“We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning” – You after submitting your amazing personal statement to numerous law schools (if you don’t understand this reference, click here).
The personal statement is the cornerstone of your LL.M. application. A poor personal statement can corrupt an otherwise impressive application; conversely, a sensational personal statement can make the admissions committee take a second or third look at an otherwise mediocre applicant.
For this reason, it is important that you spend a long time brainstorming, writing, and editing your application. No personal statement is amazing on its first draft – a great LL.M. personal statement will be the result of multiple revisions and re-writes. As former United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis aptly put it, “there is no great writing, only great rewriting.”
With the above in mind, here are five main tips for writing an LL.M. personal statement.
1. Be Authentic (“You do you”)
“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
– Dr. Suess
At Harvard Law School, one of my favorite Professor’s mantras was “you do you” (she sometimes also formulated it as “live your truth”). What I took this to mean was that she was encouraging us to be ourselves, and to live our lives according to our own, unique internal compass. In effect, in your LL.M. application you should embrace, relish, and convey all your unique passions, quirks, traits, passions, accomplishments that make you unique.
In working with a number of clients, I have notice a tendency for applicants to try and “bleach” their application of anything unique. These clients try to write their personal statements in accordance with that they think the admissions officers want tohear. However, admissions officers are not stupid – after reading tens of thousands of applications, they’ve heard the generic “I want to save the world” spiel before. If you want to actually save the world that’s fantastic, but be specific. If, however, your burning passion is complex banking regulation, fashion law, or tobacco law, express this passion and do not try to act like you’re the next Mother Theresa.
As an example, one of my classmates at Harvard was an amateur magician and was a tax lawyer. In his beautiful personal statement, he openly admitted his unique quirks and his love for magic. He then, very convincingly, explained how his love for magic and wonder translated into his passion for tax law. Why am I telling you this story? Because he was his authentic self in his personal statement – he was not just another insincere applicant trying to convince Harvard that he was trying to “save the world”.
2. Captivate the Reader
After reading thousands of personal statements, it is no surprise that admissions officers start glazing over personal statements. To wake your admissions officer out of their stupor, you should think about beginning your personal statement with an eye-catching, engaging, and captivating opening. This, for example, could be in the form of an anecdote or relevant quote. Here are some opening portions of personal statements I’ve seen that would pique an admission officer’s interest:
“The first time somebody told me that I would make a good lawyer, I was eight years old, and it was not a compliment.”
“While sitting in a room alone with a dozen high security prisoners was, initially, extremely daunting, volunteering with these prisoners ultimately became a humbling and illuminating experience and a catalyst for my legal career.”
“This is a story about stories. It’s a story about my grandfather, a master storyteller, and me, his apprentice. It’s a story about the last and most important lesson he taught me—a lesson not about how to tell good stories, but about the good that telling stories can do.”
The personal statement is your chance to make yourself become more than a two-dimension paper application. If you can tell a compelling, captivating, and lucid anecdote that relates to your narrative, your application will stand out and will, hopefully, move from the “maybe” application pile to the “admitted” pile.
3. Be Specific
In your personal statement, you will make claims about your experience, your interests, and your skills. However, it is important that any time you make a claim, you back it up with evidence that supports or explains the claim. While this may sound obvious, you would be surprised how many personal statements I’ve read that make unsupported,and often grandiose, claims.
By way of example, if you are going to say you have always loved “human rights work”, provide: specific examples of how this passion developed; how you have furthered this interest (i.e. specific law school courses, legal research, or job experience); and how, specifically, the law school you are applying to will enable you to do achieve your career goals.
Expanding on that last point above, it is important that your personal statement has a “why [insert name of law school]” paragraph. However, this cannot be generic. If you are saying Harvard, for example, do not merely say because it is “world renowned”. You should give examples of faculty members you are particularly interested in working with, courses you would take if admitted (i.e. read the course catalogue), and any clinics/law journals you wish to join. Do your research.
You are applying for a rigorous graduate degree program at some of the top law schools in the world. As a result, it should go without saying that the admissions committee expects that you do not only have grand ideas, visions, and aspirations, but that you are able to convey these in a professional and impeccable manner. Therefore your application should be devoid of grammatical and typographical errors.
With that in mind, you should consider using the services of a professional admissions consultant to ensure that your personal statement is flawless. At LLMSherpa, we provide expert proofreading services to ensure that a small blunder does not jeopardize your dreams. You can review the consulting services we offer here.
5. Coherent Narrative
As I have attempted to emphasize in previous posts, your personal statement is the item that ties your whole application (and life story) together – it explains discrepancies, it justifies life choices, and tells your unique narrative. The personal statement should also demonstrate how obtaining an LL.M. fits into that story – it should, in essence, give off the impression that an LL.M. from that particular school is not only desirable but is absolutely necessary if you are to achieve your ultimate career goals and dreams.
If you need help finding or developing your particular narrative, please get in contact. We have experience analyzing applicants’ backgrounds to find the most compelling narrative to ensure admission to the most prestigious law schools in the United States.
Need last-minute help with your LL.M. essay or personal statement? We offer competitive LL.M. admissions services.
With many LL.M. application deadlines fast approaching, you should be in the final stages of finishing your application
Over these next few weeks, we are helping numerous students polish and refine their applications; I am helping my clients with proofreading, final edits of their essays and personal statements, and ensuring that their application is as strong as possible.My approach is unique: we only assist 25-30 prospective LL.M. students at a time. Our small-batch approach is to ensure that we can give my clients the attention they deserve and ensure that their essays and personal statements stand out from the pile of thousands of applications that admissions officers read. While we cannot guarantee admission, I can guarantee that your odds of acceptance will increase with our assistance, edits, and comments.
Given that we have a capacity to take on a few additional students, we are offering a limited time USD $225 offer. If you purchase this offer, we will provide:
A 15-minute Skype or FaceTime meeting – this allows us to understand you, your background, and the narrative you are hoping to convey to the admissions committee.
A comprehensive proofread, and review of your essay and personal statement. We will also provide comments and suggestions.
A comprehensive proofread of your résumé/curriculum vitae.
All of this will be completed within 48 hours of the initial Skype/FaceTime.
If you are looking for a thorough final review of your application, please get in touch: email@example.com.
In this two-part series, I will outline how to pass the Bar after your LL.M. In the second installation, I will address how to find a job in the United States.
While the legal profession in the United States may not be as glamorous as shows like ‘Boston Legal‘ and ‘Suits’ make it out to be, many applicants to LL.M. programs have dreams to stay and work in the United States after completing their LL.M.. To do this, most LL.M. applicants who intend to stay sit for the New York Bar Examination; while there are some students who decide the California Bar Examination (like myself), this is rare and the exception.
In this brief post, I intend to: first, provide an overview of the New York Bar examination; secondly, detail the requirements to applying, and the general timeline for applying for the bar; and, lastly, provide some information of the other jurisdictions’ Bar Examinations that LL.M. students may be interested in sitting.
A. New York Bar Examination
The United States, for the purposes of admission, is effectively 50 different countries. To be admitted to a State, you need to: sit the Bar Examination set by the State’s Board of Bar Examiners; pass the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam; pass a moral character test; and be formally admitted.
While there have been some reforms to increase the reciprocity of admission between states, such as the development of the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), the United States state-specific process of admission is cumbersome, and does not lend well to attorneys moving around this vast country.
Before you get your sights set on living in certain states like South Carolina or Alabama, it is also worth mentioning that foreign-trained lawyers, even with a United States LL.M., are not welcome everywhere. This institutionalized form of xenophobia/American-exceptionalism is more prevalent in the Southern States. If you are hoping to go off the beaten-track and not sit the Bar in California or New York, you should check out Chart 4 in the American Bar Association’s Comprehensive Guide to Bar Exam Requirements. At the time of publication, 33 of the 50 states stated they admit foreign-educated attorneys – however, the requirements for each vary significantly. (For example, to be admitted in Hawaii, a common law foreign-trained lawyer needs to have practiced law in that jurisdiction for 5 of the 6 years immediately prior to be admitted in Hawaii).
Eligibility to Sit the New York Bar Examination
The New York State Board of Law Examiners makes a distinction based on applicants who completed their primary legal degree in a common law country (e.g. Australia, England, New Zealand) and those that did not (e.g. continental Europe). The eligibility requirements of admission are outlined in §520.6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals, but for ease of access, I outline them here.
Common Law Graduates: For graduates from common law law schools, contrary to popular misconception, you do not need a United States LL.M. to sit the New York Bar Examination.
Non-Common Law Graduates: For graduates who graduated from law schools that do not teach the common law, you can “cure” this by completing an LL.M. at an United States law school. However, you cannot take any old LL.M. with any courses you would like; to sit the New York Bar, your course of study is relatively prescribed. Your LL.M. must consist of:
24 credit hours;
Classes need to be taken on-campus (i.e. online LL.M.s will not suffice);
Minimum of two credit hours on professional responsibility (i.e. take the legal ethics course);
Minimum of two credit hours in legal research, writing and analysis (i.e. you may need to take a specific course on legal research and writing– many law schools offer such classes);
Minimum of two credit hours studying the American legal system (i.e. a course designed to introduce students to distinctive aspects and/or fundamental principles of United States law). This requirement may be satisfied by a course in United States constitutional law or United States federal or state civil procedure; and
Minimum of six credit hours in other courses that principally focus on subject matter tested on the New York State bar examination or the New York Law Examination. If admitted to an LL.M. your law school will indicate which courses will satisfy this requirement (e.g. torts, contracts, criminal law etc.). As a rule of thumb, anything not too philosophical/international focused will satisfy this requirement – just avoid courses that are titled like: ‘The Law of Whales and Porpoises”; “Veganism and the Law”; and “Plato, a Cave, and the Presidency of Donald Trump”.
Summary (tl;dr): if you’re from a common law country, you do not need an American LL.M. to sit the New York Bar. However, if you come from a non-common law country, you will need an LL.M. and will need to take specific courses to be eligible to sit the New York Bar exam.
Foreign Legal Education Evaluation
Congratulations if you’re eligible (or will be eligible after your LL.M.) to sit the New York Bar Examination!
However, that’s only the first hurdle. You must now have your overseas legal education “evaluated” (e.g. you went to a proper law school and are not a total fraud). The detailed steps that need to be taken to get evaluated are summarized here, In sum, you must submit to the New York State Board of Law Examiners a ‘Foreign Evaluation Form’ and all required documentation (e.g. diplomas and transcripts).
Importantly, you must get on to this very early – for some of you, almost a year in advance of you sitting the Bar in the July after you graduate from your LL.M. program. For the non-common law lawyers, you need to submit your evaluation form and accompanying documentation by October 1 of the year preceding the exam you wish to sit (yes, very early). For graduates from common law countries that do not need a United States LL.M., you must submit the foreign evaluation form by April 15 and the accompanying documentation by June 1 (i.e. just a few months before the July Bar Examination).
Register for the Bar
Once you have concluded that you’re eligible to sit the Bar, and your foreign legal education has been positively evaluated as sufficient, you can finally register to sit the Uniform Bar Exam. As stated above, to overcome the lack of admission reciprocity between states, this is a standardized bar examination, developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). So far, the Uniform Bar Exam had been adopted in 25 states and the District of Columbia. Thus, if your score is high enough, you can transfer it to other states – of course, you need to be able eligible to be admitted in that state (which, as explained above, is not as easy for foreign-educated lawyers).
It costs $750 to register for the Bar and you must file your application by April 30, in the year preceding the July test date.
After registering for the Bar exam, you can relax. Other than choosing a bar exam preparation company to help prepare yourself for the bar exam (read: you’ll need one) Enjoy the rest of your LL.M. year. It is not until after graduation that you need to commence studying for the Bar. (NB: I will provide a later post on how to choose a bar preparation company, how to study for the bar, and strategies for success).
One last comment: do not think that passing the bar is guaranteed – in fact, you are statistically more likely to fail. By way of illustration, only 48% of foreign-educated test takers passed the July 2017 New York Bar Examination. However, as is explained below, this is much, much higher than California!
B. California Bar Examination
If the dirty streets of Manhattan do not do it for you, you may be lured by California’s West Coast charm.
Whereas the New York State Board of Law Examiners makes a distinction between common law and non-common law law graduates for the purposes of admission/eligibility to sit the bar exam, the State Bar of California distinguishes between foreign attorneys and foreign-educated applicants (i.e. the latter not having been admitted overseas).
Foreign Attorneys: you need to register with the State Bar of California and provide evidence of your legal education and admission overseas. Once this is completed, you will be eligible to sign up for the California Bar Examination. More information is available here.
Foreign-Educated Applicants: if you have obtained, for example, your LL.B. overseas but have not been admitted, there are some extra hurdles that you need to jump through. You are required to undertake additional legal education (i.e. an LL.M.) to cure your supposed “deficiency”. While the nitty gritty details are detailed here, basically, you need to complete an LL.M. with specific courses (similar to the New York Bar for non-common law educated applicants). Your LL.M. must:
Be based on a minimum of twenty (20) semester or equivalent units of legal education; and
Includes a minimum of one course in four separate subjects tested on the California Bar Examination (e.g. torts, criminal law etc). One of the four courses must be Professional Responsibility that covers the California Rules of Professional Conduct, relevant sections of the California Business and Professions Code, the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, and leading federal and state case law on the subject.
The last requirement may be particularly difficult for students pursuing their LL.M. outside of California – this is because, as far as I am aware, no law schools outside of California teach the California Rules of Professional Conduct. Thus, if you need an LL.M. to sit the Bar in California, you should complete your LL.M. at a California law school; with great schools like Stanford, Berkeley, UC Hastings, UCLA, USC, Pepperdine this is hardly a significant limitation or burden.
It’s Far From Easy
Before you get giddy about frolicking around San Francisco or Los Angeles, it is worth noting the comparable difficulty of the California Bar Exam. After Delaware, it is the hardest Bar examination in the United States; this is measured by the cut score (i.e. passing score). The difficulty of the exam is reflected in passing rates: in February 2017, of all test takers, only 34.5% passed!
If you haven’t slumped into your seat as to the prospect of sitting this difficult examination, wait until you hear the passing rates for foreign-educated students and foreign attorneys. For foreign-educated law students with an LL.M., the pass rate was a measly 15.9%! For foreign lawyers, the pass rate was a terrifying 12.8%!
I have not included these statistics to scare you, but rather give you a heads-up to the reality of sitting the bar examination. If your english language skills are not up to scratch and/or you do not prepare enough, you will not pass this difficult exam. That being said, if you are diligent, prepare, and take it super seriously, you can indeed pass. In a later post, I will detail how to successfully pass a United States Bar examination as an LL.M. student.
C. The Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
In addition to the Bar examination, most states (with the exception of Maryland), require applicants to have passed the MPRE. The MPRE is a two-hour, 60-question multi-choice test that only takes a few days to prepare for (I’ve even had friends that did 5 hours of study and passed). The MPRE is administered by the National Conference of Board Examiners and there are hundreds of test sites around the United States.
The MPRE is administered three times a year: in March, August, and November. It is encouraged that LL.M. students register for the November exam (during their first semester). This is for two reasons: first, if you fail, you can do it again in March before the Bar; secondly, March test date happens during spring break – I do not know about you but I would rather be drinking a beer on a warm Caribbean beach than learning about professional legal ethics.
Thus, once you settle into your LL.M. program you should register for the November MPRE exam (you usually have to apply by the third week of October) and get it out of the way. By way of illustration as to the difficulty of the exam, out of my LL.M. class at Harvard Law School, 80 students took the exam and only two failed.
I hope this post has helped you think about the steps involved in becoming an attorney in the United States. While the process is quite long, arduous, and involves lots of study, it is very possible.
If you did your legal studies in a common law country, it is much easier for you to sit the New York Bar Exam (you do not even need to do an LL.M.); if you did not do your legal studies in a common law country, you will need to ensure that you complete certain courses during your LL.M. to satisfy the New York State Board of Law Examiners’ requirements.
If you are an attorney (from anywhere in the world), you can sit the California Bar exam without having obtained an LL.M. If you completed your legal education from anywhere in the world (even in a common law country), but are not admitted, you will need to ensure that you complete certain courses during your LL.M. to satisfy the State Bar of California’s requirements;
The New York Bar is much easier than the California Bar;
Assess your eligibility to sit the Bar exam before your commence your LL.M. and start compiling the relevant documents (i.e. transcripts, certificate of admission etc);
Register for the November MPRE test date; and
Do not worry about studying for the Bar exam until you finish your LL.M. Enjoy your LL.M. and relax!
LL.M.s in the United States are not cheap. This post highlights the numerous scholarships available to LL.M. students.
American legal education (actually, all education in the US for that matter) is not cheap. For a world-renowned legal education, you are starting at tuition fees that exceed $50,000 USD. Combine that with rent, living expenses (that vary based on your personal habits), the exorbitant costs of textbooks, and airfares, you are looking at roughly around a $75,000 USD year.
While the above may be depressing to read, just be thankful you’re not an American undergrad who had to pay for (read: acquire debt) four years of undergrad at an expensive college and then fork out (read: acquire more debt) for another three years of legal education. You, international lawyer, are the lucky ones: after only one year of paying exorbitant/almost criminal tuition fees, you can have the imprimatur of the likes of Harvard, Yale, Stanford (etc.) on your curriculum vitae. If you are very lucky, you may get this imprimatur for (almost) free. In this post, I attempt to outline the main scholarships available to LL.M. programs (obviously, there are specific scholarships available for particular countries/geographical regions – this post does not address those). Without further ado, here are some of the main scholarships:
New York University School of Law
a) Global Hauser Scholarship
This is the best scholarship that NYU offers for LL.M. students; as such, it is not easy to get. The “full ride” scholarship pays for tuition, board, and a stipend (the value of the award is valued at approximately USD$90,000). Each year, the Hauser Committee (made up of prominent legal figures, including justices of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit) chooses 10 individuals to receive the scholarship. The biographies of the current scholars can be found here.
To be considered for the Hauser, in addition to the personal statement for the general NYU application, applicants must “electronically attach to the online application an essay of 500 to 750 words that briefly describes a current legal dilemma, controversy, or issue facing a country, a region, or the world, and suggests a strategy to address the problem.”
b) Arthur T. Vanderbilt Scholarship
Below the Hauser Scholarship, is the Arthur T. Vanderbilt Scholarship. As NYU described it, “[c]overing the cost of tuition for the full-time master’s degree programs, the Vanderbilt Scholarship is awarded to a select group of extraordinarily talented LL.M. candidates who have demonstrated outstanding academic promise and/or achievement in their respective field(s) of interest.”
This scholarship is given to about 10 LL.M. applicants per year. A current list of the Arthur T. Vanderbilt scholars can be found here. Unlike the Hauser, no essay is required to be considered; thus, all LL.M. applicants are considered for this scholarship.
c) Dean’s Graduate Award
These scholarships range from USD$15,000 to USD$30,000 and are credited against an LL.M. student’s cost of tuition. Like the Arthur T. Vanderbilt scholars, LL.M. applicants are automatically considered for the scholarships. While NYU does not state how many awards are given out, it is estimated that they give out 30-50 of these awards annually.
University of Michigan School of Law
Michigan Grotius Fellowship
Based in cold (read: freezing) Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan School of Law offers the generous and famous Michigan Grotius Fellowship.
As the website says, “Michigan Law is proud to award the prestigious Michigan Grotius Fellowship to several particularly exceptional LLM students and research scholars. Named after Hugo Grotius, the seventeenth century Dutch jurist generally regarded as the father of modern international law, the fellowships acknowledge superior academic and professional achievement in all areas of law and recognize the promise of a distinguished legal career following graduate study.
On your Michigan application, there is a form which requires you to state your financial resources and how much funding you require. If successful in receiving the Fellowship, the Fellowship will cover the amount you stated that you required (which, if your financial circumstances require, may be a full tuition scholarship). Generally, the Grotius Fellowship only covers tuition, not living expenses.
Up to 40% of the Michigan LL.M. class is given the Grotius Fellowship. While this may seem like a lot, given the small class size at Michigan (no more than 45 usually), it is not so absurd.
Harvard and Yale
Harvard and Yale do not provide any merit-based scholarships . These law schools only provide financial aid based on demonstrated need. Thus, for these schools you need to fill out their financial aid applications (including forms disclosing your parents’ financial means).
Given that Harvard and Yale only give out financial aid based on financial need, you cannot negotiate with them based on the scholarships you have received from other schools. For example, a NYU Hauser will not sway Harvard or Yale’s financial aid decisions.
(Stingy) Stanford Law School
Despite the campus looking like a billionaire’s mansion, the school does not provide financial aid for LL.M.s. Thus, unless you have sufficient resources or can secure funds from outside sources, Stanford may be financially out of reach.
Berkeley School of Law
Across the San Francisco Bay from Stanford is University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Headed up by its new dean, the renowned constitutional scholar, Erwin Cherminsky, Berkeley offers a great legal education in an amazing college town.
Berkeley is relatively secretive about its LL.M. scholarships. The law school’s website merely says it “offers selective, merit- or citizenship-based scholarships that are applied toward tuition and fees, which are awarded to a few outstanding admitted LL.M. students each year.”
The criteria for being awarded such a scholarship is uncertain. I have coached applicants who have been admitted to Harvard, Yale, and received NYU’s Hauser Scholarship, but did not receive any scholarship from Berkeley. Go figure.
University of Pennsylvania School of Law
a) Penn Law Merit Scholarships
Every LL.M. who applies for Penn (and checks a box) is automatically considered for Penn’s Law Merit Scholarships. These range from $5,000 USD to $40,000 USD. The Scholarship Committee states that it “considers the applicant’s academic, professional and personal background in making its scholarship allocation decisions.”
b) Human Rights Scholarships
In addition to the general scholarship noted above, Penn offers a specific scholarship for LL.M. applicants interested in human rights. The aptly titled “Human Rights Scholarship” is awarded to “outstanding students with a substantial, demonstrated commitment to human rights”. To be considered for this scholarship, applicants must submit an additional essay. ‘
However, securing this scholarship is not easy: the law school only offers one or two of these scholarships each year.
Columbia Law School
Columbia Law School, in the upper-west side of Manhattan, offers a plethora of specific scholarships for individuals from particular geographical regions or with particular research interests (these can be accessed here). However, they do offer three more general scholarships/fellowships which require applicants to submit additional essays.
a) Human Rights Fellowship
The Human Rights Fellowship is “for individuals with extraordinary potential in the field of international human rights. The Fellowship is designed to support students pursuing an LL.M. degree at Columbia Law School who show exceptional commitment and potential to use their education to become innovators and leaders in human rights practice and/or academia.” The Fellowship can be either partial or full-tuition, and, if there is demonstrated financial need, can cover living costs.
b) Jagdish Bhagwati Fellowship
Thanks to the Indian government, Columbia Law School has three fellowships for LL.M. students who wish to specialize in the study of international trade law, WTO law, and related topics. The Fellowship will, depending on financial need, provide partial to full tuition costs.
c) Appel Fellowship
The Appel Fellowship awards an annual prize, up to full tuition for one academic year, to a candidate who “intends to focus his or her research at Columbia Law School on regulatory or policy issues emerging from the trans-boundary operations of multinational or transnational enterprises [that’s a mouthful!], with priority given to students from emerging economies”. Topics may include issues relating to, for example, corporate governance, labor issues, environmental concerns, or human rights.
This is not free money, however. The Fellow is expected to participate in a relevant research seminar culminating in a workshop on the subject that brings to the Law School prominent scholars and practitioners. Talk about pressure.
To apply for this fellowship, applicants must submit an additional separate two-page essay describing your background, interest in this area of law, and the research you would undertake at the Law School if you are awarded the fellowship.
An LL.M. in the United States is not cheap, but there is a lot of money up for grabs. Most applicants I talk to know everything about particular law schools but are oblivious as to the multitude of scholarships available.
If you would like assistance with your scholarship application, negotiating your financial aid/scholarship (yes, this can and does happen), or general scholarship guidance, please do get in touch. My clients have helped secure hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of funding to top LL.M. programs.
With weeks to go until many of the final deadlines close, some of my clients are asking what are the most important things they should be doing at this stage of the application process? Given there’s only a few weeks to go for many of you, it’s not time for a total re-write of your application, but there are things you can do to improve your chances.
LL.M. Sherpa’s Tips
1. Proofread – Don’t Proofraed
This should go without saying. While you may not think your admission decision rests on the difference between “your” or “you’re”, it could very well come down to that. Good proofreading shows that you do not only have a great command of the English language (which is needed to excel in a rigorous LL.M. program), but it also shows the care you put into your work product.
By this stage, you should be going line-by-line over your personal statement (and, if applicable, essay). Get your friends to look over it. Get your parents to look over it. If you think there are no mistakes/nothing you can improve, you are probably wrong and overlooking something.
2. Updating the Legal-Issue Essay
If you followed my suggested timeline, you would likely have written your legal issue essay a while back (remember, this is a requirement for Harvard and, for example, the NYU’s Hauser Scholarship). Make sure that there have been no new significant legal develops (i.e. cases, statutes, or policy initiatives) that significantly affect your argument. Your essay will be read by assigned professors who are experts in the area; thus, you cannot bluff your way through the essay. If you have missed significant legal developments, or new legal developments mean your essay is lacking, these assigned professors will know.
3. Congruency of Narrative
Read over everything. Your application (resume, personal statement, legal essay) should all work together to tell a consistent narrative. If there are any inconsistencies, fix these so the whole application is harmonious.
If you followed my original post, you should be well on your way to compiling the components for your application and getting them sent to your dream schools. With many of the top schools, such as Harvard, having deadlines in just over a month I thought I would put out a new post. This post deals with what candidates need to have to stand out: a compelling narrative.
A Compelling Narative
One prospective LL.M. student whom I provide admissions consulting to asked “how am I going to get into Harvard and Stanford”? He proceeded to proclaim that after looking at the class profile there were “judges”, “chief justices” and former “supreme court clerks” vying for the limited spaces. My response to him was simple: “you need a compelling narrative”.
Lets be clear: what that narrative is does not matter. Whether its saving orangutans, a weird fetish for aviation law, or some bizarre interest in the Second Amendment, the admissions committees at these top schools want to see a clear, committed, and compelling narrative that jumps out of your total application. What do I mean by this? You need to craft and position your materials in such a way that shows you have been committed to this interest/passion, how the LL.M. is going to further this passion and interest, and what you think the next few chapters of your life are going to look like.
Why is developing a compelling narrative difficult? Because, to be frank, very few people have a single, burning passion; in other words, must of us are bobbing around through life trying different things, seeing where the wind takes us, and just getting jobs that can pay the bills. However, you need to sell to the admissions committee that you have a single, burning passion and the only way to quell this fire is with an LL.M. from their school.
So, you’re asking: “LL.M. Sherpa, if I don’t have a compelling narrative, how do I create one?”. Obviously, you cannot create one from nothing, but you should take a deep look at what kind of narrative can you create from your résumé. Essentially, it will be about emphasizing some parts of your resume, and minimizing others, to try and draw out the narrative you are trying to sell. Thus, your resume, your essay (if applicable), your personal statement, and your recommendations should all tell a story.
Thus, if your resume has all human rights work experience, you write your essay on an animal law topic, and your personal statement states your interest in criminal law, and you get your commercial law employers/professors to write your references, you are not likely to convince the LL.M. admissions committee that you want to be a top human rights lawyer. Instead, you are going to look like a person who has no clue what they are doing with their life (while most of us have no clue what we are doing with our life, the admissions committee does not need to know that!).
Instead, ideally: your resume would highlight (not embellish) your human rights work (and minimize other work that would detract from it, such as working for a tobacco or firearms company); you would write your personal statement on a fascinating human rights topic; your personal statement would explain your interest in human rights law; and, ideally, your recommendations would come from human rights professors or someone that supervised your doing human rights work.
Obviously, a compelling narrative can be hard to create. There is a fine line between embellishing (for the avoidance of doubt, very unethical) and emphasizing certain parts of your resume to create a certain, compelling narrative. If you need help creating a compelling narrative or telling your unique story, get in touch: I offer competitive packages and can help your application stand out.