The Rookie Lawyer
Reading time: four minutes
There’s no strict deadline for the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL) application, so I'm relying purely on what little energy and motivation I have left after a gruelling month of final exams for my English degree. The personal statement can only be up to 10,000 characters, which is around two pages. You'd think that three years of writing 4,000-word essays every fortnight would’ve prepared me for this. But instead of tapping away speedily at my laptop, I sat and stared at an empty Word document for hours before finally – delicately – beginning the difficult process of writing what would become the first (of many) personal statement drafts. Here's what I learned in the process of planning, writing, editing (and re-editing, and re-editing, and re-editing…) the two-page document I ended up submitting.
The personal statement is submitted through a platform called LawCAB. It'll be submitted to multiple universities at once, much like a UCAS application, so the key is to keep it general. The maximum number of characters is 10,000 (including all punctuation, paragraph breaks and spaces), though most tend to be somewhere between 4000-7000, don't feel pressured to write more just to fill up space if you don't need to.
I'd suggest going through the websites of the universities you'll be applying to. Have a read through your course specifications – what sort of things will they be teaching, and what does each institution prioritise? As an example, institutions such as The University of Law and BPP University Law School, prioritise a more practical approach meaning their courses tend to focus more on law as a practice, rather than legal theory. On the other hand, other universities that offer the PGDL may have a more scholarly and theoretical approach – perfect for those more interested in legal research and academia.
The next step is to cast your mind back to the last five or so years. What sort of things did you do over the course of your undergraduate degree (and, perhaps, the final years of school)? This can include anything, ranging from societies and part-time jobs to the skills you picked up during the degree itself. Make a list of all the experiences you want to write about and list the relevant skills that they demonstrate – keeping in mind the necessary skills of the degree. This will form the body of your personal statement.
Some other things to consider are your personal interests and motivations for getting into law - putting the 'personal' into your statement. How does your undergraduate degree facilitate a move into law? What do you envision your future legal career looking like? What about the course is appealing? And, more importantly, what is it about law as both a practice and a discipline that interests you?
Though this should, theoretically, be the easiest section, it was the one I found the hardest to get started on even once I had my rough plan. After the denseness of exam season, where – due to all my exams being online – I spent way too much time in my room, I decided to forgo my bedroom in favour of a local café instead. What worked for me was going there for a coffee, laptop in hand and instructing myself not to get up until I had finished a full first draft. Of course, this kind of approach only works if you can trust yourself to deliver on your promises…
Editing, editing, editing...
Here's where my years of writing long, well-researched university essays came in handy. If there's one thing I've learned from my time as an English student at UCL, that also happens to form a strong, sturdy bridge between my undergraduate degree and law, it's the necessity of having a good, strong argument. To kill two birds with one stone, making sure your personal statement has a strong, interesting hook and introduces an argument is key. I suggest you find the part of your personal statement that would make for a strong introduction, a lens through which the rest of your points can be structured. It could be an interesting law-related book you read, a conversation you had or an experience at work or at university. As long as it exemplifies the skills and interest you're going to demonstrate and elaborate upon throughout the rest of your personal statement.
From then on, the remainder of the editing should be relatively simple. Ask a friend, teacher or mentor to proofread, re-arrange paragraphs if you need to, make sure it's within the character count and check for grammatical mistakes and spelling errors (and then, just to be safe, check again).