--> divine angst: What the hell <em>is</em> a personal statement, anyway?

Friday, August 13, 2004

What the hell is a personal statement, anyway?

Slithery D writes this in reference to an earlier post of mine.

I admit, based on what I wrote, D's analysis is spot on. He says:
"I've never been an admissions officer, but I seem to recall they want a picture of you as a person. They know you want to go to law school. They know that many people who get in find they made a mistake. I don't think they worry too much about prescriptively fixing this problem for you. Instead, they want an "interesting" or "diverse" class."

My personal statement that my personal god of editing shredded, though, did none of these things. All it did was talk about how unsatisfied I am with my current career. And then, there was a little blurb at the end about how law sounded perfect for me. Ooooh, she'll make a great lawyer! In reality, I was making excuses for myself, complaining about my life, and stating that I needed a change. Why law should be that change wasn't really clear. As my editing god said, "This sounds like you just need a better job—why would a law prof on the admissions committee think you were particularly suited for law instead of, say, for an editorial job at a magazine?"

Good point.

So, when I said, "Admissions committees just want to know why I will make a good lawyer—and why I'll do so now," I didn't mean that I'm planning an opus on how passionate I am about justice and public service and fixing the wrongs of our evil world, and how that will make me a damn fine attorney. I meant, instead, that my statement needs to focus on me and what it is about me that will make me a good lawyer. Being unhappy with my job does not particularly suit me for any one profession.

What does suit me for law? Well—yes, it's trite, and talking about it is embarrassing—I really enjoy working for more than the bottom line.

I like the idea of having a vocation that actually, somehow, matters. I talked about this in my earlier post—law makes a difference. Even BIGLAW lawyers are making a difference. You know, my current career is in a visual medium, and I can make a difference by choosing who and what I work for. But my career in itself does not provide any guarantee of making the world a better place. Only, perhaps, a better-looking place. Face it—everything we do is touched by law, which makes lawyers the plastic surgeons of society. Some are there for purely cosmetic procedures; others repair congenital defects; still others come in behind the big blowups and try to make scars and wounds less noticeable and less painful. Some move around and do a little of everything. But they all touch the law, change it, alter it, modify it, and that affects our future.

But I digress. Why will I make a good lawyer? My profile says I want to teach—and that means I want to publish—and that's important, because I really enjoy getting down into the nitty gritty of an issue or subject or even the use of a particular word and figuring out what's wrong with it, right with it, how it matters, and what can be done to make it better. Then I like to tell people about it. I also like to argue. I like to tell people they're wrong and then explain why. I hate being wrong, but when I am, I will admit it—grudgingly. Still, being wrong won't stop me from trying to figure out why the other person isn't right.

I like to read and write, but I don't write fiction. I couldn't write a short story for a million dollars—at least, not a good one. I pen the occasional poem, but those are usually wretched, too. I love to edit. I can't even say how gratifying I find the entire process of picking apart someone's work and putting it back together so they can make it better, more precise, more clear, more real. If you're pre-law, or in law, I hope you understand.

I've never been a huge fan of lawyers—the kind that advertize on the back of phone books or during daytime television. But I deeply admire the lawyers who work for something they believe in. The process of developing a key case, in the hopes of affecting major change, is fascinating to me. I'm thinking right now of Mary Bonauto and GLAD (and, for that matter, LAMBDA Legal Defense) who worked very hard for over a decade, choosing the right time and place to bring a critical case to trial in order to win a favorable decision. This is the kind of law I'd want to be involved in, the kind of law I hope I can be involved in.

The kicker is that I have to tell the admissions committee about all those things that will make me a good lawyer without being boring. Because D is right—there's the safe-and-boring brand of personal statement, and there's the get-me-noticed-and-admitted brand. I'm a big fan of the latter. I just have to write the damn thing.