In this series, a jdMission Senior Consultant reviews real law school personal statements every week. What is working well? What is not? If it were his/her essay, what would she change? Find out! To sign up for your Free Personal Statement Review by a jdMission Senior Consultant, click here!
Note: To maintain the integrity and authenticity of this project, we have not edited the personal statements, though any identifying names and details have been changed or removed. Any grammatical errors that appear in the essays belong to the candidates and illustrate of the importance of having someone (or multiple someones) proofread your work.
Additional Note: This essay is the “Yale 250,” the short essay required by Yale Law School in addition to the longer, standard personal statement. The candidate who wrote this Yale 250 essay also wrote the personal statement reviewed here. Because she, as many students do, linked the two essays, this Yale 250 submission will be reviewed in light of the candidate’s longer personal statement.
The emphasis the Chinese government has placed on reforming the legal system appears to be a step towards democracy and political progress. It is easy to hope that a reformed legal system will provide a framework in which citizens can demand their rights. However, one must ask oneself why a one-party state would allow this to happen.
I have worked with rural protesters who have given their lives in a vain pursuit of justice. Chinese workers have lost their pensions, their limbs and their livelihoods and now wait patiently in court rooms and labor bureaus for the law to make them whole again. These men and women I have met do not contest the government. They do not contest an economic system that favors the few over the many. Under a one-party state in which a handful of men decide the fates of many, people do not question the justice of the laws themselves.
Legal reform will not transform the power structure. It will not lead to democracy. Reform must be targeted at helping those that can be helped, but it cannot be the end of the struggle, and reformers in the West who want this to happen must not allow the pursuit of a better legal system to blind them to the greater changes that must be made.
Overall Lesson: Do not settle for an overly simplistic or less than fully developed thesis for your Yale 250 essay; start by being ambitious in your writing, and then cut later, if necessary.
First Impression: The candidate’s first paragraph confuses me—I have to read the last sentence twice to figure out what she means by “this.” I determine she means “a framework in which citizens can demand their rights,” and I thereby deduce that she is suggesting that the one-party state of China is unlikely to become a democracy even though the government has said it will reform its legal system. I believe she could explain her point more clearly.
Strengths: In this essay, the candidate successfully takes the personal experiences she presented in her longer personal statement and extrapolates from them a thesis on China’s legal system as a whole. This tactic works for many Yale applicants—keeping the primary personal statement more personal and then using the 250-word essay to philosophize on an idea or ideas introduced in that personal statement. But this candidate’s personal statement is better written than her Yale 250 essay. Her personal statement is coherent, seamless, and easily readable, whereas this essay is somewhat clunky, academic, and, in places, hard for me to understand.
Weaknesses: What does the candidate intend the link to be between the second and third paragraphs? In the second paragraph, we are introduced to people who do not “contest” the government. In the third, we are told that reform will not be enough. I do not see a direct link between these two points. I am sure the candidate has one in mind, but she needs to express it more clearly.
In addition, I feel that her “reform is not enough” thesis is a bit sparse. I know from reading her other essay that she has a wealth of experience working with rural peasants, and through those situations, she has developed an equally rich stash of opinions based on what she observed in others and in herself. For that reason, I suspect she can go further than merely saying that reform may not be sufficient. What are the greater changes that must be made? I have a feeling they are related to the people she discusses in paragraph two—possibly convincing them to challenge the government. But I do not know, and consequently, I cannot draw any hard conclusions about her points.
Final Assessment: I would work with this candidate to clarify precisely what she wants to say about the reformation of the Chinese legal system, and I would push her to be more ambitious about conveying her true message within the allotted word limit. I recognize that the 250-word limit is extremely restrictive, but I also know that with judicious phrasing and substantial collaborative cutting, candidates can successfully say quite a bit, even in such a small amount of space.
To sign up for your Free Personal Statement Review by a jdMission Senior Consultant, click here.