21st February 2024

The diversity statement was already one of the most misunderstood elements of the law school application. Then, in June 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a pair of decisions that overturned race-conscious admissions policies, forcing law schools to overhaul how they ask about diversity in their applications.

As a result of these changes, diversity statements have grown more diverse themselves, ranging widely from school to school. And they are likely to continue to diverge in the future, as law schools take different approaches to building diverse classes without running afoul of the law.

Since schools are no longer allowed to ask about candidates’ race or ethnicity, law school essays no longer mention these factors. But many ask about a candidate’s background or life experience. Some ask about a candidate’s experience with promoting inclusivity, working together with people coming from different perspectives or fighting racism or bias.

Importantly, the Supreme Court’s decisions specifically allow applicants to mention or discuss their own race or ethnicity, particularly as a factor in their own life experience. So, for example, it’s okay to talk about your ethnic identity, family background and experience with bias. You may do so in your personal statement or any other essays or materials.

It is also important to understand that law schools absolutely still value diversity, both in the sense that they want to build diverse classes and in the sense that they take into account hardships that applicants have faced because of their experience.

So, how can admissions offices account for an applicant’s full life experience without intentionally considering an applicant’s race or ethnicity? Answering that question is a burden that the Supreme Court placed on admissions offices, not you.

As an applicant, your focus should be on how to navigate these new variants of diversity statements. Exploring the major differences between the personal statement and diversity statement can help answer many of the questions that applicants have about the diversity statement, including what it is, who should write one and how to approach it. 

Diversity Statements Are Usually Optional

Every law school requires applicants to write a personal statement, the primary written essay for the law school application. In contrast, a diversity statement is almost always an optional essay.

Some law schools now require a statement of perspective or experience in addition to their personal statement, but these statements have a very broad prompt that could encompass a range of life experiences or influences beyond race or ethnicity.

Putting aside those few cases, nearly every other law school allows applicants to write some form of optional diversity statement, and no law school would regret receiving a short and insightful diversity statement.

But applicants should read prompts carefully before deciding whether to write one. For example, being a veteran or in active military service may fit some schools’ diversity statement prompts but not others. In the latter cases, it may be best to highlight this aspect of your background elsewhere in the application, like your personal statement or resume. 

Diversity Statement Prompts Vary Widely Between Schools

Few law school applications now have an essay called a “diversity statement.”

In its place, some law schools have introduced a perspective statement, an identity statement, a statement of challenge or adversity, or another variation on the theme. Others provide an array of optional prompts, one or more of which touch on issues of diversity or simply provide space for applicants to write an open-ended essay about a topic of their choice.

Applicants should read these prompts carefully. There is often overlap between a statement about your perspective and a statement about your identity, but they may be framed differently in ways that will require at least some rewriting.

In contrast, law schools tend to have similar personal statement prompts about the reasons an applicant is applying to law school. Some personal statement prompts include extra questions, perhaps about an applicant’s interest in a specific school.

Applicants may also tailor their personal statement to meet differing length requirements. But otherwise, the same personal statement can generally be used for all schools. 

Not Everyone Should Write a Diversity Statement

Many applicants have the mistaken belief that writing a diversity statement is always a good idea, because law schools are looking for diversity. Or they may have the misimpression that law schools want applicants to write as much as allowed.

But a misconceived diversity statement can backfire and seem insensitive or trivializing. Everyone is different in some ways, and law applicants are not as monolithic as they once were. Many applicants come from minority backgrounds, and most applicants identify as women.

A diversity statement is not simply a place to talk about what distinguishes you from other people. It is not a place to detail your genetic or family history. Its contents should be guided by the wording of the prompt, but generally it is intended more to discuss the perspectives you developed, the lessons you gained or the challenges you have faced because of your background or life experiences. 

Diversity Statements Should Be Approached Differently

Just because you can write a diversity statement doesn’t mean you should. The diversity statement should complement your personal statement with extra context, not reiterate it.

For example, if you come from an Indigenous background and plan to devote your legal career to advocating for Native rights, that may be a great topic for your personal statement. In that case, there’s no reason to repeat the same information in your diversity statement. The reader already knows about your background. You could instead write an optional essay about a different topic or forgo it altogether.

However, if you come from an Indigenous background but are most interested in energy law for unrelated reasons, a diversity statement will save you from making an unfair choice between discussing your career goals and your heritage. Law schools want to give you space to discuss both.

Your diversity and personal statements may differ in tone as well as subject. A personal statement is about your achievements and dreams, and it may sound a bit self-aggrandizing. A diversity statement should be more reflective and self-aware, showing that you have the maturity to engage with others with different points of view.

It can be hard to strike the right tone in your diversity statement, and it may take a few drafts. Avoid self-pity, self-justification and persistent negativity. Focus on your experience, how it shaped you and what you bring to the table because of it.

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