Feedback for Personal Statement

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WarriorPoet

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Feedback for Personal Statement

Postby WarriorPoet » Sat Oct 01, 2016 11:41 am

Ladies and gentlemen, this is my first time applying for law school and I would greatly appreciate your feedback on my personal statement. Content, format, etc. will all be helpful. This comes to about two pages double spaced, which I understand is about the upper limit for these. Thank you in advance.

Jus Ad Bellum

It's early 2003 in Quantico, Virginia, and I am a newly commissioned lieutenant in the Marine Corps undergoing my basic officer training. A national debate is raging about the casus belli for the Iraq invasion, but this is of no concern to me. I am the youngest Marine officer in a generation and, though I feel mature beyond my years, my notions of combat are still more informed by Horace and Tennyson than by the bleak poets of the Great War. The looming conflict gives fresh urgency to our training and we speak of it with the naive enthusiasm of those convinced of their own immortality, hoping only that it is forestalled long enough that we can take part in what is sure to be a quick and glorious romp through Mesopotamia. I have selected to lead in the infantry, in my eyes the most difficult and honorable of the specialties, and I am set to graduate top of my class as I have so many other times in my military and academic career. I have the quiet confidence of one for whom success has always seemed natural and inevitable, and I am ready to lead Marines against our nation's enemies.

Jus In Bello

Summer 2006 outside Fallujah, Iraq. I'm a young captain now on my third deployment, coordinating operations and intelligence for over two hundred Marines. It is the height of the Iraqi civil war, and we are thrust into the midst of a Hobbesian hellscape where sadistic local kratocracies compete savagely for the submission of the people. On these shifting sands we attempt to erect Western legal constructs, modeling and enforcing our notions of justice and fairness in a land where only the law of the jungle is recognized. We dutifully become law enforcement officers, engaging in community policing and going through the painstaking process of building cases and making arrests. As we dodge bullets and bombs, we cut deals with local leaders and nurture informant networks. We rapidly become experts on biometrics and forensic analysis; we carefully document evidence and establish chains of custody; we write elaborate statements that build narratives for prosecutors. This is a Sisyphean task as Coalition detentions are limited to a set period of months, and referrals to the Iraqi Criminal Courts are comparatively rare and come with a high evidentiary standard-- the courts prefer statements from Iraqis, but of course nobody will testify against the men who will become ISIS. We bleed to capture the same targets our predecessors did, and our successors will bleed to capture them again. Each time they return they are wiser and more lethal as our detention facilities serve as little more than insurgent war colleges where detainees from across the region can spend a few months comparing notes and best practices before returning to battle. I am aggressive and effective in this fight, but the growing list of Marines who have been killed or seriously injured following my orders begins to weigh on me. On November 24th, Corporal Nick Rapavi, a mischievous and brilliant combat leader who has grown up alongside me in the Marine Corps these past three years, is shot dead by a sniper as I attempt to vector his unit in on a fleeing vehicle. I am crushed; I have been tracking this sniper for weeks and waiting until my case was solid, but I have waited too long. We capture the sniper two nights later, but it is a Pyrrhic victory. Our laws can't save us and they can't save this country. In less than a decade, the black flags of ISIS will fly over these streets.

Jus Post Bellum

Summer 2012, on my fifth combat deployment outside of Marjah, Afghanistan. I am a battle-hardened major-select commanding over two hundred Marines and mentoring a similar number of Afghans in one of the most lawless areas in the region. This will be our last summer fighting season in Afghanistan; the drawdown is in full swing and we are supposed to turn things over to the Afghan National Security Forces in the winter. They are woefully unprepared for the task. This society is so profoundly corrupt that the frontline combat units are chronically undersupplied and underpaid as each higher echelon takes their cut. To make ends meet they shake down the locals at every opportunity, exacerbating an already poor security situation. Billions disappear into the pockets of the connected, who in turn pay the Taliban substantial protection money-- we are funding the very insurgency we are fighting. Iraq, for all its challenges, at least had natural resources and human capital to draw upon; there is nothing here with which to build an economy except opium and aid money. Everyone knows what is going to happen when we leave: the Tajik and Urdu-speaking northerners who make up the bulk of the Afghan Army have no particular love for or loyalty to this southern Pashtun backwater and will abandon this place shortly after we do. Those government officials and local power-brokers who have embezzled enough aid and reconstruction money are making plans to leave the country; those who haven't are in a panic, knowing there will be no helicopters waiting for them on the rooftop of the embassy in Kabul.
My career has been a case study in how thin the veneer of civilization truly is; if just laws are not justly applied, society disintegrates and is exceedingly difficult to piece together again. In my youth, I was convinced a nation's values were defended on battlefields and in the streets. Now, I understand that such defense is almost invariably necessitated by failures in the statehouse and the courthouse. It is in this spirit that I wish to study law.

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aaronbursar

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Re: Feedback for Personal Statement

Postby aaronbursar » Sat Oct 01, 2016 12:04 pm

.

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calpolisci2016

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Re: Feedback for Personal Statement

Postby calpolisci2016 » Mon Oct 03, 2016 4:02 pm

Uhh...there's a lot in here. But I'm left wondering, what did YOU do? I did not get a sense of tension here. I also did not get a sense of your interaction in the setting. Just a lot of descriptions of how horrible and senseless the Iraq War has been, but as a lay reader I am not learning anything new. Frankly, a lot of your description reads like a gritty war novel and not like a personal statement for law school. You paint a very broad picture of what's happened and in the process, left yourself out of it.

I recommend you focus on a more narrow moment, use that moment to derive implications on your viewpoint, and emphasize how your personal growth came about. Don't let the reader assume how War and the military changed you. Make it explicit.

WarriorPoet

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Re: Feedback for Personal Statement

Postby WarriorPoet » Mon Oct 03, 2016 6:00 pm

Thank you both for the candid review; it definitely gives me a sense of the weak points. I wanted to give an overview of how my experiences formed my understanding of the law profession's importance, but I can see where that doesn't leave a lot of room for a specific snapshot of me. I feel like most of the specific instances that were formative to me would come across in writing as graphic and gratuitous, but I will go back and reconsider if there may be an appropriate instance. Thanks again!

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Mr. Archer

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Re: Feedback for Personal Statement

Postby Mr. Archer » Mon Oct 03, 2016 7:14 pm

I agree with the poster who said we don't learn a lot about you. I know you mentioned that length is an issue. I think you should try to read this from someone else's perspective and make sure that all you descriptions are necessary. You have a very descriptive style, which makes for interesting reading. But there tends to be extraneous details that you just don't have space for in a personal statement.

You might want to consider a new introduction to let the reader know where you're going with the story, even if it's just a general set-up with some foreshadowing. Right now you tie what is essentially three unique stories together at the end. You want the reader to understand the overall point you're making as the story goes along. It's the concept of "showing" instead of "telling". The ending doesn't quite seem to fit right now.

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thelawschoolproject

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Re: Feedback for Personal Statement

Postby thelawschoolproject » Tue Oct 04, 2016 12:43 am

Let's start with the general formatting. It's unique. Your eye is definitely drawn to the three sections. Already you've set yourself apart with that device.

However, when I start reading, I instantly feel kept at a distance. These statements are supposed to make the admissions committee understand you better, which means you need to write it in a way that makes you instantly accessible to them. In your first sentence, you tell us where you are. The second sentence is about Iraq. The focus of the third sentence is about combat philosophy. And so on. The distance is deepened by the fact that you distance yourself from the story you're telling.

In your second section you talk about what "we" did and you refer to Hobbes while commenting on the difficulty of rebuilding Iraq--it's a lot. And very little of it has to do with you. I'm going to assume you've heard of show, don't tell. That's what you need to do here. Show us what happened. Don't just tell us what you attempted to do. Don't give us vague concepts of "community policing" or that you "dodge bullets and bombs." I understand that this is a highly sensitive topic, but if you're going to use it, you need to make the most use of it that you can. Throughout this section, you focus on the difficulties in Iraq--which while poignant--don't do the work they need to. This is supposed to be a personal statement. It should be personal, about you. You should be the focus. Instead, you're like Nick Caraway observing everything happening to other people.

By the third section, I have little interest in continuing to read. You just drop too much information into this personal statement. It's difficult to get a solid picture of who you are, or in what you believe. It's clear you have noted the problems with the laws in these war-torn countries, but I finish this and have a better picture of war than I do of you. And, that's a problem. You have such an amazing story to tell. But instead you give us one sentence for 15 different stories. I'd pick one (or maybe a couple) and use it to show the admissions committee who you are. Right now you're not doing yourself justice.

I hope that this helps!

And, thank you very much for your service to our country.



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