Sep 20, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Thousands of aspiring lawyers apply for limited law school spaces every year. If you’re among them, there’s one way for you to distinguish yourself from the rest: Write an amazing essay. However, this isn’t as easy as it seems -- particularly if the topic of awesome and “original” essay you submit turns out to shared by hundreds of other applicants? Avoid this pitfall by steering clear of these common law school application essay cliches.

1. “I want to help people.”

Maybe you really do want to be a lawyer because you want to help people. (If so, good for you!) Or maybe you simply think saying so will sound good in your essay. Regardless of the nobility and/or validity of your motivations, making this vague claim in your law school essay may end up doing more harm than good if you don’t drill down on the “why” and the “how” of it.

Conversely, devoting some time and introspection to evaluating the tangible reason(s) why you are drawn to helping people can help you write an essay which adequately expresses your commitment, along with why a law degree is necessary to achieving your goals.

One different way to reframe the question for a more profound answer? Consider what makes you -- amidst a surplus of other applicants also seeking to help people -- uniquely qualified to succeed in the public sector. In other words, plenty of people want to help other people -- and very few would profess to wanting to harm them -- so in order for this statement to make a meaningful impact, it must be both authentic and specific.

2. “I’ve always been fascinated by the law.”

Many people are fascinated by the law. (The popularity of Law and Order and its parade of spinoffs attests to this.) However, just because you’re interested in something doesn’t mean it’s a suitable career for you. Being fascinated by the concept of law doesn’t necessarily translate to sustained interest throughout its study and practice which -- let’s face it -- may on occasion be less thrilling than your basic SVU episode. Not only that, but it’s also painfully obvious: After all, if you weren’t interested in law, why would you be applying to law school? 

Lastly, there’s the fact that this answer is entirely about, well, you. And while your likes, wants, and needs are certainly part of the equation, they’re far from the only thing that matters to law school admissions committees.

3. “I love to argue.”

Certainly, strong debating skills will come in handy in law school and in many kinds of legal jobs. However, loving to argue is not in itself justification for earning a coveted law school spot. (Not to mention that loving to argue for argument's sake may ultimately be a negative, not a positive.)

Instead of proclaiming how much you love to argue, evaluate which of your attributes and experience best support your arguing prowess. From strong critical thinking skills to a background in research, conveying these traits demonstrates a more compelling understanding of the rigors of law school and law careers.

4. “As this famous writer/politician/lawyer said…”

This one lands just slightly above “Merriam Webster defines X as….” in the list of ways not to start your law school essay. Why not? Because law school admissions officers are looking to hear from you, not from someone else. At the end of the day, the point of your essay is to convey your own voice and reasons, and using a quote accomplishes the exact opposite.

If a particular quote does speak to you and you feel compelled to incorporate it into the body of your essay, it’s essential to tie it to a personal experience and takeaway relevant to your desire to attend law school.

So now you know four tropes to steer clear of in your law school essay. Which begs the question: What should you say instead? Here’s the best part: It’s not as hard as you think, either. Be original, keep it simple, stay professional and speak in specifics.

And remember: the best law school essays aren’t slick marketing pieces or exhaustive life stories, but instead share pertinent examples from your life which cohesively convey why you belong in law school and how you’ll contribute to the law school community -- and profession, eventually -- if you’re accepted.

 

 

 

 

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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