REAL LAW SCHOOL PERSONAL STATEMENTS
Clearly connects the dots.
A warm breeze heralded the arrival of another ghostly Delta night as I studied the back wall of the abandoned train depot. Facing me was a grotesque mural depicting a sinister bluesman and a crude map to his grave. The story of a harmonica player, the famed Aleck “Rice” Miller, had drawn me to this forgotten fold in America’s cultural fabric. As I searched for answers in the smears of color clinging to the worn bricks, I could not help but wonder what had made me so receptive to Miller’s pull.
More than a year after my Delta pilgrimage, hindsight has given me a better understanding of my obsession with the blues. I now have a better understanding of my fascination with all of the seemingly unrelated activities that dot my history. After a short lifetime spent skating in circles as fast as possible, I suddenly redirected my efforts along an academic bead. Now, with my undergraduate career behind me, the law has captured my attention. As puzzling as these choices have been to me and to others, my relationship with structure connects the dots of these disparate interests. Structure is a point of reference, a context that gives information relevance. It is how I see structure built into my pursuits that makes sense of my life.
I relished speed skating’s repetition. I have skated thousands of miles in four hundred meter units, each lap an opportunity to improve upon the last. It is a game of uniformity—the same track, the same distance, and the same physics that bind every athlete—yet no two skaters reach the finish line the same way. I admired the best competitors for their ability to internalize the rules o the sport and creatively discover ways to find speed within these boundaries. The knowledge that I was milking physics for every drop of speed made the apex of a turn —the point at which a skater most acutely feels the constraints of Newton’s laws –even more exhilarating.
I see the blues in a similar light. Renowned for its raw, unbridled creativity, the blues is a highly structured genre; most blues records utilize just three chords arranged into a strict and repetitive harmonic formula. Ironically, the creative potency of the blues finds its roots in this rigidity. The harmonic changes of a blues progression, through endless repetition, create expectations in the listener’s ear. A true master recognizes potential energy in these expectations. The best soloists use the music’s structure as a point of reference and build meaning in relation to it. It is this context that gives a simple harmonica lick the power to pull its listeners through the entire emotional spectrum, from the most desperate, empty lows to the most jubilant, elated highs.
Presently working for the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, I am beginning to see the law the same way. Two weeks into my employment, I witnessed a dynamic argument between two attorneys shouldering different philosophies of antitrust law. The attorneys’ intellects soared as they endeavored to find novel ways to understand the legal situation at hand. Yet structure anchored the discussion; by providing context, the law made the attorneys’ ideas appreciable. I recognized their impressive creativity in relation to the stable framework of the law. Though the law and its intricacies are still very much a mystery to me, I am slowly excavating the structure that grids them.
Structure reveals who I am; it is a glimpse of my own personal blueprint. I access the ideas, events, and people around me by recognizing frameworks. Once I connect to my surroundings, my actual approach also integrates structure. I love to spot the rules of a system and navigate through them, discovering what I can create in the process. It is this type of creativity—-creativity within context—that truly inspires me. My major interests may not be inherently connected. But the way I perceive them and the way I approach their challenges is the same.
Do not write a beautiful essay that implies you do not belong in law school.
The candidate’s first paragraph is unusual and enchanting, the writing strong and mysterious. I am curious about where the essay is going, but I certainly do not have my footing yet.
As associate dean of admission at Yale Law School, Asha Rangappa wrote about personal statements on the school’s admission blog [bolding added]:
The great personal statement makes connections between the experiences or events that the applicant has highlighted and, say a larger idea or theme that it made the applicant consider or explore further. Or, for someone who wrote about their upbringing or background, perhaps they now evaluate those experiences from a new and different perspective and can make a connection between those experiences and issues they later became interested in. Another way to put this is that this type of personal statement takes something that was merely descriptive – a cover letter—and makes it into something that is reflective – an essay.
This essay strikes me as a good example of what Rangappa describes. The candidate introduces himself by discussing his interest in the blues style of music. He then reflects on where that interest originated and effectively connects the origin to his other life interests—speed skating and law—which on the surface do not seem related at all.
Although this essay is extremely well written—cogent, interesting, insightful, reflective—by the end, I find myself thinking, “Wow, good essay. But wait—why does he want to go to law school?” By highlighting the “structural” similarities among his three areas of interest, the candidate demonstrates that he is an innovative thinker. However, he does not explain what about law makes him want to study it, apart from the opportunity to reenact this process of discovering creativity through limitations, which is quite poetic. As an admissions officer with a law degree, however, I may wonder how this candidate envisions his legal career. Creativity may be part of it, but much, much more of the profession involves tedium, logical analysis, and reading, reading, reading.
I would help this candidate flesh out the section of his essay in which he discusses his interest in law. He does not necessarily need to change what he has already written, but he could add a paragraph showing that he understands the nature of a legal career and has chosen it knowing all the facts. With such an addition, I think the candidate could transform his essay from strong to fantastic.