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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

September 06, 2012

Harvard Law School LL.M. Essay Questions for Fall 2013

Harvard Law School has "updated" their Master of Law application page for Fall 2010 admission, so I am updating my post Harvard LL.M. program as well.  Actually the application has not changed significantly for years and this is my first major update in about four years. The deadlines: For the LL.M. class beginning in September 2013, the application deadline is December 1, 2012. (We strongly encourage all application materials be delivered by November 15, 2012.)

While almost all my clients are applying to MBA programs,  I have extensive past experience working with applicants applying to LL.M. programs, but generally only work with a small number of applicants per year. For Fall 2012 admission, I worked with 5 clients with 1 accepted at HLS, another accepted at Yale,  2 each admitted to Columbia and NYU, three admitted to Georgetown, and one each to Chicago Cornell, Berkeley and UCLA. For Fall 2011, I worked with only 1 LL.M. client who applied only to Columbia and was admitted. I worked with no LL.M. applicants for Fall 2010. For Fall 2009 admission, I worked with three LL.M. clients, two of whom were admitted to Harvard. You can find their results here.  For me, working with very high caliber LL.M. clients is quite interesting.  Before establishing my own consulting service in 2007, about 30% of my clients between 2001-2006 were LL.M. applicants, but these days, it is a rather limited aspect of my work.  


I think everyone who applies to top LL.M. programs should think about the Harvard Law School essay questions even if they don't intend to apply to Harvard: 

1. Harvard Law School is the top general LL.M. program. Yale and Stanford are harder to get into, but they are small specialized programs. Harvard has the best name brand reputation of any American university in the world and so does its law school.

2. Not a single one of the LL.M. admits to Harvard I worked with or know about ever rejected it to attend Columbia, Chicago, or other top general LL.M. programs.

3. For applicants who apply to Harvard, it is the hardest application they will likely have to complete. The only other exception might be UC Berkeley because of the need to have a very detailed plan of study, but that is arguable and highly variable.

4. Most importantly, those who apply to Harvard are also applying to the other top programs and many will most likely be utilizing their Harvard content to prepare essays for other schools. The rigorous analytical and legal thinking that makes for great Harvard essays will thus impact not only their chances for admissions at other schools, but all other applicants' chances as well.

5. Therefore even if you don't apply to Harvard's LL.M. you need to apply the same level of intellectual rigor to your essays that a successful Harvard admit would be applying to his or her essays. Since you are competing with those who apply to Harvard, you need to write essays at the same level as required by Harvard.

In summary, Harvard has a more difficult set of essay questions than other LL.M. programs ask and most who apply to Harvard will be utilizing their content for other schools. So, even if you don't apply to Harvard, you should be aware of what some of your strongest competition will be doing. Harvard has four essay questions (Taken from the online application) and gives a total of 1900 words.

The Personal Statement questions (taken from the online application):

Please read parts a. and b. below carefully and write an essay addressing both questions, with part a. constituting at least half of the total length. Footnotes do not count towards the overall word limit as long as they are limited to providing sources and citations. Your entire statement should be no more than 1,500 words—anything exceeding the word limit will be disallowed. Please type or word-process your statement, with your full name on the top of each page and your signature at the end, and attach it to your application.
  1. Briefly describe either an important issue in your field of interest or a current legal problem facing a particular country, region, or the world, and then propose a theoretical framework or a legal analysis or strategy to address this issue.
  2. Please tell us something about yourself—in particular, why you wish to pursue an LL.M. degree at Harvard and how doing so connects with what you have done in the past and what you plan to do in the future.
Important: Your personal statement must address the above questions specifically, and must be solely the product of your own efforts. We reserve the right to disqualify a statement written by, or with the help of, someone other than the applicant. 
Note: There is a word limit of 1,500 words; please provide a word count at the end of your essay. Please be sure to type or word-process your statement in 12-point font, with at least one-inch (2.5 cm.) margins on each side.

Now while (a) and (b) are the main questions, there are actually two other "essay" questions (taken from the online application):

Please do NOT use ALL CAPS when completing your form.
Please indicate at least two areas of your academic interests by selecting from the options below (a) a general category and (b) within that category, a specific topic.
Interest 1:
Category: Topic: 
Find Topics | Clear Topic
Interest 2:
Category: Topic: 
Find Topics | Clear Topic
Interest 3:
Category: Topic: 
Find Topics | Clear Topic
Please tell us why you are interested in these areas and how they relate to your career goals. (Note: Please limit your response to no more than 1500 characters.)

What are your career plans after you complete your graduate law studies?
(Please choose one option from each box)
Year 1-3
Year 4-6
Year 7 and beyond
Please elaborate on your plans. In which country (or countries) do you intend to pursue your career?
(Note: Please limit your response to no more than 1500 characters.)

Clearly no applicant should duplicate the content they write in essay (b) and in these two shorter questions, yet I believe many applicants do because they treat these two shorter questions as simply application questions and not essay questions. If you think of them as essay questions, you see that, in fact, Harvard gives approximately 2000 words maximum to each LL.M. applicant. This is more than you are likely to write for any law school with the possible exception of schools that don't specify essay length.

Is This One Essay or Two?
Since the two questions are actually divided and you need to have at least 750 words for (a), I have always advised my clients to write each as a separate essay and not a single essay. While the instructions don't absolutely specify that, it would surely make it easier to determine if part a. is at least 750 words if the two parts are separated.  Of course, there should be a connection between the two parts in as much as what you are interested in (a) should relate to what you discuss in (b) as well in terms of your academic interests and career plans.

Now let's analyze the questions:

(a)Briefly describe either an important issue in your field of interest or a current legal problem facing a particular country, region, or the world, and then propose a theoretical framework or a legal analysis or strategy to address this issue.
Question (a) is what makes Harvard's essay different from most other LL.M. applications. It is a real test of your analytical and legal thinking. It is also test of your ability to communicate something important in 750-1000 words. You will probably need at least 500 for (b) and (a) must be at least 750 words long. From my experience the most effective way to write (a) is to:

1. Identify a legal issue that you know really well and can provide a nuanced perspective on. Ideally it should also relate to what you intend to study at Harvard, but at minimum should be a reflection of your best legal thinking.

2. Write a long first draft, say 1000-2000 words.

3. Expect to go through at least four more drafts before it is close to being finished.

4. Show it to a lawyer or other legal expert who can assess whether what you say is actually accurate and impressive. With my clients, I always tell them to do this. Even if I am very familiar with the legal issue my client is analyzing, I ask them to try to get expert advice. If expert advice is not available, find the next best thing, a fellow legal practitioner whose opinion you trust.

5. If you use an admissions consultant, you should ask him or her to assess this essay within the context of your entire application and in comparison to other applicants who were admitted to Harvard. If you are interested in learning more about my services, please see my website.

(b)Please tell us something about yourself—in particular, why you wish to pursue an LL.M. degree at Harvard and how doing so connects with what you have done in the past and what you plan to do in the future.

This is actually a standard question though somewhat different from the standard catchall questions that most other schools ask. The real task is to think what you don't need to include here, which requires looking at the next two essays first, so we will come back to this question.

Academic interests
For most other schools, this would be a standard part of the main question, but Harvard does it a little differently. This means that in (b) you don't have to discuss your academic interests in detail because you will doing it here. In the context of your answer, provide the list they ask for. You can only focusing on two or three areas of legal interest in the application form.  I suggest you come across as someone with a very focused academic plan. Your academic plan at Harvard should be consistent with your future career plans.

Please elaborate on your plans. 

You should use this space to provide a specific career plan. You will have already talked about your future in (b), but at a more conceptual level. Here you should provide details of your future plans.

One thing to keep in mind: HARVARD IS FOR LEADERS. It does not matter if your leadership is as a judge, a prosecutor, a leading attorney in your field, a government expert, a scholar, or an in-house legal counsel, Harvard is looking for people who will make a difference. Your career plan is the place to show how you will use the legal knowledge you acquire at Harvard to become a credit to the legal profession. In (b) you will focus on "why?"

Now back to (b):

(b)Please tell us something about yourself—in particular, why you wish to pursue an LL.M. degree at Harvard and how doing so connects with what you have done in the past and what you plan to do in the future.
Given that you don't need to provide the details of either your academic plan at Harvard or your career plans, there is plenty of room in (b) to focus on what Harvard wants to know:

1.Why do you want an LL.M. at Harvard? Explain clearly the reason(s) for obtaining an LL.M. and at Harvard in particular.

2. Connect to the past: You need to reveal something about yourself, in particular your motivations for pursuing a legal career and need to trace that motivation to your desire to pursue an LL.M. Tell a story that reveals something about you. If you are having difficulty understanding how to do that, I suggest taking a look at my earlier posts on law school essays.

3. Connect to the future: You need to explain why an LL.M. will help you achieve your future goals. The details for that plan will be discussed in your career plan essay. If you are having difficulty formulating goals, please click here.

A great (b) answer should effectively provide the conceptual backbone that connects all four essays because essay (b) is about your past and future motivations as a legal professional. Those motivations should certainly impact what legal issue you write about in (a) as well as your academic plan at Harvard and your future career plans.

Putting together a great HLS application is a time-consuming labor of love, but if approached early enough, it really is manageable.

-Adam Markus

I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

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