The typical law school application might require you to write 3 pieces: a main essay (2 pages), a resume (1 page), and an optional statement on your interest in the school or some other topic (1 page). That’s only 4 pages. Not too bad, right?
But those 4 pages are your only chance (in most cases) to communicate directly to the admissions officers. These documents are your only opportunity to step outside of the “numbers” to make a case for why you should be admitted. This is the only time the school will hear from you. Those 4 pages are starting to become pretty important…
Now think about your entire list of schools. Let’s say you plan to apply to 10 schools. You can expect to write 2 main essays (a personal statement and professional statement, depending on what a given school is asking for) and at least one resume (some schools might ask for a longer variation of the 1-page version that other schools require). If you apply to 10 schools, 5 might invite an optional statement about your interest in attending the school. Another 3 or 4 might ask for an optional essay on a different topic. If you believe you could add to the diversity of an incoming class, you may have a chance to submit an optional statement about that. Do you have any academic or criminal disclosure issues that need to be discussed and explained separately? If so, you’ll be producing another document.
Did you lose count? Even using a conservative estimate, it’s fair to say that you’ll probably be producing at least 10 separate pieces of writing when you apply to law school. That’s manageable, and certainly the content may overlap in many cases. You can create 10 documents. But wait, there’s more…
No one submits a first draft to top law schools. It would be a waste of your time and money, and admissions officers would not be amused. Whatever you submit to law schools must be fine-tuned for style, content, and tone. And don’t forget grammar and spell-checking; if this is your one and only chance to talk to the school directly, do you really want one of your documents to have a spelling mistake?
In my experience, a typical applicant will go through at least 7 or 8 drafts of a resume. If the resume requires a complete overhaul or significant cuts need to be made, it’s not unheard of to go through 10-12 drafts. Because they are in prose, essays require even more drafts — and that’s assuming the applicant already has an appropriate topic in mind. Once they've chosen a topic, many of our applicants write close to 15 drafts for each “main essay” (the personal statement or professional statement). Very few are able to produce work that is strong enough to submit to top law schools in fewer than 10 drafts.
Optional statements are typically shorter. Plan for at least 6-8 drafts of a single-page optional statement. The longer the essay, the more content needs to be fine-tuned, and the more drafts are required. If you’re also submitting a diversity statement, disclosure addenda, or any other written pieces, when budgeting time, plan for double-digit drafts for those as well to be safe.
You may not have a substantial amount of new content with each document, but the revisions and tailoring require your attention and time nonetheless. If you need to produce at least 10 separate documents, and each document is likely to require 10 or so drafts, you can see how the numbers add up. Plan ahead and prepare yourself. Applying to law school requires a lot of writing and a lot of editing. Those are great skills for you to perfect in the application process, not just because they’ll help get you into law school, but also because they are skills you’ll use all the time as a lawyer.
From the archives: What to Expect if You're Planning on Applying to Law School - Part One
Gregory Henning is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Virginia Law School. After graduating from law school, he clerked for Judge R. Lanier Anderson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and then became an Assistant District Attorney in Boston. As part of the Ivey Consulting team, he works with law school applicants.