4 graduates of Stanford Law on how they made their applications stand out and landed spots at the No. 2 program in the US

Stanford University

Summary List Placement

US News & World Report ranks Stanford Law School (SLS) second in the nation, making it a prime target for aspiring attorneys.

If you’re applying to this Palo Alto-based graduate school, then you’ll need more than the standard application advice to turn heads. After all, less than 10% of applicants are accepted at SLS.

Insider spoke to four alumni to get the inside scoop on how they landed coveted spots.

Find ways to expose yourself to law school as an undergraduate

When Afam Onyema, class of 2007 and CEO of The GEANCO Foundation, was a junior at Harvard University, he worked with the special-events office of Harvard Law School during the week of their commencement.

Afam Onyema standing in a black suit and blue striped tie at a GEANC event

“Immediately after it was over, I worked overtime to convince the head of the special-events office to hire me part time for my senior year,” Onyema said.

This hustle became an invaluable way to get exposure to a top law school as an undergraduate.

“To me, it wasn’t just a job — it was an entrepreneurial opportunity to soak up all that school had to offer,” he said.

He recalled setting up for a conference and then, instead of retreating back to his office, hanging out in the back of the room and listening to all the speakers.

“I did that for a wide variety of conferences, events, symposia, and speeches covering literally every aspect of law and the legal professional,” Onyema said. “I even once escorted Supreme Justice Stephen Breyer to a keynote speech and took the opportunity to pepper him with questions about law school, the legal profession, and how the Court functions.”

Onyema’s boss took notice of the student’s extra efforts and wrote a letter of recommendation for him touching on how fully and uniquely Onyema had seized the role.

“When accepting me, Stanford Law School made note of how ‘entrepreneurial’ I was in both working and learning at the law school, when most others simply would have used the job as a way to make a few extra dollars as a student,” Onyema said.

Convey a clear plan for your degree and career

Katie Spielman, class of 2007, advised emphasizing your motivation for attending law school — and what you hope to do with a law degree.

Katie Spielman

“SLS has always, I think, favored admissions candidates who have a strong sense of purpose and a very clear vision of what they hope to do with their law degree and in their legal career,” Spielman, who’s been a consumer-insurance and disability-rights attorney at DL Law Group in San Francisco since 2017, told Insider.

Following her own advice wasn’t an easy task, she noted.

“I found it challenging at the time to be very specific about what exactly I wanted to do in the law,” she said. “I was just 21 years old, and while I had some ideas and work experience that gave me a general idea of where I was headed, I didn’t really have what I felt was a concrete plan.”

Spielman said her personal statement held the key to tying together her academic, work, and personal experiences and showing the admissions officers that her desire to study the law and advocate for people with disabilities and mental-health needs was “genuine, informed, and enduring.”

She wrote about her experience being raised by a single mother with a mental-health disability, as well as her observations of the injustices and challenges that her mother faced.

“I wrote about her inability to access quality mental-health care, or to pay for it or get it covered by insurance when it was available, the difficulties she faced in the workplace, ultimately leading to job loss, foreclosure, and eviction from our home, as well as the long struggle to obtain disability benefits when she could no longer work,” Spielman said. “With all these experiences, I had the distinct impression that there was an inherent unfairness and imbalance of power. I wanted to work within the law to help even the playing field.” 

She then included concrete details and steps she’s taken already that backed up this passion, such as majoring in psychology, working with children with disabilities at a local middle school during the academic year, and working in the summers at plaintiff-side civil litigation firms that championed the rights of individuals against much larger, more well-resourced corporations.

Stephen Kane, class of 2006 and founder and CEO of dispute resolutions platform FairClaims, agreed with Spielman that your personal statement should go beyond the abstract and get specific.

Stephen Kane

“‘Batman Begins’ is my favorite Batman movie because it does what great origin stories do — gives you insight into Batman’s core motivation,” Kane said. “That’s what you need to do to get into Stanford Law School.”

Kane asked his classmates what they wrote in their essays and noticed a consistent pattern: personal stories that connected the missing puzzle piece of a world-class legal education with their intrinsic motivation for changing the world.

So in his application, Kane told the story of his Mexican immigrant grandfather who went on to be a civil-rights leader and fight in World War II and single mother who didn’t go to college but “sacrificed so I could,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter that dozens or even hundreds of other qualified applicants had similar stories,” he added. “It’s that my classmates and I wove a deeper narrative into our stories about how we wanted to leverage our perspectives and motivations to put our law degrees to good use.”

Get honest feedback from trusted colleagues

Jibril Jackson, class of 2006, told Insider that he studied for the LSAT in a Barnes & Noble on Peachtree Road in Atlanta, using a book of official tests that he “borrowed” from their shelves and ultimately getting a score in the top 1% of his LSAT class.

Jibril Jackson

But even a stellar test score doesn’t guarantee an immediate spot — like many applicants, he said he worked hard on his personal statement.

After drafting it up, he first circulated it to a close group of friends and family. While most of them “thought it was hilarious,” he said — as he intended it to be — they gave him some valuable feedback.

“Consistently, they felt that the real story was in the parts I left out,” Jackson said. “The struggle that led me here, the history of it all.”

He took their feedback and wrote a second draft — “still honest, but in some ways revealing more about my environment than me,” he said.

When he felt the draft achieved a sort of “local consensus” among his readers, he decided to go with it and finish the rest of the application.

Jackson was all set to submit his package before he started second-guessing his statement. So as a sanity check, he reached out to one of his best college friends.

“During school, he would often babysit for his cousin, an award-winning author,” Jackson said. “I had spent enough time over there to have a rapport with the family. He agreed to help me solicit her feedback.”

The author got back to Jackson right away.

“She hated it,” Jackson said. “‘Where is your on-top-of-the-world humor? Where is the swagger?'” he recalled her telling him.

In that short email, the author gave Jackson some writing advice that he said he follows to this day: “Don’t just tell the truth — tell a truth that allows me to see you within it.”

Emboldened, Jackson sent her the original essay he’d penned, and she loved it.

“We went back and forth on minor changes for a bit, and in the end she encouraged me to take the courageous path,” he said. “I’m glad I did.”

Touch on the generous loan repayment program and how you plan to use it

According to Onyema, a point of great pride for Stanford Law is that it has the most generous loan repayment assistance program (LRAP) among all leading law schools. He suggested that an applicant who desires to go into public service or legal aid should make note that LRAP is a leading reason why they’re applying to the school.

“I made a note in my personal statement that the existence of LRAP was a huge draw for me and that I planned to make use of the program at some point after law school graduation to do public-interest/social-impact work,” Onyema said. “That prediction came true, as I started my foundation and signed up to LRAP right after I graduated in 2007, and remained in it for the full 10 years I was eligible.”

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