me as a Big Law patent agent, and I am anxious to step up as a patent attorney who has the authority and capability to counsel large clients on their intellectual property.
Gratitude is lovely, but this reference to your mental state should be omitted. The next mental state reference, “I am anxious,” is even worse. It both shits on your current role as a patent agent and invites your reader to see you as an impatient, worried applicant who is experiencing actual anxiety in a rush to take this next step. It’s not the look we’re going for. Finally, as far as “authority and capability to blah blah blah”—yes, law school will allow you to do more things. Stop selling law school to law schools! The personal statement is supposed to be about you, not about trying to convince law schools that their product will be good for you. They already believe that more than anyone else does.
This ending is particularly unnecessary because patent agents are extremely attractive to law schools. They know that you’re already employed in the legal field. They know that you will be able to continue getting paid as a patent agent throughout school. They know that you’ll be even more employable after graduation than you are now, because of the experience you will continue to build. You had them at the words “patent agent,” so use this space to talk more about your work. Instead of forcing a conclusion, just shut up—they’re already itching to reach favorable conclusions on their own.
One more stinker:
I choose to pursue law school now as a natural step toward my family’s future. My goal is to open an anesthesia practice with my husband when he retires from military service, and we hope to continue to serve veterans in the healthcare field. Experience in health and contractual law will be invaluable to the informed development of this endeavor.
For me, this is the worst of the bunch. Law school is not a natural step in anyone’s “family future.” You’re going, not them. And it will probably be the worst thing that’s ever happened to them, assuming they actually like having you around. Law school is intensely stressful and time consuming. Unless the kids are desperate to get you out of the house, the three-year law school stress-bomb that you’re about to drop on the household is going to feel totally unnatural and bad.
As far as the goal of opening an anesthesia practice with your husband, and “experience in health and contractual law will be invaluable to the informed development of this endeavor”—no it won’t. I’m both a law school graduate and an entrepreneur, and I promise that the only useful thing I learned in law school was “holy shit, there is no way I would ever dare to counsel myself about anything.”
If you don’t intend to practice law, don’t go to law school. Just start the business! You can hire whatever lawyering you need. Especially in an area as fraught as healthcare, you’d be insane to take your own legal advice instead of hiring an expert in the field. You become an expert only through the training that comes from working in this practice area for some years after school. By all means, read Wikipedia or check out some books at the library and dive in. You don’t need a JD to do this. And I promise that, even if you do go to law school, the second you start talking to an actual lawyer in the field, you’ll realize that no amount of school or reading would ever substitute for wise, experienced counsel. Simply put, fresh law school grads don’t know shit.
Five for five—all these endings suck, and all of them should be omitted. I didn’t even cherry-pick, by the way. These were just the next five statements in the Thinking LSAT podcast queue.
Of course, at this point, I can hear you all furiously typing “BUT HOW DO I END IT THEN?!?!?!11!”
Yeah. When in doubt, just don’t.
The personal statement is only a page and a half long. It doesn’t require a beginning, a middle, and an end. Fill up the available real estate with good facts about yourself, and leave conclusions out of it. If you present the right facts in the right way, the reader will be making positive conclusions about you well before they approach the end of the statement. Ideally, they’re going to stop halfway through and chuck you into the “admit” pile because they’ve already made their decision and they’ve got a huge stack of applications to get through. If they do make it all the way to the end without making a decision, do you really think that any of the endings above would swing the needle toward “admit”? Or would they actually start edging it toward “deny”?
Occasionally—on maybe one in ten statements—the theme is something like, “I totally kill it right now as a concert pianist.” In those rare cases, a very brief statement of what you hope to do as a lawyer might be justified. I’m talking one or two sentences, just to let the reader know that you actually wrote this for a law school application and you aren’t recycling something you wrote for an MFA program. Consider something along the lines of, “In law school, I hope to explore a career in commercial bankruptcy.” Or, “I am excited to explore a broad range of practice areas, but my particular interest right now is criminal defense.” Do this only if you think the statement really needs it, though. And if you do it, keep it short.
I’m open to the possibility that I’m full of shit—email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think of this lesson.