Law & Legal Studies

The First Critical Question Your Law School Application Needs to Answer

The First Critical Question Your Law School Application Needs to Answer
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Alison Monahan profile
Alison Monahan March 21, 2012

The first big question you should be asking yourself is: Why this?

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To be convincing, your law school application must answer three critical questions: why this, why here, and why now?

Why This?

First, your personal statement must explain why it makes sense for you to go to law school.

Is it the next logical step in a clear progression?

Is it a shift onto an entirely new career path?


“I’m Interested in Law & Legal Studies!”

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Step One: Look At Your Background Objectively

To figure out the most convincing story, you’ve got to look at your background objectively, and come up with a logical pathway to explain:

How you arrived where you are

Why law school is a reasonable next step

In some cases, this is pretty easy. If you’ve always been interested in criminal justice, you majored in sociology, you wrote an honors thesis on rehabilitation in the prison system, and you interned with the DA’s office, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that you’d want to be a lawyer. Your essay is pretty much written.

In other cases, however, the path is a bit more meandering.

What If Your Path to Law School Makes No Sense?

If you looked at my resume, for example, you might reasonably wonder why I was applying to law school.

My undergraduate degree was in sociology, which is unsurprising (sociology is one of the most common majors among law school applicants). After that, things took a turn for the weird, and I did a Masters degree in architecture. Okay, kind of odd, but not totally out of the question. Maybe I wanted to do construction law, or affordable housing development? Plausible enough. But that story line falls apart when you look at the job I got out of architecture school. I worked as a computer programmer. Hum…what?

Yep, I had a problem.

Despite having competitive grades and test scores, the rational response to my resume was “WTF?!?”

To get past this completely understandable response, I had to look deeper, and figure out how everything connected.

How I Tied Everything Together

Was there some common thread running through all of these seemingly disparate interests? Or was I just a dilettante who got bored easily? In truth, it’s probably a little from column A and a little from column B, but I deciced to focus on what all these seemingly unrelated pursuits had in common – they required parsing vast amounts of information to produce an elegant solution.

With sociology, the end product was a research paper. With architecture, it was a design for a building. With programming, it was a web application. The inputs were different, and the outputs varied, but, critically, the mental process was the same. And, conveniently, this is exactly the same mental process required to be a successful lawyer!

Suddenly, rather than being a huge liability, my odd background was a benefit. I’d been trained to approach the same basic task from several distinct angles, so I could make a strong case that I’d be successful in law school, which, at its root, presented simply one more way of wrestling with the same problem.

Voila! My essays started to take shape.

What if your story is inherently boring?

What if you don’t have a lot of material to work with?

Maybe you’re applying straight out of college, where you majored in political science, and you don’t have any particularly relevant work experience. This is where it’s very helpful to have absolute clarity about your goals.

Why do you want to be a lawyer? Embrace your path – you might even consider acknowledging that it’s not particularly unusual. But then explain why you’re different and unique! Or, at a minimum, make it clear that you’re seriously committed to and informed about the path you claim to be on.

The Bottom Line

If you’re applying to law school primarily because you don’t know what else to do, that’s going to come through in your essays. Your application will be a lot more compelling if you can speak with authenticity about your career goals and aspirations, which requires doing your homework and getting a realistic sense of what lawyers actually do, and why you want to be one.

Just remember – if your application doesn’t explain why law school makes sense for you, you’ve got a problem!

Get more tips on applying for law school at Applying to Law School 101 and save time on your school search by taking our Law School Wizard.

It’s simple: you tell us a little about yourself, we do some calculations, and, voila, you get a comprehensive list of schools that suit your personality, preferences, budget, and academic profile.

Click on your results to get all the information you need about each individual school, from cost to career outcomes.

Questions or feedback? Email

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


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