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Messages - Burhop

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well, you are using it like a timeline for you essay--that means to me that you're probably organizing your essay chronologically. This is opposed to, say, starting your essay discussing the rights of the disabled, and then mentioning later in the essay that you have some first hand-experience with folks that you'd like to represent in the future.

...that's why I think the childhood thing has cropped up so much--because everyone is using this organizational structure:

1) Important/colorful childhood anecdote
2) maybe something about the parents
3) how this "changed me"
4) How I made life decisions from that point on
5) where I'm at today--lemme in law school!

...which is not to say that it's a bad structure--I'm just saying it has been astonishingly common. Setting up essays in chronological order is very natural and easy to do, but it may not be the only, or even the best way to intro a subject. Just sayin'--I could see how it would get monotonous for adcomms.



a childhood anecdote into a tragic story, eh? I guess I'd just advise that you make sure it doesn't just end up reading like a really long venting session.

Here's a fourth one I've seen pretty frequently:

4) The Overshare--telling the audience waaaay more than they needed to know to "get the idea." If some extraneous detail falls to the right of 3 on the 1-10 Jerry Springer Scale (JSS), really think about whether the anecdote will help get you into law school. The adcomms don't know anyone's backstory, so any plays for sympathy could easily fall flat--what you share might be true to you, but in 1000 words to a stranger on paper, will just make you sound...well...crazy. ;-)

You know how easy it is to mis-interpret tone and intent of emails? Personal Statements are the same way. Don't give adcomms any reason to think you're a nutjob.


sure--hook it up--PM or


Have you read any Martha Nussbaum or Amartya Sen? I get the anti-Rawls thang you've got going here. It's almost a reason/morals dichotomy--one of the things I brought into my own essay was Thane Rosenbaum's "The Myth of Moral Justice." Law can be entirely based on reason and just plain wrong--hence, Nazi Germany.

Genocide today is different though, yes? It's within borders, and thus can take longer to ferret out. I agree we're still crappy at dealing with it, but I think that has more to do with an argument around the idea of the state--for example, would your argument necessarily lead to the abolishment of states? How does the idea of 'community' fix the niggling issues to do with borders and sovereignty?

If your goal is this specific tone, you've achieved it.

For me, all of the lapses in logic I found were addressed by your given explanation. In fact, the explanation makes me wonder why globalization is in there at all--if you'd really like to give human rights rhetoric the what-for, why not concentrate on that? That's clearly where your energy is most concentrated, based on the explanation given.

Human rights is still in its infancy--moving from theory to policy has proven tricky, and certainly things could be better. The tone of your piece is just so...apocalyptic. There's really no one writing today who has proposed a theory you'd buy into? Is there no positive progress at all? When you say "consider community," how could you flesh that out a bit more within the 250?

I totally get your frustrations, btw. Our rhetoric does not match our actions.

A 'backwards outline' of your essay, as it stands:
1)It's like deja-vu all over again
2)International law isn't helping those who most need it
3)Cultural Relativity--western paradigms rule
4)Reason vs Community (i.e. screw Kant) didn't mention Human Rights by name, nor Rawls, nor Kant. Why not? This seems a conscious decision--but, I'd still invoke 'em all.

Martha Nussbaum makes a powerful argument both for community & for how the western paradigm actually is not exceptionally western at all--and how even if human rights can be argued to be grounded in western thought, there are reasons why this is acceptable, and that we should get so hung up on the location and idea emanated from. It's from Women & Human Development--worth the read. She teaches law at U of C and hangs out with Cass Sunstein.

I wish you well with this--it's a great topic to grapple with, at any rate.



(I dunno why everyone keeps arguing for adding a story--dude, the PS will have that, right?)

For anyone willing to - or interested in - reading the step-by-step of my thinking, re: the actual content of the draft 250, it is below....

I take Habeas’ concerns about sounding know-it-allsy seriously. My issue is that I ruly believe that international law - esp in the area of human rights - is preposterous beyond belief. My sense is that we all know that it is, at least in the back of our minds. How do we reconcile the existence of so-called“laws” against genocide, for example, with having ourselves lived in a time when several have occured and are occuring with little action on the part of the so-called international community? International law is WEAK.

Why is it weak? I guess that I’m driving at a number of questions and issues, and trying to do so into 250 words and without being too dry about it.

1. intl law isn’t based on a sense of community:
Perhaps because we really don’t care that much about those people - we do not believe them to be like us, part of our community. We do not love them. They are simply the beneficiaries of our pity, and that after the fact; perhaps, even, we need them to suffer in order to know how good we ourselves have it... (The contrast with the efficiency and rigor with which international private law enforced is perhaps instructive).

2. intl law’s weakness is in its attempt to ground itself on reason alone:
If intl law, then, is not based on community & love; and if it is based on Kantian Reason (hence, the oh-so-German capitalizations... I’m uncomfortable with the caps too, but used them anyway because it is shorthand for our tradition of thought, and because Kantian thought is not the only type of reason possible) then clearly it is way above my head. I guess, though, that I am a firm believer at the moment in the idea that, to name-drop and distort Oliver Wendell Holmes for a sec,  “the life of the law (cannot be born of) logic (but) of experience”. It seems to me that intl law, currently and in the past, is all about the “a priori” and categorical imperatives, veils of ignorance and thought experiments in which  ahistorical, acultural, apolitical “individuals” make what is equitable and just.  Reminds me of the joke about the economist in jail who escapes by assuming that she has a key to her cell. I cannot imagine a person without history /culture / unconscious/ myth/ poiltics, any more than I can imagine a circle without a shape.

3. intl law is arrogant and elitist:
And there may yet be other problems with it: given that it is founded upon a western conception of reason, of the individual as the paramount moral and political unit, it may not even be able to understand, let alone accomodate other - African, Confucian, Islamic etc - conception of justice, rights, etc. Perhaps this is why it has very little legitimacy. Perhaps this lack of legitimacy is why it is so weak.  I don’t think that I am the only person that thinks it laughable that there are conventions against child labor, declarations on the equality of women, laws against slavery, and articles on the right of all to freedom from absolute poverty even as things flourish?

4. we have seen international reason be this way before, in the early twentieth century
Then too, the war to end all wars had been fought, and history had been proclaimed over. Then too they relied on international law based on reason alone without accounting for the powerful forces of nationalism, ideology, culture, history. Then too, the western elites met at conferences in nice places and solved the problems of the world at a stroke. And the twentieth century, by any measure, was an utter disaster. And here we are again.

5. Frankly, the high-flown rhetoric of intl law, coupled with its weakness, pisses me off a little bit.
Naively, I suppose, I can’t help but feel that that genocide isn’t cool. I find human rights chic, in the face of its obvious failures, frankly obscene.

6. By implication - international law should be founded on politics, history, culture; it should seek legitimacy by being founded upon consensus, an awareness or cultural diversity, on a better developed sense of solidarity. Let’s put the anthropological, the political, the love,  and the historical back into law. That is my suggestion, and I’m willing to devote an entire career to it.

well, the childhood intro is convenient--it sets up an organic timeline for the whole essay. So I can see why people use it so often. But when it takes over the essay, and suddenly the whole essay is about you when you were five, well...what does that say to the adcomms? "I was a cool five-year-old" seems like a small selling point, unless you were doing something crazy-cool.

I guess the childhood starting point might be a good place for some to start writing--but in the revision process, one ought to check to ensure that it strengthens the piece in a very concrete way. Too fluffy--axe it, I say! ;-)



...for those of you who've read a lot of personal statements for others, what themes/rhetorical devices/strategies have you seen used over and over? I'm starting to notice patterns, and it made me reflect: I wonder if adcomms want to shoot themselves when they see ______ for the umpteenth time. Maybe by listing some of the most common stuff, folks writing their PS's right now can use the info to their advantage.

1) This is a big numero uno--I'd say 3/4 of the PS's I've read over the last two years have an opening paragraph that starts in childhood--from between ages 5-10. This pattern was so startling in the last batch I read, I wondered if I'd missed the memo to bring up my own childhood (!!).

2) Complaining about parental influence. What's this about? I mean, I feel for anyone whose parents aren't supporting their educational decisions/helping pay--that sucks--but why belittle them directly in the statement? "My parents suck, see?" seems like a weird PS strategy to me.

3)Talking about GPA/LSAT for 2+ paragraphs. This just drags the emphasis away from the author and onto one's beef with "the man" or whatever. Soooo many people do this, I think this might be the one strategy that makes adcomms want to jump off a bridge."The LSAT isn't indicative of my true abilities, so I'm going to complain about it for awhile." Why not spend the precious PS writing space to convince the school you're awesome? Write a short addendum if ya gotta.

I'm sure I'll think of other examples throughout the day. I'd love to hear what patterns others have picked up on--



yup, that's pretty standard. Some people have been right-justifying as well, although that doesn't seem necessary IMHO.


One problem is that it's hard to be memorable if you have nothing memorable to say. A short and sweet story with bigger implications or a moral can have an adcom pulling for you if they remember you as the "krispy kreme" story (to cite a previous post).

I agree on the point that memorability is most easily linked to narrative--a strong storyline. This is what I advocate for in Personal Statements, but the Yale 250 is a different beast altogether, no? Correct me if I'm wrong. But based on the assignment posted here, I read the 250 as an opportunity to show yourself as a concise writer and strong thinker--it doesn't sound like they're asking for "personal statement lite."




redemption, you write beautifully - and i think your 250 would absolutely pop if there was some sense of your own involvement in or experience with the subject matter, rather than what seems to be purely an academic opinion. not that it has to be about you - but no one can argue with YOUR experience of something, because it is uniquely yours. whereas anyone can take issue with academic opinion. if your essay made it clear that your view of intl law came from some aspect of your life experience, then i think you would nail it.

I disagree--most personal statement stuff is people blathering on about this and that experience that "opened their eyes" and whatnot. I think for this type of essay, it is better to let the logic stand alone than to muddle things with some related moralistic tale--that tends towards the saccharine for me, in any case. I'd much prefer to see someone take a stand and defend their position without the "when my momma..." or "when I volunteered..." histrionics.




Hmm...interesting to see the whole assignment. I believe Yale is into the whole interdisciplinary/systems theory-type thang, no? So, the "across disciplines" could be interpreted as "feel free to write about something non-law-related" as well as "feel free to mesh a few disciplines together." If we take the latter to be the case, then the argument becomes "how good was the discipline synthesis of the given sample essay, taking into account the notion of 'writing, thinking, editing'?"

As many mentioned, there were a slurry of disciplines mentioned, all under the rubric of international law. What also happens, though, is an accusation--that being that international law has been "stripped free" of politics, history and culture. So, is this an implicit argument *for* a more interdisciplinary approach in Int. law? Is it an indictment of the entire history of International thought?

With this broad accusation comes another related accusation--one that would seem to impugn the direction law has taken towards the individual as opposed to the community. Is this a critique of human rights rhethoric, or possibly an argument for something more closely resembling a Feminist Ethics of Care argument? Hard to say.

This is why I leveled the op-ed concern--many sweeping claims/accusations, made in a grandiose fashion (note the word choices: triumphalism, giddy, Weberian, emancipated, Enlightenment). I've read a few successful Yale 250s, and they tended to be simpler, and constructed with a more careful language, mindful of the point that this will be read as an example of how the student 'thinks.'

Jason240s concern about whether or not Yale wants 'resolution' is a good question, but I'm not sure that is the only issue people have raised here; there are also concerns with tone and general meaning. I think it might be okay to raise questions and leave them unanswered--but, if the questions all take the tone of the final jab (what will our excuse be?), I think it is proper to fret over the tone of the piece; there is just a great deal of accusation-laden language here. The presumption is that history is simply repeating itself, and that we will *have* to start concocting excuses? How sunny.

Does the essay fit the specifications to a T? In a way, yes! It shows passion, a sense of humor (snarky), interdisciplinary thought, and a sense of how the student thinks and writes. But, due to the tone & accusations, I would argue that this student needs to think for a bit about how they would like to come across--it is perfectly reasonable to wrangle with a less complex topic in a more impressive, holistic way. The question here is whether or not the author has bitten off more than she can chew, and covers the lapses in argument & logic up with some bold rhetoric and a few open-ended questions. Certainly lawyer's tricks, to be true (!!).

I think it all comes down to how one wants to be perceived--the emotional imprint of the essay. This essay clearly has left an emotional imprint, as apparent by the responses here. Maybe that is enough. I'm just voicing skepticism to see what sticks, I suppose. ;-)




"It feels like the dawn of twentieth century doesn’t it, with all this giddy talk of globalization and the sweet scent of Liberal triumphalism in the air? History has ended again, we are told; the world is flat; and democracy and markets have won out.

International law - stripped of politics, history and culture - is back. Through the modern League of Nations, it establishes confident conventions and trumpets its important declarations even as billions - unaware that they have been emancipated, and they now have rights to dignity, liberty and equality - suffer, mute and alone, out of sight of the corner offices, conference halls and tribunals.

Enlightenment thought is fashionable once more. The best and the brightest, sure in our ability to engineer the world towards greater happiness, study systems, solve equations, and construct proofs. By jet now, rather than by steamship, we travel abroad in ever greater numbers, spreadsheets in hand, spreading this Weberian gospel among the unenlightened. We speak softly, of course, and it is not we but our governments that carry the big sticks.

Having founded international law upon Reason, having seen no point in anchoring it in community, wisdom and love, our predecessors could not have anticipated the moral and physical catastrophes that were to engulf their century. I wonder what our excuse will be?"

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