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Oct 13
[Don't] Walk this way.
I can’t decide whether my title is an allusion to Aerosmith or Monty Python or something else entirely. I’ll claim all of the above, then, to demonstrate how culturally heterodox I am. And what with being culturally heterodox and all, I know that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken.
The question I get more than any other from law school applicants seeking admissions advice is, “What should I write about in my personal statement?” The completely accurate answer to this question would be, “I have no idea,” because really, the only person who can reliably identify the overlapping territory of “things that are interesting about you” and “things that are relevant to a law school admissions officer” is you. That, of course, does not stop me from giving advice about personal statements, because I’m shameless that way. So here’s my simplest bit of personal-statement advice: Don’t start your personal statement with an epigraph. Mind you, I understand the impulse. You want to provide a little guidepost to the reader—here’s where we’re going! But you’re not writing The Order of the Phoenix or the unexpurgated The Stand or Ulysses (guess which one of these I haven’t actually read; and just for fun, here’s an awesome infographic about book length); you’re writing a two- or three-page essay. (Another bit of advice: If you hit page four, turn back.) If your reader can’t follow the thread of three pages without an introductory guidepost, there is something fundamentally wrong (possibly with the reader, I concede) that a guidepost won’t help. Possibly just for the sake of irony, let me now quote John McPhee, who wrote a great piece on allusions in The New Yorker: “You will never land smoothly on borrowed vividness. If you say someone looks like Tom Cruise—and you let it go at that—you are asking Tom Cruise to do your writing for you.”
Let’s say, though, you are 100% determined to have Tom Cruise do your writing for you, as it were—to start your essay with some magnificent bon mot authored by someone else. Fine. Let me boil my advice down to its teensy core: For the love of all that is right and good, do not start by quoting The Road Not Taken. “Two roads diverged in a wood” is without a doubt the single most selected quote for the beginning of law school personal statements. As the robin is the harbinger of spring, so is Robert Frost the harbinger of file-reading season, and not uncommonly, as my admissions-officer pals and I begin reading applications in late October or early November, one of us will send around a group email announcing the first sighting—whereupon we all chuckle and metaphorically high-five the one who caught that initial glimpse.
So reason number one not to use it is simply that lots of other people have already used it. While you don’t really want to stand out with your personal-statement prose,
Legally Blonde Gif

you also don’t want to echo the personal statements of thousands of your predecessor applicants.
Reason number two not to use it is that it’s probably not apt. As one of my colleagues used to say very tartly, “Law school is not the road less traveled by.” The Road is, to be sure, a great poem—although possibly it doesn’t mean exactly what you think it means—but laud its centennial in some way other than at the beginning of your personal statement.
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