How to Explain an Unconventional Background When Applying to Law School

Welcome to the latest installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a feature that provides law school admissions advice to readers who send in inquiries. If you have a question about law school admissions, email us for a chance to be featured in a future post.

“I am not the most traditional nor competitive law school applicant. I am in my 30s and have worked the last decade as a professional dancer. My academic path has been far from straightforward, but I am trying to do everything in my power to put my best foot forward. Given my unconventional background, how should I navigate my personal statement?” — MF

Diversity in law school can take many forms. The wider the range of life experiences and perspectives represented in a classroom, the more all students benefit. Talking about a subject like privacy rights can make for contentious debate, but throw in a geneticist, an ordained priest, a documentary journalist and an intelligence officer and you will hear insights and opinions that stretch your imagination. Such wide-open discussions prepare law students to engage with clients of all stripes.

[Read: Advice for Aspiring Lawyers About Diversity in Law School.]

This is why many law schools appreciate older applicants who bring a wealth of life experience, as well as applicants with unconventional careers — including in the arts.

A few words of advice for these law school applicants:

— Be assertive, not defensive.

— Focus on transferable skills.

— Show academic potential.

— Don’t show off.

Be Assertive, Not Defensive

In your personal statement, you are not on trial or on the witness stand. No one is questioning you or your life choices. The admissions office is eager to hear you explain the experiences that shaped you and your interest in law school, especially if your story is authentic and refreshing.

[Read: 2 Law School Personal Statements That Succeeded.]

If you write with the assumption that going from dance to law is absurd, then it will be hard to come across well. You will waste valuable space talking about what you are not rather than who you are.

Instead, write with confidence that your leap to a legal career makes sense, even if it is counterintuitive. Strike an upbeat tone that you are ready for the challenges ahead. Doubt or uncertainty will undermine your argument that you are committed to law school, which is especially important for those coming from artistic careers.

Focus on Transferable Skills

When I think of a professional dancer, I imagine someone who performs under pressure, collaborates and communicates with others, and is self-disciplined and self-motivated. On your personal statement and resume, bring out law-related skills and strengths like those.

[READ: Law School Application Fall Checklist.]

On the other hand, you may need to edit out jargon unfamiliar to general readers and de-emphasize career achievements that are no longer relevant, like with whom you have worked or trained. Your application is not meant to cover every facet of your life.

Show Academic Potential

If your academic record does not quite show a bravura performance, find other ways to demonstrate that you can handle the rigor of a legal education. When possible, emphasize experiences that required skills like research, writing and analytic thinking. Encourage the writers of your recommendation letters to give examples of times you demonstrated such skills, if they can speak knowledgeably about them.

Don’t Show Off

As dancers may know best, there is a difference between poise and vanity. When you describe your journey from professional dance to law, beware of overconfidence. Show some humility by conceding setbacks and missteps. Credit other people who have helped you on your path. Focus on the work you want to do and who it will help.

After all, law is a service profession. It may resemble a performing art, especially for trial lawyers, but there is little tolerance for divas.

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How to Explain an Unconventional Background When Applying to Law School originally appeared on

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