By Shireen Moti
Shireen Moti is the author of the book ‘Guide to LLM Admissions & Scholarships Abroad‘ published by Universal Law Publishing books. She’s a 2014 graduate of JGLS, Sonepat and received the British Chevening Scholarship to pursue her LL.M at the Queen Mary University of London.
She made it to numerous top law universities during her application process, including Columbia University, New York University, Cornell University, University College London and School of Oriental Studies.
Introduction: Statement of Purpose
The Statement of Purpose or the Personal Statement forms an important part of the application to a law school. Most law schools do not conduct interviews for Masters of Law admissions. In such cases, the Statement of purpose becomes even more important.
It may be the only opportunity for an applicant to tell the admissions committee his motivation to apply to the Master of Laws (LLM) programme at the law school.
The statement of purpose is a document which allows the applicant to introduce himself to the admissions committee and convince the committee to select him without meeting the committee in person.
The applicant should write a statement of purpose which not only compels the admissions committee to review the statement of purpose in its entirety but also stands out amongst thousands of other applications submitted to the law school.
The goal of the statement of purpose is to help the applicant secure admission in the Master of Laws programme at the desired law school.
The admissions process is a highly competitive process and the student acceptance rates at the top law schools in the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK) are rather low.
Therefore, to give himself his best chance, the applicant must plan carefully, present his ideas clearly, and invest ample amount of time in writing his statement of purpose.
How does the Admissions Committee use the Statement of Purpose?
The admissions committee uses the statement of purpose to judge the following about the applicant:
1. What is the background of the applicant?
2. Why should they select the applicant?
3. How does the student stand out from the rest of the applicants?
4. What motivates the student to apply to the Master in Laws programme at the law school?
5. What all does the applicant plan to do while pursuing the Master of Laws programme at the law school?
6. How will the law school help the applicant to achieve his future career goals?
7. Is the applicant able to present his ideas in an articulate and coherent manner within the specified word limit?
The Stages of Writing an Excellent Statement of Purpose
An applicant must begin writing his statement of purpose at least three to four months before his first Master of Laws programme admission application deadline.
An applicant may follow the following four stages for writing an excellent personal statement:
Stage 1: Short listing of law schools
In stage 1, the applicant must prepare a tentative short list of law schools that he will be applying to for securing an admission Then, he must read the question the law schools require him to answer in the statement of purpose.
Some law schools give a list of questions and the applicant can choose to answer one or a combination of questions from the list provided by the law school. Some other law schools give a general question and it is up to the student to design his statement of purpose.
The applicant must aim to select a question which is common to all law schools and invest his energy, time, and effort in writing one statement of purpose.
The applicant can then alter the statement of purpose prepared by him to suit the individual needs of each law school.
Stage 2: Pre-drafting exercise or brainstorming
Once the applicant has short listed the law schools that he is will be applying to and has decided on the question he is answering in the statement of purpose, he is then ready to proceed to the stage 2 of the process of writing a statement of purpose
At this stage, everything which comes to the applicants’ mind and is even remotely connected to the Master of Laws programme at the law school that he is applying to should be put down on paper.
There should be no filtration of thoughts. One should not care about the stipulated word limit at this stage of the process.
The applicant should strive to create ten to fifteen categories and note down the information from his academic or professional profile within those categories. For example, the categories can be, past academic achievements, past extracurricular achievements, the student’s life story or any challenge that the student has faced and how did he or she overcome that challenge?
Stage 3: Drafting the Statement of Purpose
The applicant should revisit his writing in stage one, within two to three days of the brainstorming session.
In the interim period the student’s mind will automatically start filtering ideas which are relevant to the application for the Master of Laws programme at the law school that he is applying to and should be written in the statement of purpose.
This time gap will make the drafting of the statement of purpose much simpler. Throughout the drafting session, the applicant must keep the question that he is answering through the statement of purpose in mind.
The statement of purpose must answer all the parts of the question. Since there is a specified word limit, all information cannot be included in the statement of purpose.
To check the importance of the information that the applicant intends to include in his statement of purpose, he must relate it back to the question asked and see if it is relevant to the question.
Stage 4: Revise, Review, and Edit
This is the final stage for writing a statement of purpose. The applicant must be aware that it will take some time to write the statement of purpose. There will be several drafts of the statement of purpose before it is ready to be submitted.
There is a process of revising, reviewing, and editing between the first draft and the final statement of purpose. It is an integral part of preparing a statement of purpose as this makes it look professional.
For reviewing the statement of purpose the applicant can share it with his friends, family members, and professors. Based on their comments, the student may edit some parts of the statement of purpose which are not relevant or are less important.
When anyone works on a document for long, he is unable to identify the mistakes in the document. To avoid this, the applicant must take a print of his statement of purpose and read it aloud to ensure that there are no typing, spelling, and grammatical errors.
Use of correct grammar and spellings is an important aspect of an applicant’s statement of purpose. Keeping the statement of purpose within the word limit and using standard formatting is also essential. Some law schools specify their formatting guidelines.
The student must stick to them. In case, the law school does not specify any rules for formatting, then the applicant must follow the standard format.
The standard format is, 1 inch margins on all sides, Times New Roman, Size 12, and 1.5 spacing.
What Should be Included in a Statement of Purpose?
The applicant must answer every part of the question asked. Some law schools have a prompt for the statement of purpose, while others have suggestions on things to be included in the personal statement.
In either case, the applicant’s duty is to answer the question asked or suggested in its entirety through his statement of purpose.
The applicant must strive to include the answers to the following questions within his personal statement:
1. What is the background of the applicant?
2. What is the applicant’s past academic and extra-curricular achievements?
3. What is the work-experience of the applicant?
4. What motivated the applicant to apply for the Master of Laws programme?
5. What inspired the applicant to apply to the specific law school?
6. Why does the student want to study the Master of Laws programme at the specific law school?
7. Why should the admissions committee select the applicant?
8. What does the applicant intend to contribute to the law school?
9. What are the future goals and aspirations of the applicant?
10. How will the studying of the Masters in Law programme help the applicant in achieving his future short-term and long-term career goals?
Do’s and Don’t’s of Writing a Statement of Purpose
➤ The applicant must set aside ample time for writing the statement of purpose.
➤ The applicant must make a customised plan for himself and devote time to each of the four stages of writing the statement of purpose.
➤ Before beginning the process of writing, the applicant must be calm and should brainstorm.
➤ The applicant must write the statement of purpose on his own. He must take feedback from other people, however, the final product must be a result of his own efforts.
➤ The applicant must make a general statement of purpose and alter it to meet the requirements of different law schools.
➤ The applicant must answer all parts of the question asked by the law school in his statement of purpose.
➤ The applicants’ personal story must come alive on paper.
➤ The applicant must make sure that the statement of purpose reflects his educational background, past achievements, work experience, motivation to apply for the Master in Laws programme at the desired law school, and his future career goals.
➤ The applicant must give the admissions committee reasons to select him.
➤ The statement of purpose must reflect that the applicant has researched about the law school. This can be done by including the names of courses that the student would like to study at the law school. The student may also include the names of professors that he intends to learn from at the law school.
➤ When an applicant has to decide the importance of some information, he must revisit the question asked and decide if the information helps him in answering that question.
➤ The applicant must be careful about the usage of grammar and spellings.
➤ The applicant must use the formatting guidelines specified by the law school. In the absence of any such guidelines, the applicant must follow the standard format. The standard format is, size 12, Times New Roman, 1.5 spacing, and 1 inch margins on all sides.
➤ The applicant must stick to the word limit. This indicates that the applicant cares about instructions, is respectful, and professional.
➤ The applicant must be clear in his ideas and thoughts.
➤ Keep the statement of purpose lively and interesting.
➤ While writing the statement of purpose, the applicant must use active voice.
➤ Wherever possible, the applicant must avoid using negative sentences in the statement of purpose.
➤ The applicant must not sit down to write his statement of purpose in the last week of the Master of Laws programme admission application deadline. There is no point submitting a poorly written statement of purpose when the competition is high.
➤ Do not try to copy and paste someone else’s statement of purpose from any source. The admissions committee maintains a record of previous applications and is experienced enough to identify any copied piece of work.
➤ Do not lie on the statement of purpose. The admissions committee will figure this out. At a later stage, they may even verify the facts.
➤ Do not write about influential family members in the statement of purpose. The applicant must write his personal story and not about somebody else.
➤ Do not repeat things already mentioned in the curriculum vitae and the letters of recommendation. The applicant is not going to benefit from repeating the same information everywhere.
➤ The applicant must not try to fit in all information about himself in the statement of purpose. It is better to include two or three clear ideas in the statement of purpose in a coherent and concise manner rather than providing a plethora of information, which may or may not be relevant to secure an admission at the desired law school.
➤ The applicant must not devote more than one or two paragraphs in the statement of purpose to explain the admissions committee the reasons for which he should be selected over other applicants.
➤ The applicant must not write about his achievements during high school, unless they are significant achievements.
➤ The applicant must not take a lot of stress while writing the statement of purpose. Be calm, let the ideas flow, write it down, and edit later.
Eventually, the applicant will arrive at the best possible statement of purpose which can be submitted to his desired law school for securing an admission to the Master in Laws programme.
Views of Successful Applicants on Writing a Statement of Purpose
“The statement of purpose must be a true and honest reflection of a student’s personality. When the student is in the process of writing the statement of purpose, the student must treat it as a conversation in writing without being able to meet the members of the admissions committee in person.
The student should strive to answer why he is passionate about a particular course at the law school and how will his LL.M studies help him to achieve his future goals?”
– Bachelors of Civil Law Student, University of Oxford
“Writing a statement of purpose can be a daunting task at first. Personally, it was an overwhelming experience for me. It was in the later stages of the application process that I realised that the trick is to break down the task into smaller goals over a period of time.
The student must show his research about the courses, faculty, and the law school in his statement of purpose”
– General LL.M Student, University of Cambridge
“Well begun is half done, is a saying which holds true for personal statements as well. If you begin early the chances of reaching a desired final product are considerably high. From my personal experience, I can share with prospective LL.M. applicants to not underestimate the time it can take to draft a well-written personal statement.
My advice to students is to begin early and give themselves the best chance possible.”
– General LL.M Student, London School of Economics & Political Science
“It is not a surprise that LL.M admissions at top law schools are highly competitive. I have come across students who try to fit in a lot of information in their personal statements.
Given the word-limit this is not only an impossible task but also an unnecessary one. In my personal statement, I wrote about three things which in my opinion made me stand out from the rest of the applicants. I feel this is what worked for me and may work for other applicants as well. The Graduate Admissions Committee’s across law schools is looking for a reason to select you, give them that reason.”
– Shireen Moti, Chevening Scholar, LL.M Student QMUL
The statement of purpose is the most important document that the applicant submits as a part of his admissions application. One cannot afford to do a half-hearted job at writing the statement of purpose.
The power of the statement of purpose is such that it can either make or destroy your chances of getting into your desired law school.
Therefore, my suggestion to all applicants is that before beginning the process of writing your statement of purpose, one must make a detailed schedule or customised plan for oneself. The applicant must begin by short listing the law schools and finalising the question for the statement of purpose.
Once this is done, the other three stages of writing a statement of purpose, namely, pre-drafting, drafting and revise, review, and edit must be followed. Specific time must be allotted to each of the four stages of the process of writing an excellent statement of purpose.
Once the content of the statement of purpose is finalised the applicant must make sure that the statement or purpose is within the specified word limit, there is proper usage of English grammar and spellings, and the format guidelines of the law school that the applicant is applying to have been followed.
If the law school does not mention any formatting guidelines, then the standard format must be used.
Sample Statement of Purpose
The below given statement of purpose is of Mr. PQR. He was successfully accepted at one of top five Ivy League law schools in the United States.
The name of the successful applicant has been kept anonymous to protect his privacy.
All applicants must electronically attach to the online application a brief personal statement of no more than 500 words.
Applicants may describe their professional interests and goals, or they may use the statement to describe aspects of themselves and/or their work that are not apparent from their other application materials.
Applicants should include their reasons and qualifications for applying to a particular program or specialization.
Statement of Purpose:
During high school, I actively volunteered for a non-governmental organization, ABC, which worked for the promotion of education and welfare of the children.
For two years, as a part of ABC, I assisted for the organization of awareness campaigns for education and health of children. I volunteered once a week and during the weekends. I was appreciated for my efforts by the ABC’s members and was praised by my school management.
While volunteering at ABC, I got the opportunity to interact with and observe the work of human rights activists and lawyers who were fighting for the rights of children. I felt inspired and it made me understand the importance of law as an instrument of hope and empowerment.
I decided to become a Human Rights lawyer, persevered, and secured admission at MNO law school with a merit scholarship.
While performing well in other courses, my interest in Human Rights Law sharpened during law school through my engagement with MNO clinical programmes centre which works on access to justice projects in the villages of Haryana.
I initiated a student-run MNO Legal Aid Society to encourage students to work for clinical programmes. I led collaborations with non-governmental organizations to work on issues of access to justice, rural governance, women rights, and other areas in the villages of Haryana.
We conducted ‘community training sessions’ and organized ‘legal literacy camps’ to empower communities with the knowledge of rights and mechanisms to approach the government officials.
Despite life threats from extra-constitutional caste bodies known as Khap Panchayats, which are an impediment to any progress in women rights, we were able to secure 50 per cent female participation in our training programs.
I am deeply committed to a career in academic research and activism on access to justice. For two reasons, I think pursuing an LLM at the TUV law school would be ideally suited to my career goals. First, several courses at the Law School will broaden and deepen my theoretical understanding of human rights.
The courses such as “International Human Rights Law” with Prof. Philip Alston and “Refugee and Asylum Law” with Prof. Anwen Hughes speak directly to my interests in this regard.
Second, I am inspired with the clinical initiatives undertaken by the law school, particularly the “Global Justice Clinic” and the “International Organizations Clinic”. The opportunity to engage with the work being conducted by the clinics will allow me to experience clinics at a global arena.
The courses and clinical programmes will allow me to fulfil my ambition of seeking erudition in Human Rights Law. With the exposure to international pedagogy and clinical programmes
I will contribute better to the practice of Human Rights Law and teach human rights courses in law schools in India. I intend to bring the best practices being followed in clinics at the law school to the system of legal education in India.
As an extension of my passion for human rights, I am interested at some point in setting up a South Asian Think Tank and pursuing a career in the government.
Comments on the Statement of Purpose
The given sample is an example of an excellent statement of purpose. You must have observed that in the given sample, Mr. PQR was able to effectively describe various components of his profile and answer the question asked in a short word limit of 500 words.
After reading the personal statement, the graduate admission committee will be able to understand the following about Mr. PQR:
1. What inspires Mr. PQR to pursue a career in law?
2. What major activities was Mr. PQR involved in while at law school?
3. Why does Mr. PQR want to pursue the LLM programme at the law school?
4. What does Mr. PQR intend to learn during his year as an LLM student at the law school?
5. What are Mr. PQRs future goals and ambitions?
6. How will the LLM programme help Mr. PQR in achieving his future goals and ambitions?
Students may answer the above stated questions for themselves and use this as a guide to write their own personal statements. Every student will come up with different answers because of the uniqueness of each of their profiles, and therefore each statement of purpose will be different.