How to be committed in law school

Competitive law schools only want students who genuinely want to be in law school. They don't want students for whom law school is a fallback option, or a feather in their cap, or a way to kick difficult life choices three years down the road. They want highly motivated applicants who are enthusiastically committed to putting in the work it takes to succeed in the field of law.

Highly motivated law students are valuable to law schools because they are more likely to perform well, contribute to the campus community, succeed in their careers and feel warmly about their law school experience. In turn, successful students provide tangible value to law schools by boosting their law school rankings and graduating into engaged and generous alumni.

But how can a law school distinguish a highly motivated applicant from one whose interest is less sincere? One aspiring lawyer who seems ebullient may be masking hesitations with embellishment, while another applicant with a more measured tone may simply be humble and scrupulous – like a good law student.

Here are four tips for communicating commitment to a legal career in law school application essays:

  • Avoid cliches.
  • Show, don't tell.
  • Explain your career path.
  • Don't dwell on past missteps.
Avoid Cliches

Even if it's true that you always wanted to be a lawyer, you spent your childhood arguing over everything and you love watching legal dramas, those things don't communicate much information. They make your impression of law sound shallow and cartoonish.

Applicants who smugly consider themselves born to be lawyers may react poorly when they realize that being a lawyer isn't quite how they imagined it. In contrast, law schools prefer resilient applicants who listen and learn with an open mind whether they grew up writing Supreme Court fan fiction or considered law school only late in life.

Show, Don't Tell

Your personal statement should communicate why you are applying to law school, but it shouldn't center on this question. Rather than detail every reason you think you'll love law school, demonstrate how your past experiences set you up for success in law school.

When you talk about the classes, activities, jobs or circumstances that led you to law school, your passion should come through naturally.

Explain Your Career Path

Connect the dots between your background, law school and future career goals. Lay out how law school, combined with your past experience, will enable you to succeed in the path you are choosing.

This will send a clear signal to law school admissions officers that you have thought through your decision to attend law school and that you see law school as necessary to your goals, not simply a mark of prestige. That way, even when the going gets tough, you have a reason to stay committed.

Don't Dwell on Past Missteps

The best explanation for why you want to go to law school is rarely a full chronicle of how you got there. Since few applicants took a straight path to law school, there is no need to overexplain your own meanders. Such a story may sound egotistical or hard to follow. It may also signal vacillation. If you didn't feel committed to your previous endeavors, why would law school be different?

Rather than sound defensive or overly apologetic about past career changes, focus on how your past experiences will complement your legal degree. For example, instead of writing an essay about how you dreamed of being a teacher but felt burned out by years of working in an under-resourced public school, write about how your experience as a public school teacher gave you insights into the nuances of social reforms your legal education will help you work to address.

Law schools don't expect you to have your whole life mapped out, or to commit to being a lawyer. They just expect you to know what you're getting into. Indeed, any law school uninterested in accepting highly motivated students is not a law school motivated to invest in your future. (Read more: Gabriel Kuris. March 30, 2020.