Harvard Law School

Application Essays – SUZANNE TURNER

What Worked for them can Help You Get into the Law School of Your Choice 

It is my belief that a person should contribute positively to their community and their society, and the practice of law has been a natural choice for me. As far back as I can remember I have wanted to pursue a career as a local prosecutor, and came to law school with that career path in mind. My experience this summer as the legal intern to the Appeals Division of the Essex County District Attorney’s office has confirmed my commitment to this path. Furthermore, I have long contributed to public interest work, focusing my efforts particularly in the areas of social justice and civil rights.

During my first year at the George Washington University Law School, I worked hard to develop my writing skills and was recently selected as a Writing Fellow for the 2009 to 2010 school year. If accepted to Harvard Law School, I look forward to pursing similar academic opportunities that would enable me to contribute to the law school community. I bring a well-rounded perspective to that community, having worked as a paralegal both in the high-stakes world of corporate litigation and for a small, local plaintiff’s bar firm before beginning my legal studies.

My leadership positions with George Washington Law’s American Civil Liberties Union and Law Students for Reproductive Justice student groups complements the work ethic and organizational skills I developed during my three years of work experience. At the close of the school year, I was elected copresident of both organizations. The opportunities presented by my involvement, particularly interacting with practitioners in various fields, were vital to my goal of achieving a well-rounded legal education. I was also a member of the Street Law program, participating both as a teacher in seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms and by writing lesson plans in the areas of constitutional and criminal law.

Although I was new to the District of Columbia last year, I also became an active participant in local public interest organizations. My most significant role has been with the National Capital Area ACLU’s Future Leaders Council, a coalition of student leaders from the ACLU’s high school, undergraduate, and law school clubs. I was recently elected as the Vice Chair of the council. I also participated in a joint ACLU-American Constitution Society initiative in September where volunteers taught lessons in constitutional law to eight graders in public schools around the city. I have greatly enjoyed working in my local community, particularly in ways that may encourage urban youth to realize and explore the diverse possibilities of a legal education.

While living and working in New York City from 2005 to 2007, I volunteered with several public interest groups: the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience at GW Law, but have decided to settle in the Boston area. Transferring to Harvard Law School would allow me to expend my academic and volunteer efforts in the community where I intend to live and work. I am drawn to Harvard Law because of its reputation for excellence. I am particularly attracted to your Criminal Prosecution Perspectives clinic providing the opportunity to act as a student prosecutor in the District Courts. I would also look forward to exploring the Family, Domestic Violence and LGBT Law clinic, as I have long been devoted to issues of LGBT rights and family policy.

I realize that my undergraduate academic accomplishments at Cornell were less than outstanding, and may not be typical of your admitted students. My under graduate focus was largely on my military training until an injury required discharge. My aptitude is better illustrated by my recent successes in law school. I worked exceptionally hard at George Washington this past year, earning above a 4.0 grade point average for the spring semester. I have been designated a George Washington Scholar, indicating a cumulative GPA within the top 1 to 15 percent of my class. I also devoted a great deal of time to extracurricular activities at the law school and in the community. I will bring that same level of dedication, work ethic, and passion for public interest law to the remainder of my legal education and beyond, and would welcome the increased challenge of the Harvard Law School curriculum. Thank you for any consideration you are able to give my application.

Suzanne Turner’s personal statement extensively shows her credentials and assets that make her a qualified candidate. An aspect that stands out in her essay is that she states her strengths (such as her comprehensive legal writing skills), and supports these claims with the work that she has done (being a Writing Fellow at George Washington University Law School). It is advantageous to have law schools know of her qualifications and how she will be an asset to the school with her strengths. She successfully did this many times throughout her essay while indicating that she has a well-rounded legal education. Moreover, Turner makes clear what field within law that she is interested in pursuing, particularly in relation to the program at the Harvard Law School. This shows why Turner is interested in pursuing not just law school, but law school particularly at Harvard. Although it is not required to state what one plans on pursuing, it is only beneficial to do so for it indicates that the candidate has a clear goal in mind and will aspire toward it.

In this essay, however, Turner falls into listing too many qualifications, credentials, and accomplishments. These are already listed on her resume, so the essay was her chance to show her personality and maybe use a small set of accomplishments or experiences as a framework to support her argument. Remember the question: What should my reader know after reading this? In this case, it may not amount to much more than the rest of the application manages. A stronger strategy would have given the reader an understanding of who Suzanne Turner is in light of her experiences. BY not interpreting her experiences beyond the platitudinous “I have greatly enjoyed,” and “I have thoroughly enjoyed,” Turner misses out on an opportunity to fully leverage the personal statement.

That said, Turner’s case is unique. For one, she is a transfer student. With that comes a strong burden to explain her situation and her switch. Most of the accomplishments she rather stiffly lists are related to her tenure at George Washington Law School, and that emphasis of work and progress she has made since first applying to law school helps bolster her transfer case. Turner also touches on how Harvard Law offers opportunities she cannot access now. Turner could certainly do a better job processing experiences like her summer internship, but in her case, breadth of accomplishment matters as much as depth.

Near the essay’s close, Turner tackles the issue of a subpar undergraduate transcript head-on. She first explains the poor GPA as a product of her military commitment. And then she shows how her results have changed along with her circumstances. The line, “MY aptitude is better illustrated by my recent successes in law school,” comports well with her overall message of recent success, and deftly frames that success as the true lens for observing her potential. Turner takes advantage of her application’s one chance to explain, in her own words, the unique case she represents, and it goes a long way for her.

–Mariam H. Jalloul

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