Update, July 2017: Read LLM GUIDE's new article: LL.M. Applications: The Personal Statement for more up-to-date information on LL.M. personal statements.
Many law schools require a brief personal statement" or statement of purpose from applicants to LL.M. programs. But for some applicants, there can be confusion about exactly how to approach this statement.
This might be because not all schools give precise guidance about how to write them. While some schools give applicants specific questions to answer, many simply ask for a description of the applicant's professional background, areas of interest, and reasons for pursuing an LL.M.
If you are an LL.M. applicant, consider this your opportunity to describe yourself and your aspirations. Since an interview is typically not part of the LL.M. admissions process, this might be your only real chance to add some personal context to your academic transcripts and resume.
Hilary Lappin has read hundreds of LL.M. applications. As assistant director of admissions at American University's Washington College of Law, Lappin sees many applicants use the statement to simply summarize their past academic and professional accomplishments - almost like a job cover letter.
While a few law schools ask specifically for this personal history, Lappin argues that using the statement only to focus on the past doesn't add much value to an application.
"We see their transcripts and their resume. We know what they've done," says Lappin. "What we don't know is their motivation for coming."
In other words don't just summarize your CV in sentences and paragraphs. Lappin says that students should share their short- and long-term career goals, and they should discuss why an LL.M. from the law school they are applying to will help them get there.
"We've been trying to get them to focus on their future in their personal statement," says Lappin.
Paul Burns, academic administrator for Oxford's Bachelor of Civil Law and Magister Juris programs, agrees with this approach.
I don't think [a statement] needs to go into any great detail about academic accomplishments as these should be evident from the other application materials, says Burns.
Information about future goals may be useful, but we'd prefer applicants to be honest, and said they weren't quite sure rather than trying to anticipate the sort of answer they think we'll want to hear.
Gail Hupper, the director of the LL.M. program at Boston College School of Law, says that effective statements sometimes bridge past accomplishments with future ambitions.
It's much more interesting if they can talk about a unifying theme related to their activities, says Hupper, because that unifying theme will then provide a springboard for what they want to do next.
The statement of purpose is also an opportunity to convince the school that you are a good fit. So, why not tell them about what - specifically - attracts you to the school?
This doesn't mean you have to pander to the admissions team, or shower the law school in praise. Don't do that. But if you have the space, it's probably a good idea to tell them what aspects of the school or program - a certain module, internship opportunity, or research focus, for example - you think would help further your career.
According to Lawrence McNamara of Reading Law School in the United Kingdom, this "indicates that this is a person who has actually looked at all of the information about the school, and somebody who really wants to come here."
When it comes to tone and language, there's no need to showoff your flowery English skills or wax poetic. Keep it formal, and when a specific question has been asked, be sure to answer it.
You would be amazed by the number of statements we get that don't answer the question, says Gail Hupper of Boston College.
I realize that people are applying to more than one school, and that they want to save themselves some work by doing the same statement for every school, but you can't not answer the question, and expect the schools to take your application as seriously as they otherwise might, adds Hupper.
LL.M. personal statement quick tips
Here are a few more key do's and don'ts to keep in mind when writing an application personal statement:
- Use spell-check: It might seem obvious, but spelling mistakes are so easy to avoid these days that when they're there, it's like a big, red, waving flag with the word "lazy" written on it.
- Follow directions: Beyond answering the question posed, if there is a page or word limit, respect it.
- Don't mix up university names: If you're applying to more than one school, and plan to reuse the same personal statement (or parts of it) for different applications, be sure to check, double-check, and triple-check that you're always using the right name of the university. In other words, don't write about you dream of pursuing an LL.M. at Cornell in your Yale statement of purpose. It's a common mistake in today's copy-and-paste world, but such an oversight can reflect a carelessness unbecoming of an ambitious lawyer.
- Don't use standard templates or have someone else write the statement for you. Remember that the faculty and admissions staff who will read your statement have usually read hundreds of them. They can easily spot fake and generic statements.
- Image: istockphoto