One of the most critical questions to ask yourself while applying to law school is, "How do I stand out as a candidate for admission?" First, a clear understanding of who you are as a candidate is necessary, and a coherent narrative must be told to that effect. Second, a keen eye toward details and instructions is important in order to avoid standing out for the wrong reasons. Here are four suggestions to ensure the admissions committee develops a positive perspective on your application:
Tell a compelling story
Use the personal statement to your best advantage. The personal statement is an opportunity to demonstrate what you would bring to a particular law school that is not clear from your resume alone. The most effective personal statements let the admissions committee grasp you as a person. Focus on the positive and convince the admissions committee to like you as a person and as a candidate. Remember to be introspective; show the committee that you know yourself and you understand your motivations for attending law school. The personal statement is the foundation for the "story" you present as a candidate.
Present a coherent "package"
Know what picture you are attempting to illustrate in your admissions package. Often, the exemplary candidates realize who they are and what face they want to put forward to the admissions committee. This requires meaningful preparation time for the majority of candidates. Have your personal statement drafted well in advance of submission deadlines, and include it with your resume when you ask professors or work associates to write a recommendation for you. In your cover letter to your recommender, provide some direction so they'll understand your goals for your application package. For example, you could provide them with concrete examples of specific characteristics and ask that they speak with an eye toward these traits. However, avoid writing the recommendation for them or coming across as too involved in the process; note that the examples are suggestions to help them, rather than to force their hand. Most recommenders will be relieved to have a bit of guidance and some background information to assist them in the task.
Take your time
A rushed application is typically a low-quality application. Allow your recommenders ample time to draft recommendations for you. If you are aiming to submit your application by the beginning of November, ask for recommendations no later than the beginning of September to give your professors or colleagues enough time to sit down and write the letter. Check back in with them after several weeks to see if they need any guidance. Be sure to have back-up recommendations in case one falls through. You may select as many or as few of these letters as you wish, so it is to your advantage to have more recommendations than you will actually need in the event that something happens during the application process.
Similarly, allot yourself time to complete the required essays for each law school. Different law schools will have different formats for each document you submit; some, for example, might allow a two-page resume, while others will not. Carefully read the directions and allow yourself enough time to create customized versions of your resume and personal statement, along with any additional essays, for each law school. Save each document with the name of the school in its title so you won't mix the documents up. Be organized throughout the process; you'll certainly stand out if you submit a document illustrating why you wish to go to Law School X in your application to Law School Y - but not in a positive way!
Keep an eye on the details
Though minor, the "little things" on your application can demonstrate positive or negative personality characteristics. Typos can express carelessness. A consistent, aesthetically pleasing header across your resume and additional essays or letters can illustrate professionalism and a critical eye, both qualities of a successful lawyer. Don't allow a small error to paint you in a negative light. Be sure to have a second set of eyes proofread your documents for you.
At the end of the day, standing out on a law school application will be about clearly demonstrating the ability to function as a future attorney. This means establishing a broad overall organization to every document (including your recommendations) that tells a coherent and positive story, as well as showing an eye for organizational details and systematic completion of documents according to the specific instructions given. Standing out on a law school application is therefore a process of both conforming to a set of instructions and being creative within those boundaries in a well-reasoned, clear manner. Remember, you want to guide the admissions committee toward a specific picture of you as a law school candidate.