Writing a law personal statement: expert advice from universities
Make your law personal statement stand out from the crowd in a competitive field, with these tips from university admission experts
To help make it all a bit easier, we’ve spoken to four university law schools and found out exactly what they do – and don’t – want to see in prospective students’ personal statements.
Are you looking for inspiration?
Over on The Student Room, we have more than 50 examples of real law personal statements.
Be clear about why you’re choosing lawIn any personal statement for law, there’s one thing the admissions staff really want to read about.
“The question of ‘why’ you want to study law is crucial to answer in any personal statement,” says Rebecca Gladwin-Geoghegan, associate head of school (recruitment and marketing) at Coventry Law School. “A personal statement that really stands out is one that includes a strong explanation of what motivates you to study law over any other subject available to you at university.
“To do this, ask yourself what purpose a law degree will serve in your own personal and professional development. For some, a law degree is a necessary stepping-stone towards pursuing your dream career in law. For others, it is an opportunity to explore a discipline that touches on every aspect of human life and develop transferable skills that will put them in a great position for whichever career they pursue after university.
“You need to figure out what a law degree means to you and be honest about that in your application. To do this, you need to understand what a law degree entails, so make sure that you do your research first."
Back everything up with examples from your lifeAnyone can say they have excellent research skills, but if you want to impress admission staff, use specific scenarios from your life to back up exactly how you developed those skills.
“Law is an intense subject to study and we want to see that you have the skills and attributes to succeed in a law programme,” says Rebecca. “Aside from your qualifications, we want you to explain why you would make a good law student and to evidence that in your personal statement.
“Simply stating that you have certain skills is not enough. Your personal statement is your opportunity to explain how you have developed those skills. So rather than simply state that you are a confident public speaker, explain that you have developed confidence in public speaking through participating in your school or college debate team.”
Laura Charleton, director of recruitment and admissions at Kent Law School says: “There are two main things I need from a personal statement. Firstly, I want to gain a real sense of who the student is, as a person. Secondly, I want to know why they wish to study law and why they believe they will be suited to it.
“Make your statement stand out by providing clear examples to support what you are telling me. If you merely assert your interest in law, or that you have the skills to do well in your future studies, you are not going to easily persuade me. Support your assertions with examples. These could be from your current studies, work experience or life events, as well as future plans."
- Read more: how to write your university application
Keep your personal statement personalIt’s also important to remember that your personal statement is supposed to be just that – personal.
“When reading a personal statement, I want to get a feel for who you are,” says Charlotte Park-Morton, academic course leader for law at the University of Gloucestershire. "A great way to do this is to draw on your interests, hobbies and life experiences and then relate these to why you are interested in studying law.
“We will know what your academic performance is like from your results, so a personal statement is your opportunity to sell yourself, rather than just your academic record.
“If you haven’t studied law previously, we will want to know what attracts you to the discipline and drawing on your own experiences is a great way to showcase this. Most people will have an interest or passion in a particular area of law – tell us about that, and why!”
Swerve the clichésKeeping it personal will also help you avoid wasting your precious word count with meaningless generalisations and clichés.
“Avoid the clichés of saying you want to help others or improve justice; these are great motivations for studying law, but be more specific," says Charlotte. "Are there any examples from the news or your own life of situations that really impacted on you? If so, draw on these to provide the context and rationale for your motivations. This will demonstrate to the reader that you have thought about the impact of the law upon individuals, rather than just a generic comment about ‘doing good’."
Ashlie Prescott, senior lecturer in Law, University of Hull, agrees. “Avoid generalisms such as ‘I want to be a lawyer because I want to help people’ – this could generate sighing and eye-rolling this end!”
- Read more: personal statement FAQs
Don’t worry about writing the wrong thingThere's no right or wrong answer to the question of why you want to study law.
“The name of the statement says it all really: it should be a statement which is personal to you," says Laura from Kent Law School. "It should not be a tick box exercise where you cram in everything you think we want to read.
"No personal statement should ever be the same since none of the authors of the statements are the same. Your motivations to study law, your interests, your experiences and your journey to get to this point will be different to everyone else, but equally valid.
“Law impacts society and the world in so many different and interesting ways, and students become interested in law for many different reasons. There is no ‘right answer’ or single thing that we are looking for – everyone’s interest in law and the way they have developed this will be different, and you should feel confident to write a statement which genuinely illustrates your interest in the subject without worrying about whether you are saying the right thing."
Make the bigger connectionsDon’t limit yourself to talking about just one area of law – admissions tutors want you to show that you can see the wider picture.
“Law continues to provide the framework for modern society, impacting on all our lives, so your personal statement should try to reflect a range of different aspects and impacts of law,” says Ruth Boyce, schools and colleges development officer at the University of Winchester.
“As a law student you build a thorough knowledge of previous case law to enable you to explore questions at the core of the world we live in. From the protection of life and liberty to international relationships, law provides the mechanism for change employed by governments around the world. So, your statement can be wide in its content: the best have connections between law and current issues as well as wider society. A focus on just criminal law shows you have not understood the scope of the course.
“Give us evidence to prove your interest in and understanding of the subject and career area. This could be from previous study, wider reading, Massive Open Online Courses (Moocs), TED talks or specific cases that have been in the news. The best law personal statements confidently discuss different aspects of law and highlight its connections to history, society, even environmental issues."
Include any legal work experience on your personal statementAdmissions staff want students who are going to be a good match for their course – and relevant work experience can be a great way to prove that you’re genuinely interested in law and that you’ve really thought about your decision to take the subject.
“Any legal work experience that you may have should be explained on a law personal statement. It demonstrates that you are seriously considering law as a career option and have been exploring this before embarking on your university journey,” says Rebecca from Coventry Law School.
It could also be beneficial to include a line or two about how the work experience impacted you.
“Include anything that you feel illuminates who you are and demonstrates a commitment to studying law," says Laura at Kent Law School. "If you have some direct experience of a legal system, both in England and Wales or across the world, do tell us. Perhaps you have had a mini-pupillage with a barrister, have attended court to watch a case, or your summer job was connected to law in some way? Great! Tell us about it and more importantly what the experience meant to you.”
If you can’t get formal work experience, consider visiting your local courtEven if you’re struggling to get your foot in the door of a legal practice, you still have other options.
“It doesn’t just need to be work experience in a solicitors’ practice or a mini pupillage; it could also be visits to your local court to watch court proceedings or even an interest in the legal implications of things that you have seen or read in the news,” says Rebecca at Coventry Law School.
“You may find it difficult to get formal legal work experience – if this is the case, don’t worry!" adds Charlotte at the University of Gloucestershire. "There are a wide range of opportunities that can show your interest in the law outside of traditional work placement. For example, the courts are open to the public. Why not take the opportunity to attend a few cases, and then reflect on what you saw?”
Work experience in other fields could still be relevant to your law personal statementYou can also include other, non-legal work experience you’ve had, as long as you can relate it back to your university journey.
“You do not need to limit your work experience, hobbies and extracurricular activities to purely legal ones," says Rebecca at Coventry Law School. "Your interests and experiences are what make you unique as a person and we want to hear about them. What is important to remember though, is for interests that fall outside of legal experiences it is important to explain not just what you have done but what you have learnt from those experiences and how it enhances you as a potential law student."
In fact, work experience outside the usual legal realms can even enhance your application.
“Work experience in law firms, courts and barristers’ chambers is important but to stand out consider also something more left-field, such as volunteering in a local contact centre for children seeing separated parents or volunteering in charities that help people facing debt or charities assisting people facing eviction,” says Ashlie at the University of Hull.
The key to making your work experience relevant to your law personal statement is to think about how they have helped you develop the skills you’ll need to become a lawyer.
“Be open-minded as to opportunities," says Charlotte from the University of Gloucestershire. "There are no volunteering or extra-curricular activities that would not be relevant to your personal statement: you just need to be able to articulate why.
"Think about what skills or attributes you developed through those activities, and how they might be useful when studying or practicing law. For example, a lawyer needs to be resilient, communicate effectively, and work as part of a team. These skills can be developed in a multitude of ways."
“We do recognise that [legal work experience] is not always possible, and it won’t count against you," adds Laura from Kent Law School. "Work experience is just one of many equally valid ways of demonstrating how your interest in law has developed. Tell us about the experiences, hobbies and extracurriculars that you do have. Draw a link between them and studying law. Playing an instrument, playing sports and performing in a school production can evidence confidence, group work, commitment and time management for example, all of which would be useful for studying law at university.”
Highlight the key skillsRuth from the University of Winchester describes a handful of the key skills law students should ideally possess.
“Debating, discussion and communication are key skills. Through the degree you become proficient in vital skills such as negotiation and mooting - presenting a legal argument to defeat an opponent in court. Mooting brings law alive, and you may find yourself discussing a wide range of topics from discrimination in the workplace to third-party rights when downloading music from the internet.
“So, showing you have broad interests can be used positively in your statement and any activity where you have debated, discussed and communicated your ideas should be included, ideally with examples and details of the topic."
Don’t just list things outThere’s no point in just listing out a load of cases you’ve heard of – universities will be looking for a deeper understanding of the subject.
“Universities don’t need a definition or explanation of law in your introduction. Instead, you need to show that you know what the subject is and how your skills are suitable,” says Ruth.
“If you have completed any extracurricular activities, avoid listing the names of cases, books, or podcasts you engaged with. Reflect on what you have read, what have you learnt, how has it changed your understanding – more detail can really demonstrate that you have done your research and are ready for the course."
Some last tips from the universities…
- Plan your personal statement: a well-structured and presented personal statement is going to be more persuasive. An attribute we are looking for in law students.
- Pay attention to the detail: lawyers are required to be precise and accurate, so ensure that your application does not include grammatical or spelling errors.
- Ensure that you research the courses that you are applying to: discussing your interest in an area of law is not going to come across well if the course that you are applying to does not offer it.
- Focus on you: it is called a personal statement for a reason. For law courses, this is often the only insight that a university has into you as an individual, so make sure that your motivations, your experiences and your skills shine through.
- Avoid cliches: no one wants to read about your ‘passion for law'.
2. Explain why you wish to study law
3. Provide examples rather than mere assertions
4. Avoid spelling and grammatical errors
5. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare your personal statement, drawing on any sources of help available to you.
My other tips include demonstrating you are up to date with any recent landmark legal decisions; including evidence of a strong work ethic. Law is a challenging degree and is not for the faint hearted so you need to demonstrate you have what it takes to complete it.
Law is relevant to so much of our daily lives, and the best way to demonstrate your passion and commitment to the discipline is to understand its impact on what is happening in the world. A personal statement that draws on current affairs and shows a proper understanding of how the law has affected, and can influence, events and issues allows you to make the personal statement timely, relevant and highly personal,