About the Optional Essay

You’ve filled in all the blanks, perfected your personal statement, tuned up your resume, arranged for your transcript(s) to be sent to LSAC, contacted at least two recommenders.  You could be finished… but there’s an option to provide yet another document.  Should you do it?

 The most common question we receive about our optional essay is whether it is truly optional.  Sure you don’t have to submit it, applicants wonder, but it looks bad if you don’t, right?  Wrong.  We’re perfectly happy to review your application without the optional essay, and there’s absolutely no penalty attached to not having provided one. 

So why write 500 more words that will have to be proofread by a friend who’s rapidly losing interest?  Put succinctly, it’s another opportunity to stand out from the crowd. 

As we mull over last year’s application cycle, some of the most memorable submissions were responses to our invitation to provide an optional essay.  Part of the reason is the nature of the topic:  writing about an ethical dilemma forces an applicant to tell a story, and the story centers on compelling set of facts.  The topic also challenges the writer to describe a personal response to a difficult situation – it’s nearly impossible to provide your analysis, your eventual choice and your take on it with the benefit of hindsight without conveying a sense of who you are.  If your personal statement didn’t wow us, your optional essay can save the day.

In addition, the topic of the essay raises issues central to legal education and the practice of law, and writing about them showcases the sensibility you’ll bring to your studies.  What’s the worst case scenario?  What’s the right result?  Who should have the power to decide?  How do you manage the individuals or institutions involved?  Which consequences are fair and which aren’t?  How do you redress unfairness?  At what point do personal honor and formal rules come into conflict, and which should govern?  Applicants who take the opportunity to submit the optional essay put their reasoning skills on display, and it’s almost always to their benefit to have done so.

We encourage you to wait for your second wind and write the optional essay.  It’s likely to be easier to draft than your personal statement, and it has the potential to shed a whole new light on your file.  In our book, that’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.

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