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How to Write an Effective Addendum
This article, written by a TLS reader who attends a “Top 10” law school, details how some applicants can improve their applications with a well-written addendum. Published June 2010.
Many people applying to law school have “extra” issues they need to address on their application. These are issues which they don't want to waste precious space writing about in their Personal Statement (PS) or Diversity Statement (DS) and which usually involve boring and dry details that would kill their PS anyway. If these issues are serious enough to warrant mention, then discuss them in a separate one-page addendum that briefly states the issue and lets the law school know in clear terms what happened. It can sometimes even allow you to turn a negative into a positive and quite possibly help convince a school to take you.
The one-page addendum is written and submitted independently from the PS or DS. Sometimes it is requested as an answer to a question ("Have you ever been convicted of any crime?") and sometimes it is something that you would just like to address ("My GPA is low because during my freshman year I..."). In the latter case, you have the right to include a one-page addendum even if it is not asked for. However, regardless of whether it is requested or not, it should simply and factually address the specific issue that needs to be clarified.
The addendum is not a place for you to get deeply emotional or argumentative. You are writing this addendum to either meet an obligation to disclose or to persuade the law school admissions committee to overlook a detriment on your record. You don't want to put them off by exaggerating your circumstances or making emotional pleas that suggest you don't understand the gravity of your own situation. The best thing to do in an addendum is to just provide the facts. If you want to make an argument, do it in your Personal Statement or your Diversity Statement, and use the addendum to address the facts. This is what I did.
There are a few types of addendum that come up frequently, and I'll address them one at a time. However, I recommend you read through all of them as I cover some important general concepts while describing each.
The Criminal Conviction Addendum
Criminal convictions are generally only disclosed if required. Read the application carefully. It may say that it requires only disclosures of "misdemeanor and felony convictions", or that it requires disclosures of "convictions other than minor traffic violations" or "disclosures except those dismissed or expunged from your record." Again, read carefully. If you're absolutely sure your conviction is not covered by the question, you don't need an addendum. Otherwise, you should write one.
The first half of a criminal conviction addendum is simple and straightforward. Just lay out the facts of what happened. Give the date, the offense, and that you were either found or plead guilty. Give the facts plainly first, before making any comment on them. In the samples below, notice how the facts of the conviction are laid out clearly before discussing any consequences.
After you have finished doing that, you can discuss what this conviction meant for you. Again, keep it as brief as possible. There are two arguments that are likely to have a real effect on an admissions committee; the first is that this was a very minor violation that you are contrite for.
Here's an example:
On August 14, 2008, while driving home from work, I was issued a citation for failure to stop at a red light. All traffic citations are considered Class C misdemeanors in the state of New Mexico. I plead guilty to the misdemeanor offense and received a $175 fine. I have had a clean driving record except for this offense, accept responsibility for this offense, and do not intend for it to happen again.
This is short, simple, as factual as possible, and does not attempt to avoid responsibility for your action. The admissions committee likely won’t care about minor offenses like this other than to make sure you don't say something ridiculous like, "I got the ticket because the cops and judges in New Mexico are corrupt and I hate them all." That would probably be bad. Otherwise, these disclosures are more important to make for admission to the bar as failure to disclose could keep you from passing the Character & Fitness section.
The second type of successful addendum, if this were a more major offense, is that it was something that happened several years ago and that you have learned and grown significantly since then. In that second case, some applicants focus their Personal Statement on the offense and its consequences on their lives. This is a bold move, but it can honestly show growth and maturity since the offense, which is very important. It's not required to do so, however, as long as you disclose enough in your addendum to show the committee you now have a better respect of the law.
The more serious the offense, the more time you should have between it and your application to law school. Offenses when you were young and didn't understand the world are far more easy to distance yourself from than offenses you committed a week before you submitted your law school application.
On October 17, 1995, I was enrolled in eighth grade at Abraham Lincoln High School in Hadleyville, Illinois. Another boy in class called me a pejorative and I responded by attacking and repeatedly striking him, causing serious injuries to his face and arms. His family filed criminal charges against me and I was found guilty of battery in juvenile court. I received five years of juvenile probation and a requirement for community service.
The experience changed me; since then I believe I have significantly grown and matured. As part of my community service requirement, I worked for the Hadleyville Food Bank and became aware of the problems of homeless and unemployed people living in my area. This awareness is part of what later led me to begin volunteering for the Northern Illinois Food Bank while attending Northern Illinois University from 1999 to 2003 and has since led me to an interest in the law, specifically in the public interest, to represent the economically disadvantaged.
There are several things happening here at once. The applicant in this case is 1) disclosing a serious offense, 2) describing that significant time and growth has happened since the offense, and 3) showing how this experience has become a modern-day positive by leading him to want to go to law school and do pro bono work.
What the applicant is not doing is asking or demanding that their offense be overlooked. Notice how in the sample the applicant is not saying, "This offense is so old and I'm so much older that it doesn't matter anymore." Let the admissions committee decide whether or not that's true. That's their job. The applicant does, however, provide enough information to hope the admissions committee will reach that conclusion themselves.
If the above applicant also wrote about their work at the Food Bank in their Personal Statement, they could write a one-line ending to their addendum, something like, "Please see my Personal Statement for more information about my work on the Northern Illinois Food Bank and how it has impacted my life."
The Medical Issue Addendum
Medical issues are really only a concern to the law school in certain circumstances. They do not want to know that you had the chicken pox in third grade, and they do not care that you sprained your ankle on your summer vacation after your sophomore year. Medical addendums should not be written about or used unless 1) they had a valid impact on your GPA or career, or 2) the medical issue is something you have written your PS or DS about. Sometimes both of these are true, but I'll discuss them separately.
1) Impact on GPA/career
A medical issue can very possibly affect your GPA. If you got mono, you broke your leg and couldn't walk, or were in a car accident and seriously hurt, such things could have caused you to have a lower GPA one semester or year, and in that case you want to explain it so that law schools will understand your GPA in the other years better represent your potential. For example:
On September 14, 2005, while moving into a dormitory in Lubbock, Texas, an accident occurred where a family member backed up my car unexpectedly and ran over my foot. I sustained injuries which included fractures to three metatarsal bones. Treatment involved wearing a cast for eight months and rehabilitation after it was removed. I was required to use crutches during my entire freshman year, which impacted my ability to adjust to a new college and living environment. I believe that this contributed to my low 3.0 GPA my freshman year, and that my 3.6 GPA average in the final three years of college is more representative of my actual ability.
Medical documentation of the injury and its treatment can be provided upon request.
Such an addendum could also be used to explain something unusual on your resume. For instance, working in a place for only six months may look suspicious, but a very brief addendum stating you quit because you broke your foot and couldn't do the work anymore will clear that up very quickly.
Notice how the addendum says "I believe that this contributed," not "this did contribute." An addendum should be as factual as possible, and you can include your beliefs as long as you make clear that they are beliefs. That way, the admissions committee will know and understand your beliefs without feeling like you are telling them how they should take it. If your injury or illness is serious, they will conclude on their own that it did contribute.
The final line, "Medical documentation of the injury can be provided upon request," is also important. This is you telling the admissions committee that you can prove the medical injury, without having to mail copies of your medical records to all the different schools you apply to. They may ask if they care, but, in my own experience, not a single one of 30 schools I applied to asked for medical documentation. It is important, however, to be able to provide it, especially since claiming an illness you can't prove on your application may look like lying to the bar when you graduate.
2) Subject of PS/DS
If your PS or DS is specifically about your medical illness, then you have less to explain in your addendum. In this case, the addendum just serves to lay out facts about the medical condition so you don't have to waste your PS talking about them. For example, a Type 1 diabetic may choose to talk in their PS about the difficulties they had their whole life being born with such a condition. In that case, the medical addendum just needs to get a few core things out of the way:
I have been a Type 1 diabetic since birth. As a result of this condition, I require frequent blood-sugar monitoring and insulin injections. As long as I continue receiving this monitoring and treatment, my diabetes will not affect my ability to attend classes or perform required assignments. The effects the condition and treatment have had on my personal and professional life are discussed in my Personal Statement.
Medical documentation of Type 1 diabetes diagnosis and treatment can be provided upon request.
How the diabetes and treatment affects the applicant doesn't need to be discussed since the applicant is doing their PS about it. Instead, since this is a current recurring illness, the applicant is trying to make clear that their illness won't affect their ability to do the required work in law school.
This is not to say you shouldn't disclose something if you require accommodations. If you want to write in your PS about a condition that's protected under the ADA you should be free to do so. As long as you're capable of doing the work, the ADA protects you from being discriminated against as long as you can attend with reasonable accommodations. For instance, if you require a wheelchair, you can differentiate in a medical addendum between your disability and your ability to do the work: "I require wheelchair access to classrooms as allowed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but otherwise I have no physical or mental impairment that would affect my ability to attend law school or perform the required assignments."
By discussing and disclosing this in your medical addendum, it frees you up from having to waste valuable space on your PS or DS explaining it. Instead, you are free in your PS or DS to talk about how your illness your condition has affected and continues to affect you emotionally and personally.
The GPA Addendum
As seen above, a medical addendum can already explain a low GPA. However, some applicants will have reasons for a low GPA that isn't connected to their own medical health. In that case, a GPA addendum may still be appropriate.
There are a variety of reasons for this; perhaps the health of a family member, some tragic event that occurred in your life, or, if your freshman year, circumstances that made it unusually hard to adjust to college life. For example:
During my sophomore year of college, my mother was diagnosed with uterine sarcoma, a form of cancer. Her treatment involved a hysterectomy and chemotherapy which left her fatigued and unable to continue caring for my younger brother Jason, age 14 at the time. During this year, I drove 40 miles back home after classes and cared for both my mother and Jason during the afternoons and evenings, and then drove back to Chicago in the morning to attend classes. This negatively impacted my classes, but I could not withdraw for the year without forfeiting the Wheelman Scholarship mentioned in my resume.
As a result I received a 2.5 GPA my fall semester and a 3.0 GPA my spring semester of my sophomore year. I believe that my 3.75 overall GPA in my other three years is more representative of my current potential.
The applicant in this case is once again being very simple and factual. In this imagined case, the "Wheelman Scholarship" would be a scholarship described in the resume among the applicant's honors, and mention that it was a full-tuition or other type of important scholarship. You can always defer in an addendum to facts in your other documents for more details.
The important things to know about a GPA addendum are:
1) It should only be writer for a good reason. The above description, involving serious family illness, is an example. It doesn't necessarily have to be that serious, but don't make something up or exaggerate things. If you lay the facts out as they are, you should be able to look at it yourself and tell whether it's important enough to buy as a reason for a low GPA. If you think it's weak, the admissions committee will think it's weak, whether you start adding exaggerated language to it or not.
2) Even with a solid addendum like the example above, you'll still be disadvantaged by having a low GPA, and need to be strong elsewhere. Your LSAT score should at least be in range for the school you are applying to. A school is unlikely to take someone who has both a GPA and an LSAT score that are well below median just because of how it would hurt them in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. This is a reality you have to face no matter how strong your story is; a story about caring for a sick family member can possibly compensate for a low GPA, but not for everything else in your application. Also, having an especially high LSAT will strongly help you here, as it helps reinforce that you are capable aside from that one issue you did have.
3) There should be a clear difference between your GPA in the semesters you're describing and your GPA otherwise. You had better be able to point to some proof that, barring what you were describing, you would be a much better student. It's possible, but very hard, to come up with a good reason for an addendum that explains low grades all four years of college. If this is the case, then you will need something else to show you're stronger than your GPA suggests (likely a high LSAT score and several years of strong work experience).
The LSAT Score Addendum
Like GPA, an LSAT score addendum should have something to point to as evidence you're more than your score. If you don't have a good reason for a low LSAT score, don't write an addendum. Try to highlight your other strengths (high GPA, strong softs, URM status, etc.) in your PS/DS and let them speak for themselves. If you write a weak addendum for a low LSAT score, they are going to see it as a weak addendum, and it's not going to help you at all.
This is especially true since, unlike a GPA, an LSAT score can be repeated. While you can never go back and redo your GPA, you can go take the LSAT again if you did poorly the first time. Really the only reason a separate LSAT addendum is appropriate is when you have a second LSAT score and you want the school to only consider the higher score. Otherwise they will ask themselves the obvious question, which is, "Why didn't this person just take the LSAT again?"
However, if you did take the LSAT twice, you really do want to point them to the higher score if you have a reason to do so. For example:
In December of 2008 I took the LSAT in Jacksonville, FL. I had just moved to the Jacksonville area a month before in order to take a job there and I underestimated the stresses and burdens that moving and starting a new job would take on me. Due to this miscalculation, I ended up not having the time I needed to prepare for the LSAT between when I moved and the test date.
As a result, I scored on the LSAT what I felt was well below my real potential. I signed up and took the LSAT again in February 2009, and I feel that score is more representative of my abilities.
Again, simple and factual. The addendum makes it clear that you are giving your opinion ("I felt"). Use any reason you have but try to make it a good reason. I would recommend against simple unpreparedness as a reason, though; if you try to say you did poorly the first time because you were unprepared, it may make them ask why you didn't think about preparing and if that makes you less likely to have prepared for law school.
The other thing to consider with an LSAT addendum is that these days many schools automatically take the high score. You may not need an addendum, and not writing an addendum is likely better than writing a bad one. If the school you're applying to already takes the highest score, don't hurt yourself by writing an addendum unless you have a valid reason for one.
No matter what kind of addendum you're thinking about writing:
1) If it's not required, don't write it unless it's you really have a good reason. Admissions committees will recognize a weak addendum. These people are lawyers who spent years studying and picking apart people's arguments so you are not going to be able to be crafty and pull a fast one on them. Be honest.
2) Keep it as factual as possible. This addendum is to notify the school of an issue and what current effects it has on you. They want the facts so they can decide for themselves how to take the situation, and the more you try to dictate how they should take something, the less happy they will be. You can give your opinions, but make sure you word them as your opinion, belief, etc.
3) If this ties into your Personal Statement, put the story in your PS and the necessary disclosure facts in an addendum. This frees you up in your PS to talk about your life story. All you have to do in your addendum is state the boring facts and point them to your PS for how it's affected you. (Alternately, if you want to discuss it more personally but it doesn't fit in your PS, write a Diversity Statement about how it affected you. A DS can be about just about anything that makes you unique; it's not confined to race, gender, or economic status.)
4) Don't expect an addendum to work miracles by itself. An addendum should be a disclosure of facts to explain a specific circumstance. By itself, it is not meant to overcome your weaknesses and get you into law school. The addendum will help by getting your weakness out of the way and allowing you to focus on your strengths in your PS and DS, but you need to have those strengths elsewhere in your application to compensate for the weakness you disclose in the addendum.
Interview with Andrea Kilpatrick, Director of Law Admissions at Admit Advantage
An Introduction to Law School Admissions Strategy
An Undergraduate Timeline for Applying to Law School
Law School Letters of Recommendation Advice
Writing a Law School Addendum
Professional Law School Resume
Law School Residency Issues by State
Early Decision and Early Action FAQ
The TLS Guide To Fee Waivers
URM (Under-Represented Minority) Application FAQ
Introduction to the JD/MBA Dual Degree
Introduction to the JD/MA Dual Degree
Pre-Law School Programs Geared Toward URM (Under-Represented Minority) Applicants
Law School Applications - Ken's Successes and Regrets
A Guide To Law School Prediction Calculators
Writing an Effective “Why X” Addendum
How to Write an Effective Addendum
Law School Decision Dates 2009-2010
Law School Decision Dates 2008-2009