Many law schools require a short statement of purpose or personal statement from applicants to LL.M. programs. This needs careful attention when writing.
Not all law schools give exact 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 goals. Since an interview is usually 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.
In other words don’t just summarize your resume in sentences and paragraphs. “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.”
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 in particular.
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 areas of the school or program – classes, internship opportunity, or research focus, for example – you think would help further your career.
When it comes to tone and language, there’s no need to show off your English. Keep it real, write as the reflection of who you are. Keep it formal, and when a specific question has been asked, make sure you answer it.
Here are some ideas to think about and follow when writing an essay for your application:
- 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. Make it personal. make it reflect who you are.
Letters of Recommendation
Another key part of the application process is a letter of recommendation.
Letters of recommendation provide law schools with a candid assessment of your abilities, and a good letter of recommendation can expand upon or reveal areas of yourself that may not be otherwise apparent in your application. A strong letter of recommendation can improve your chances of admittance; however, it cannot make up for any serious weaknesses in your record.
The best letters of recommendation are those that are comparative in nature. Recommendations that positively discuss your intellectual abilities, course load or work product in comparison to other students or coworkers (“She is best student I have ever taught in my entire career” or “He took the most difficult courses in the department”) weigh heavily with admissions officers. In addition, letters that can also comment on your character and goals in addition to your intellectual strengths are beneficial as well.
Because letters of recommendation require you to work and coordinate with the person that is recommending you, plan accordingly and early in order to allow yourself to gather the required materials and to give your recommender enough time to write the best letter possible.
Selecting A Good Recommender
When considering possible recommenders think about the classes you took and your performance in those classes. A letter from the professor who taught your elective photography class is less valuable than a letter from your upper-level class in your major. Recommendations from professors who taught you in seminars or small lecture classes are good because those professors were able to observe you in a smaller academic environment. Professors who taught courses with a heavy emphasis on reading and writing and/or critical thinking and analysis are also good, since admissions committees are looking for evaluations of your intellectual qualifications as well as your writing and oral communication skills.
Ideally, your letters of recommendation should come from professors who taught classes in which you excelled, who know you personally, and who have had ample opportunity to evaluate you. If you are currently in college, work to cultivate that type of relationship: participate in class discussions, go to office hours, do an independent study with the professor you respect, invite your professor out to coffee to talk about your goals, etc. If you do not plan on applying to law schools right after college, be sure to keep in touch with your professors. Send them updates on what you have been doing since graduation and be sure to drop by and say hello if you ever go back to campus. The key is to stand out and be memorable (in a good way!).
If you attend a large university and were not able to cultivate a relationship with any of your professors, consider asking a boss or lecturer who may have worked more closely with you. Likewise, if you have been out of school for several years, ask an employer who knows you and your work well.
Overall, you want professionals who can write strong, detailed, solid and enthusiastic letters in support of your application to be your recommenders.