Whether you are still a student or out in the world, the ways you use your free time say a lot about who you are and what you value. Accordingly, law schools look to applicants’ volunteer work for a sense of how they might contribute to campus and to the legal profession.
The range of volunteer work undertaken by law school applicants is mesmerizing, from working in orphanages in conflict-affected countries to teaching philosophy to prison inmates. Unpaid activities that stand out on a law school application include those that show:
— Leadership and initiative
— Taking responsibility
— Building community
— Legal interest
Leadership and Initiative
Good lawyers are self-starters unafraid to show up and take the lead. Extracurricular activities and other volunteer work can demonstrate how a candidate handles responsibility and works with others.
Not only do such efforts look good on a law school resume, they make great grist for a personal statement. Leadership that involves helping others, whether serving the public or supporting colleagues or teammates, tends to interest readers more than self-interested pursuits — and makes for a classic ” humble brag.”
Clients entrust lawyers with solemn responsibilities and intractable problems, from prosecuting crimes to equitably dividing estates. Law schools want students who are willing to step up and do the hard work that others shy away from. Such help can take many forms, from fighting forest fires to providing tax help to underserved communities to volunteering in domestic violence shelters.
In some cases, volunteer work involves weighty responsibilities that may not be obvious to outsiders. For example, those who have never assisted someone with special needs may underestimate the attention and care required. In that case, be sure your law school resume or personal statement makes your duties clear. A recommendation letter from a supervisor may add context and credibility.
Read law school websites and you will see that many law schools pride themselves on fostering community and collegiality. Therefore, they appreciate applicants with experience contributing to their own community whether that means a neighborhood, common-interest group, activist movement or religious congregation.
While leadership is always valued, so is being a good team player. You do not need a formal title to emphasize active and consistent community membership on your resume, personal statement or diversity statement.
Communities depend on stalwarts who show up and lend a modest hand. If you are an active volunteer at an animal shelter, or help out every week in an ethnic community center or religious organization, or mentor young people as a “Big Brother” or “Big Sister,” be sure to mention it.
Law schools seek confirmation that applicants are committed to a legal career rather than to merely chasing prestige or delaying life decisions. Determined applicants become highly engaged law school students and eventually successful alumni.
Volunteering with a law firm, legal nonprofit, government office or political organization is a strong way to show interest in a legal path. Such offices are often looking for help with everything from answering phones to collecting and organizing information.
If you can contribute fluency in a foreign language or technical skills, you may be even more of an asset. One of the most relevant ways to help out is to assist with research, which is a key legal skill.
Law schools understand that not everyone has time for volunteering. Some people have demanding jobs while others have responsibilities at home. Regardless, what law schools care about most is that you use your time well in ways that prepare you for the rigors of legal work.
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