Law School Dos and Don'ts

General Recommendations

  • Do
    • DO convey a positive message overall. Cynicism, bitterness, and resentment will not score points with admissions committees.
    • DO strive for depth, not breadth. Rather than trying to cover several events, experiences, or ideas, focus on one, and explore and describe it in depth, providing illustrative details and meaningful insights.
    • DO start writing the section with which you feel most comfortable. There is no law that says you must start with the opening paragraph and continue in sequence. Eventually, the various sections will come together.
    • DO avoid careless grammatical errors. This sounds simple, but so many people — including professional writers — fail to do this.
    • DO proofread your essay several times for spelling and typographical errors. If you have it, you may want to run the spelling checker of your computer's word processing program, but do not rely on it. Consult a dictionary for any words you even vaguely suspect may be misspelled. Make sure every proper name is spelled correctly, down to the diacritical marks on foreign names, and the name of every organization, institution, and company is written properly. You never know what a reader will notice!
  • Don't
    • DON'T try to accomplish too much in your essay. Less is more.
    • DON'T write an essay that any one of a thousand other applicants could write, because they probably will. If you think the admission committee might receive even one other essay like yours, rewrite it.
    • DON'T expect or even attempt to write the perfect essay in one sitting. Write something, edit it, put it aside, and return to it later. Good writing is the product of careful and constant rewriting.

Before You Write

  • Do
    • DO read some good writing, including admissions essays by other students and essays by authors whose work you admire. Take note of how they draw in a reader and tell a story.
    • DO engage in some serious brainstorming with your family and friends.

Subject Matter

  • Do
    • DO be interesting, but more importantly, be yourself. Convey your genuine thoughts and feelings.
    • DO be confident that your experiences are exciting enough to commit to print. It is the depth of character you convey, not the intensity of your topic, that matters; some of the most successful essays are written about the most mundane of things and events.
  • Don't
    • DON'T rehash what the reader already knows about you; do not reiterate accomplishments or activities that are already mentioned elsewhere in your application.
    • DON'T try to summarize your entire life's accomplishments. Your essay will end up reading more like a superficial laundry list than a meaningful personal statement.
    • DON'T write anything that might embarrass the reader or make him or her feel uncomfortable. The reader is neither your therapist, your confessor, nor your close friend.
    • DON'T try to write a scholarly or overly important-sounding essay. An essay showing off your knowledge of — rather than your passion for — a particular academic subject tells the reader nothing about you as a person. The reader will suspect, at worst, that your essay is actually a recycled term paper.

Opening Sentences

  • Do
    • DO be a little mysterious at the beginning of your essay to grab your reader's attention. But also be sure to resolve any initial uncertainties so that you do not leave your reader hanging.
    • DO take your cue from good essayists who know how to capture an audience's interest right from the start. One possible opener is a trivial observation that anyone can relate to but would never think to mention in an essay. Jerry Seinfeld built a career on this skill.
  • Don't
    • DON'T rely too heavily on quotations for your opening sentences. This technique can be effective, but it can also sound tired and cliched. You are generally better off filling your essay with your own words.


  • Do
    • DO provide closure; give the reader the sense that you have come full circle. You should think of the conclusion as a bookend for your essay.
  • Don't
    • DON'T repeat or sum up your points in any way.
    • DON'T introduce a new idea that does not directly relate to previous themes or that requires further explanation.

Word Choice

  • Do
    • DO use clear, concise language, and standard English vocabulary.
    • DO use a natural, informal conversational tone-not as informal as colloquial speech, but less formal than the tone of an academic assignment.
  • Don't
    • DON'T use slang or currently popular buzz phrases if you can avoid it.
    • DON'T use overly academic or intellectual vocabulary, especially if you are not completely familiar or comfortable with it. You will not impress the reader and you may end up sounding pompous and pretentious.
    • DON'T start too many sentences with the word "I."
    • DON'T overuse such vague words as "situation" and "experience."

Stylistic Devices

  • Do
    • DO use analogies, metaphors, and similes to help convey your message, but do not overdo them.
    • DO use humor where appropriate, but never overuse it or use it flippantly.
    • DO use dialogue, but make sure it helps illustrate your point or make your narrative come to life.
  • Don't
    • DON'T fill your essay generic images and descriptions.
    • DON'T tell the reader, "I am a unique and interesting person." Instead, let the reader glean this indirectly from your unique and interesting essay. In other words, show, don't tell.


  • Do
    • DO try to use the active voice instead of the passive voice — e.g. use "Our staff completed the newspaper in record time" instead of "The newspaper was completed in record time."
    • DO maintain parallel sentence structure.
    • DO review your punctuation. Pay special attention to your use of semicolons, colons, commas, hyphens, and dashes.
  • Don't
    • DON'T switch back and forth between verb tenses.