What Worked for them can Help You Get into the Law School of Your Choice
I wake up to a call from the Student Life office at two in the morning and start my walk across campus. Fifteen minutes later and I’m ready to go, cup of coffee in hand. Most newspaper production nights end like this – we have until four in the morning to send our manuscripts to the press, and scrambling to meet deadlines is a way of life. As a senior editor, I have the luxury of taking a nap at midnight until I am needed, and I’m needed about every production night. I take my two hours gratefully.
But this night is different. Normally, I have to copyedit a last minute draft, or approve a controversial article. Tonight, there is no draft at all. A columnist told the editor-in-chief an hour ago that he just couldn’t get his article submitted in time. This meant I would be charged with filling up half a page of content in a span of two hours. I waste no time heading straight to the library, the only building still open on campus.
The article slated to run tomorrow concerns a lawsuit. A 2011 alumnus had created a Tumblr page mocking public relations photos released by Washington University. The University claimed that the student had violated copyright laws by using its name and photos. The former student argued that his blog fell under Fair Use and thus was protected. Both sides claim that they have the right of the issue, so I need to find out more. The article’s topic strike me as particularly interesting, since I have never covered a story concerning a legal topic in the past. Ideally, I would like to know if either side’s claims have any merit. Thankfully for me, Washington University students don’t sleep, and I have my pick of later-night crammers to interview. By the end of the interviews, it was clear that no consensus emerged from polling the students. Nearly everyone had an opinion, and each one was different. The responses were varied:
“The whole point of parody is to copy the original as much as possible in order to make fun of the original expression” said one. “The University is simply protecting against unauthorized use of their images, and are not trying to ‘bully the little guy,’” said another. Then a simple solution, “Why doesn’t Wash. U. just get rid of those dumb pictures that appear on the website anyway?”
Though I failed at getting any concrete answers from the student body, their comments leave an impact on me. While some students made a moral claim, justifying the actions of one side, others advanced concrete solutions to the problem at hand, without making an evaluative claim. But as a journalist, I need something decisive. I try in vain to contact a University representative, but nobody is up at this hour. I return to the library with forty-five minutes to spare and nothing to show for my efforts.
As I walk back in. I notice a man several years older than any undergraduate, wearing a suit at three in the morning, with what appear to be legal briefs on the table in front of him. He turns out to be an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University, and a prime candidate for some answers. He speculates that the University is likely to make a Digital Millennium Copyright Act claim. Instead of pursuing the student directly, the University would instead target Tumblr, who could be held liable under the law if they are found to be hosting a web page that illegally makes use of copyrighted materials. “I’m personally just disappointed that it’s going to be taken down,” he tells me. “I think it’s actually useful to have a website that openly mocks the student experience at Wash. U. That’s something that people can really be open about and reflect on. This is a place where we share ideas, and the University has presumable come in and tried to shut that off.”
I make it back to the office at 3:30 A.M. and pound out a draft, which the editor-in-chief gratefully accepts and begins editing. The article will be published in her name, but I don’t mind – I’m just thankful to go back to bed and catch another couple of hours of sleep before class. Besides, I have something else on my mind. As I walk back to campus, dawn just starting to break, I can’t help but think about how the professor I’d met had been so convinced that the website would be taken down, and yet personally advocated its existence anyway.
As a philosophy major, I often find myself contemplating the right solution to an ethical dilemma. I just as often speculate on what might actually happen given an ethical dilemma, most often in the form of thought experiments involving trolleys. Rarely do I get the opportunity to think about where those two paths intersect. I notice myself becoming intrigued by this overlap between the reason for and against a given issue, on the one hand, and the various ways in which a sinner and a loser are ultimately decided. As I get under the convers and close my eyes, I find myself unable to sleep. I’m still thinking about the article. It wouldn’t be my first all-nighter, so I get brew another cup of coffee, and head to my computer. I fire up Google and start to look into law schools. I’m already fascinated.
Anecdotes can be an effective way to communicate positive qualities about oneself in an essay without making it sound like a resume. Instead of saying “I am passionate about the law” or “I am a hardworking person,” the author uses a central anecdote to communicate all of this and more. When Harvard Law School admissions officers read this essay, they immediately know that the author is willing to lose sleep in order to meet his commitments. They know that he is not afraid to seek out strangers and do the type of research and investigating that is crucial to the law practice. They also know exactly how the law fascinated him and why he decided to apply to HLS.
These are all qualities that are not always easy to communicate, but through this anecdote, the author does so effectively. By using short, concrete sentences and quotes from colleagues to advance the narrative, the essay never feels dry. Instead, every sentence plays an important role in painting an image for the admissions officer. The story essentially tells itself. The author does not explicitly refer to himself outside the context of this one, early morning, but that is also reason why his essay works so well. By not having to step out of character, he maximizes the one-thousand-word limit and allows the narrative to make the argument.
The essay is an applicant’s best opportunity to stand out as more than a number on a page. For applicant’s struggling to communicate their reasons for applying to HLS, an anecdote may be the answer. Instead of talking about yourself, let the story speak for you. Perhaps there was a court case or a conversation with a professor that sparked your interest in law, just as it did for the author. In that case, an anecdote may be the key to your successful HLS application.