Law School Discussion

"personal experience"

"personal experience"
« on: February 11, 2004, 08:01:10 AM »
Is anyone else slightly creeped out by the victimology of the personal statement?  I've been a little shocked by some postings here, like oh I got a low score on my LSATS but I'm a childhood rape survivor!!!  will that help me get in?  My personal statement talks about my missing limb! How many gpa points does that make up for?  I've lived through my own personal traumas, but I don't want to exploit myself by selling out my trauma to be a special person who deserves special consideration.  the question is, will I succeed at your law school.  right? i'm not trying to knock people who do use tragedy as a selling point, necessarily, but I do have questions about it. do you think this phenomenon is supported by admission practices?  do you feel it is morally acceptable?  where did this practice originate -- in admission offices, by affirmative action rhetoric, or did we just cook this one up ourselves?  I don't think I have the answers, but it is somewhat troubling to me and I am genuinely interested in your takes on it. 


Re: "personal experience"
« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2004, 08:57:04 AM »
I'll respond because (as noted in my post), I have my own personal experiences that I will address in my personal statement.

Law school is very stressful, as we've all heard, and there are many who won't finish. GPA and LSAT scores can go so far in determining someone's ability to grasp the concepts taught, but neither are sufficient for revealing if the candidate has the character necessary to survive through those three years.

Showing the committee how you have overcome adversity in your life may give them a glimpse into your character...a breast cancer survivor, for example, is much less likely to be intimidated by law school because they have faced worse.

I believe that if the personal tragedy is relevant, it should be included. If it explains an aspect of your application that is lacking (truly explains, not just making an excuse for) or if it reveals something about your determination, ability to handle stress, ability to overcome obstacles, then it is relevant.

A rape victim who would like to be a prosecuting attorney could write an excellent personal statement about how her experience as a victim has brought her to her goal. what I would see, reading that, is that she has personal reasons for being dedicated to justice and dedicated to her goal. That would be held in her favor.


Re: "personal experience"
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2004, 09:07:57 AM »
One thing I wanted to add. You mention that you don't want to exploit yourself by making yourself out to be a special person who deserves special consideration.

I find that comment as irritating and creepy as you find the use of personal tragedy in personal statements. If you had used examples that were trivial, I would be able to understand. But to use an example of someone who is missing a limb reveals something i find disheartening.

an individual missing a limb has to work a lot harder every day of his or her life. If he leaves that part of his life out of the application, he will be compared apples to apples to the guy who has the same LSAT score and GPA. why should he be? He has accomplished more.

If someone ran a mile in 10 minutes, you wouldn't think they were very impressive. If they ran a mile in 10 minutes carrying a Volkswagon on their back....different story. His LSAT and GPA were achieved in the midst of adversity. That's much more valuable than someone with the same exact LSAT and GPA who achieved theirs without a trouble in the world.

If the admissions committees were not in favor of hearing about these aspects of a candidate's life, they would not be requesting personal statements, but instead giving out generic essay questions.

Re: "personal experience"
« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2004, 09:16:53 AM »
The adversity component of a personal statement is probably what is relevant with regard to trying experiences in a prospective law student's life.

I see what you're trying to say though about the whole practice being suspect. It seems as if law school admissions encourages personal tragidies in some weird sense.

Re: "personal experience"
« Reply #4 on: February 11, 2004, 10:38:51 AM »
i find this discussion very interesting....

.... im wondering how you guys feel regarding personal statements, or those "extra statements" that discuss things you had to over come as a result of your "race or ethnicity". 

Do you think it is fair that law schools give "extra points" because of one's race or ethnicity?  Do you find it as reverse discrimination?

Im interested in seeing your resonses.

Again, goodluck everyone on your applications  :)

Re: "personal experience"
« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2004, 10:44:32 AM »
I used to work admissions for a competitive post-graduate program, in which we asked applicants to write an essay about a challenge they had overcome. The extent of tragedy wasn't important, though it was often both inspiring and depressing to read what some people had overcome. In reading these essays, I was more concerned that the applicant could put the obstacle in context and was able to achieve despite obstacles. I imagine law schools are interested in something similar.


Re: "personal experience"
« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2004, 11:14:46 AM »
As far as the racial's really hard to say what is and isn't an obstacle in someone else's life. If the individual grew up in a house where English wasn't spoken, then I'd say they had an obstacle to overcome. If someone actually felt the effect of racism, (had racial slurs painted on their locker or crosses burning in their yard, for extreme examples), then I'd say they overcame an obstacle because they were making those achievements in a much more hostile world than the rest of us know.

on the other hand, if the person thought racism was something that only happened in history books and movies, until the time came that they were applying to law school and realized it could help them get in...then I think that's wrong.

the truth of the matter one can really know how much something was an obstacle unless they've walked in that person's shoes. I don't think there should be an underlying assumption that being of a particular race has been an obstacle, but if someone can show how their life was more difficult because of their race, then I would believe them.

I do think, if I were on an admissions committee, I would be reading such personal statements pretty critically. If someone were exaggerating the effect of minor difficulties, I would actually take that as a sign of weakness rather than strength ("they think that constitues an obstacle?...they cannot handle law school".

I guess I am using a lot of generalities and not giving a definitive answer to your question. What I am trying to say is...if the person was the target of racism or truly felt that their race was an obstacle and could support that claim, then I'd say it's valid. If the person is using race or ethnicity as a trump card to help them get in, or pointing to minor or trivial examples of how their race was an obstacle, I'd say it would probably work against them.

Re: "personal experience"
« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2004, 11:18:07 AM »
I find this topic interesting. I also imagine that diligent statement readers are well aware of one of the main and successful qualities of an effective attorney which is to be able to hear the pains and problems of clients and apply the law to protect and defend those clients. For example, laws like the ADA are important ones that realistically effect many people; people who are discriminated against because of their disabilities. Wouldn't an attorney who has faced personal and debiliting challenges --and overcome them -- have a greater understanding, certainly a clearer feel and picture of what it is like for a client who has been faced unjust treatment because of an involuntary weakness they have?
A woman who has faced or been close to sexual violation or domestic abuse, can better understand the many fears and threats and challenges such a client might have -- a person who lost everything they had because they had high medical expenses and had to claim bankruptcy can better relate to the challenges of such a client...and the list goes on. Ultimately, being an attorney means being able to effectively relate and connect to people and build successful relationships.
It is through mutual experience and compassion sometimes, that a deeper knowledge is gained and can be successfully articulated.
It is most often the pains one goes through ( if they are capable of getting in touch with them and dealing with those feelings)that leads them to their most purposeful work in life. And being able to translate that into a well-written statement can bring a winning result. 

Re: "personal experience"
« Reply #8 on: February 11, 2004, 11:28:29 AM »
These responses are great.  I can see the utility of discussing personal difficulties especially as they directly relate either to past academic performance or to motivation for attending law school.  I guess the part that disturbs me is not that an applicant would want a school to have a fuller picture of her life, but that it becomes a quantifiable asset, like" gpa, lsat, AWESOME personal essay about trauma!  Which may just be the nature of the beast, the mechanistic approach of admissions in general.  Maybe it's the basic inhumanity of trying to whittle your whole self down to two pages and some undergraduate scores, which necessarily is going to be reductionistic.  I just wince from the idea of comparing difficulties.  Life is difficult.  Almost every person has gone through or will go through, horrible experiences. If it's relevant, go for it.  I struggled with the decision to discuss my own history of violent trauma as it relates with my path to law, which is partly why I'm interested in the subject (I did not, at least not directly).  I'd hate to see it become like a pain contest, with the most points for the most adversity.  It seems to cheapen the experience.


Re: "personal experience"
« Reply #9 on: February 11, 2004, 11:40:33 AM »
one other also makes a difference how you handled the obstacle itself and how you write about it. Are you simply whining about the obstacle being there? are you has been hard for me, so you should make it easy by letting me into your law school?

or are you are some details about me or my life that will help you get a clearer picture of who i am?

I have a feeling that this thread was started as a result of my thread asking whether I should address my low GPA, so I will bring that into the discussion. From my point of view, I don't view the accident as something tragic. I did for those first few years. At this stage in my life, I feel fortunate that the events of my life have played out the way they have. that particular event changed the course of my life, led me into my current career, gave me skills I would not have otherwise had (those learning therapies are amazing). I was hesitant in addressing it because of the fact that it was not something that should be pitied at all, and I would never want someone to think that. It's simply a fact of my life. I had two years of a low GPA because I had next to no short-term memory. In the long run, it all worked out well, the only lasting negative effect was two years of low GPA.

I think many people who have had such a wrench thrown into their life plans can say sometime down the road that it changed their entire way of thinking. it can be a significant event. it does not mean that I think I deserve any more than the next guy...but it is a significant part of who I am and where I've been.

on the other hand, in my current work, I meet amazing people who have significant lifelong disabilities whose accomplishments may be considered mediocre if they had been completely able-bodied, but because of their disability, those same accomplishments are absolutely amazing. And I do think, in those cases, that the fact that they accomplished what they did in spite of their disability makes them more deserving than the next guy whose grades were less than perfect because he was lazy.

As far as the extra points given to people of minority status, I'm not really sure how i feel about that. I think there are numerous circumstances that are as common and as troublesome that are not getting points (ex. white male raised in poor neighborhood with no father who has to work from the age of 12 has it rougher than a minority whose parents are doctors and sent him to a private school with tutors to help him excel).