The Art of the Personal Statement
Attorneys like to tell stories. They may be of an employee, injured by a piece of machinery or of a patron who fell on the sidewalk outside an office building. The protagonist and themes differ, but the story gets easier to tell as the story evolves through investigation and discovery. Generally speaking, the facts uncovered make for exciting storylines: a cheating husband looking for a payday in a consortium claim; a politician suing a family-owned business which happens to be owned by one of his constituents; a motorist simply wanting an apology from a fellow motorist who ran a red light but sued instead. Who hasn’t been amused or upset or saddened by any number of the stories that you’ve come across as a civil litigation attorney?
But a story about oneself is harder to tell. So when I was asked to review the personal statements of law students applying for internships, I expected boring, politically-correct narratives with universally appealing yet non-offensive themes: overcoming adversity, the lawyer as champion of the underdog, love of famous lawyer (insert name here) and how he/she influenced a career choice. But after reading a few of these personal statements, I was pleasantly surprised to read one that I really enjoyed. The writer, to whom I’ll refer to as “Gloria,” told a great story about herself. Her story was couched in achievements and milestones that felt very real and very personal. Gloria drew you in as reader, not with flowery language or anecdotes, but with a unique story about specific values, the trajectory of her life and the defined goals she wanted to achieve and how she wanted to attain them. Her story made me want to meet her and learn more – she was the first person I reached out to to schedule an in-person interview. Because Gloria’s personal statement was not contrived, she was exactly as I envisioned. She was poised, she was articulate and, after carefully listening to every question I posed, she answered my questions earnestly and without hesitation as those questions flowed from the personal statement authored by her. I gave her glowing reviews in support of her application.
All of this got me thinking … I used to put very little thought into writing my story. My personal statements were drafted as afterthoughts. But now knowing how much I advocated for Gloria, I realized that a personal statement is an opportunity to make a great first impression. When the personal statement is honest and focused, free of typos and predictable themes, it is a powerful tool that can really make the reader advocate for you as an individual. And while stories about other people may seem more exciting, why shouldn’t we focus our efforts on telling the most exciting story we can about ourselves? It’s the first impression we will make and an opportunity to shape the storyline to suit our needs. And while one should leave one’s banal habits out of a personal statement, one should make that story-starring-you as real and honest as can be. Because genuine stories are the best ones to read. And if you’re an aspiring attorney, that personal story will be the first of many great stories that you’ll likely be sharing over your career.
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