Harvard Law School

Application Essays – SARAH O’LOUGHLIN

Alison Chase is an innovator in modern dance. Artistic director and choreographer of Pilobolus –a world-renowned dance company known for its intertwining of dance, acrobatics, and spectacle – Alison Chase has had a profound impact on the aesthetic development of modern dance. But Alison Chase’s name will not be found in a program, on a playbill, or the company’s website; her legacy has been stripped. When Chase left the company in 2005 in response to a management redirection, she simultaneously abandoned all rights and legal ownership to her own creative work. The dances belonged to the company, not to her.

After hearing Chase’s story, I was outraged by her inability to hold onto something she herself had created. It’s disturbing and unimaginable to me that our laws struggle to protect the abstract property that is increasingly molding and infiltrating our society. In an ever-advancing technological age more and more of ourselves, our thoughts, and our creations exist outside of us in an intangible form that requires strong legal protection. This story, and too many others like it, have cemented my passion to develop and reform the ways our laws approach and preserve the ownership of abstract intellectual property.

A dancer myself since the age of two, I have grown to hold a unique perspective toward the abstract and the creative, toward the idea of physical bounds and our abilities to harness them. Many of the hours I have spent in the dance studio have focused on taking a conceptual idea and transforming it into something the audience can feel and see –something very real and concrete. Through this constant effort to physically manifest an idea, I have developed a distinct comprehension of the intangible.

Once while playing a game in my sixth-grade English class that involved deciding whether a given object was abstract or concrete, I argued against my teacher’s answer when I insisted that my object, light, should be placed within the concrete category. To this day I stand by my position. Light can be quantified. It can be measured, controlled, and changed, thereby rendering it a definitive and palpable entity. I strongly believe that this unique lens through which I approach immaterial objects and ideas will prove a valuable tool in my pursuit to develop new ways of assessing and protecting intellectual and abstract property in our legal system.

While dance has allowed me to open and expand my perspectives, it has also taught me the importance of real and concrete application. In a performance in my senior year, one particular dance required pantomiming various body parts “falling off” and being reattached throughout the piece. When a preshow review described the dancers’ tooth reinsertion as “putting objects into their mouths,” the majority of the cast became enraged at the misrepresentation of the piece’s meaning. While they spent the afternoon drafting a letter to the article’s author, I returned to the dance studio to practice securing my front tooth into place. Sitting alone in front of the mirror, I remember feeling slightly ridiculous for putting so much effort and fuss into one small, quick, and seeming inconsequential move. Still, I knew it was the accuracy and exactness of this tiny gesture that would transform the piece into something the audience could grasp and understand; without this meticulous dedication to each movement and moment within the piece, the choreographer’s vision and intention would be lost.

Dance has taught me the fundamental value of detail and precision. This is what allows abstract and creative ideas to translate into real time and space, thereby becoming concrete. My years spent studying and performing both the physical and intellectual components of modern dance have taught me to merge intention with creativity –to test the limits of our imagination, while striving for accuracy of execution that will make those ideas come to life. It is through this balance between idea and application that I have found success as a dancer and student, and I eagerly anticipate utilizing this perspective in my law career.

Modern dance is about boundlessness; it pushes you to explore the undiscovered possibilities of the human body in its ability to move, create, and express. For me, law is hardly different. Building from set precedents, the law is constantly changing, evolving, and becoming anew. As I look to begin my legal career, I find that my dance training has not only cultivated and enriched my views toward legal policy, but also prepared me to take on the rigor and dedication that comes with the study and practice of law.


Sarah O’Loughlin’s personal statement demonstrates her ability to connect with people through the law, and not just because of the law. Her zest for justice goes beyond the rhetoric and dives into real cases that are a consequence of our legal system. It is clear that she doesn’t want to just practice law, she wants to shape it through practice. By indicating that she plans to use her skillset to advance a greater cause, she does not merely pause at the surface. She highlights the tools she has mastered in order to approach the law from a seemingly novel standpoint and thus O’Loughlin brings to the forefront the contributions she stands to make to law. It is important to demonstrate that you not only want to learn from the law but you also intend to impact it.

At times, O’Loughlin’s narrative runs into trouble. For instance, her sixth-grade anecdote about classifying light is unclear and out of place. She aims to convey a capacity for understanding and making real otherwise abstract concepts. But she already makes that point with her dancing metaphor. The idea that an isolated comment from sixth grade connects with a broader orientation at life is tenuous on its face. Here, the anecdote – a shift from the broader story of dancing feels heavy-handed, as if scripted after the fact.

Taking a wider perspective of the essay, it also makes a somewhat sudden shift from the intellectual questions of intellectual property raised in the context of dance to the extended metaphor of O’Loughlin’s own dancing. O’Loughlin introduces important questions early on, hinting at a broader motivation, but she never circles back to fully explain her motivation for attending.

Later in the essay, the cornerstone is O’Loughlin’s ability to run the same theme and concept through various parts of her argument. Each aspect is threaded together to elucidate the different dimensions that contribute to her bid for admission. It is critical that your personal statement not only illustrates your interest in law but also tells a narrative about who you are as a whole applicant. It should not just be a composite list of accomplishments directly relevant to law school. Use your personal statement to say what the rest of your application cannot.

Mandi Nyambi

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