At the time, I wasn’t sure of my answer: “I think a good manager knows he or she doesn’t have all the answers, but does know where to look for them.” I was twenty-three and applying for a position many people didn’t think I was ready for. I felt small. The question was, “What do you think makes a good manager?” almost seven years later, I have learned from experience that leadership is all about finding answers to difficult questions. I have worked hard to develop this ability, and now I am seeking to use it as a highest level. I see law school as the chance to make that happen.
I have been gainfully employed since I was fourteen and spent over ten years in leadership positions. Six of those years were spent managing a branch of a major national bookstore that had fifty employees and annual sales of $8 million. But those statistics don’t really tell you what I did. I answered questions. Questions such as: “Where can we find another fifteen thousand dollars in sales by tomorrow?” “Can I hire two new employees for the café?” “How can we get this employee to do his job better?” some of my most fulfilling moments were walking through the store with a line of employees forming behind me, discussing each person’s questions and finding answers together. We’ve all had managers we listened to because we were required to, and ones we listened to because we were inspired to. When people responded to me as they did at the bookstore, it gave me hope that, at least occasionally, I was in the latter category. I look at the store now and find gratification at seeing employee I hired serving as effective leaders, and policies and procedures I established continuing to serve a new management team.
During this time I also had the great pleasure of being a stepfather. For ten years, I helped raise a little girl from the age of seven. She was in incredibly accepting stepdaughter, but let me just say, if there are lessons in patience you do not learn as a manager, you will learn them as a parent. At the bookstore my contribution was important. But it was mainly limited to that store, or at most, that company. As a parent, I helped shape how another person experienced the world. Here, I didn’t just help her make decisions. I tried to teach her how to find the answers on her own. You raise this child and attempt to give her all the tools to prepare her for a life you cannot predict. Hopefully, if you did enough things right and not too many things wrong, her life will be limited only by her own desires and not her parent’s vision.
Since that time, aided by several personal and professional changes, I decide to seek out a career in which I could apply my growing leadership skills toward a larger goal. That is what led me to give up my management position and return to school. The time I had spent in management led to a seven-year hiatus between starting and finishing my undergraduate degree. While that break may make me older and less fun than my peers, it has also given me a maturity that has served me well in my return to the university. Unlike many undergraduates, I know why I’m in school and I want to be here. I returned to school to find a forum in which I could use the leadership skills I have been developing toward a greater purpose, but I consciously did not limit my perception of what that forum might look like. I studied communication as a potential tool to effect change, and political science to be exposed to social issues that may need changing.
It was in a law and religion class that I found greater focus. This class examined first amendment cases involving such issues as school prayer, state voucher use for private religious schools, and religious practice rights. In reading these cases, I identified with the legal process behind the decisions. It may be idealistic, but I began to see the law as a means of seeking social justice using analysis and reason rather than strategy and emotion, and this felt familiar to me. I saw a parallel between the legal reasoning process and what I had done as a manager for so many years. I have heard it described that constitutional law is the reverse of regulatory law. While regulatory law is written by the government to dictate what the people can and cannot do, constitutional law is written by the people to regulate what the government can and cannot do. I want to play a role in the formation of decisions regarding social justice issues. Working in constitutional law would allow me to apply the skills I developed as a leader toward this goal. Just as when I was a manager, my role would be to understand the legal questions and relevant policies, and work with others to find the best answers.
At this early stage, I am drawn to the more intellectual pursuits of the law. I see myself potentially working as an appellate attorney or perhaps someday as a professor. However, as with my undergraduate schooling, I do not enter this with a specific idea of what I will do, for too specific a goal could narrow my latitude of exposure. I want to attend law school for the education, not the degree. As I study and work in the law I hope to find myself back in a familiar place—where I don’t know all the answers, but I do know where to look.
This candidate’s introduction is strong. Its message is thoughtful, one that frames the rest of the essay nicely. In the first paragraph, Brian Aune explains what leadership means to him; in the second, he demonstrates, convincingly, that it’s a quality that he possesses. More impressively, he gives the admission officer the impression that he is not only goal-oriented and strategic, but also human and relatable.
Aune uses concrete example from his professional life to make his point, and he makes his point well. In general, it could be risky to take this approach: Writing too much about work can make the essay feel like a rehashing of the resume (which will likely also be boring to read). Aune avoids this pitfall by meaningfully adding substances, giving texture to the title “bookstore manager.”
Though personal anecdotes can certainly add color, the paragraph about the candidate’s stepdaughter seems unnecessary. Were it to convey something about his character or personality or hiatus from school, it would have been fine to include. In this essay, it doesn’t add much and distracts quite a bit. In the next paragraph, Aune does provide information that aids in painting a clear picture of him as a law school applicant. He explains his reasoning for returning to school after a seven-year hiatus. Given that this question is probably on the admissions officer’s mind, it’s a smart one to devote space to.
The next section of the essay is weaker. An important task for the applicant in the personal statement is to convey why he/she is pursuing a law degree. His points about religion, social justice, and wanting to use the legal system to apply his leadership skills could be very effective—both in proving his passion for the law and in tying the essay together—had they been elaborated on and clarified. On the whole, a more focused essay would have made a more compelling essay. His ultimate challenge is to explain his ostensibly abrupt motivation for attending law school. perhaps most troublesome is Aune’s failure to explain what he will do after law school—he openly admits that he isn’t sure what he will do as an attorney, which can be problematic with such a talented applicant pool.
The essay would have been much stronger had Aune given specific reasons for his interest in becoming a lawyer. But throughout his personal statement, he shows that he’s likable, effective, and likely to be successful in whatever pursuit he eventually chooses.