3Ls reflect on their Personal Statements Featuring: Ben Wong
Academic/Career Goals at the Time the Personal Statement was Written:
I was a 4th year history major at McGill, on track for an illustrious career in the non-existent field of early 20th Century Atlantic maritime history. I applied to law school because my incredibly successful law student best friend told me to, in case I didn’t get one of the 0 jobs in my field. Also, I really love The Good Wife.
Looking back, my personal statement is a hot mess. Some highlights:
- I compare doing yoga teachers’ training to being a good lawyer (“I may be able to swing a leg behind my head without second thought, but teaching others to do the same is the true challenge… To be able to represent a client, it is necessary to facilitate an interpersonal relationship that allows one to understand the unique situation and mindset of a client.)
- A bizarre tangent where I talk about subaltern history, and how writing a paper on early modern Sevillian prostitutes makes me a great lawyer (“Prostitutes did not leave autobiographies for later historians to dissect. My work requires me to construct the world a socially invisible woman by putting together newspaper articles, sermons, and sheriff’s archives to conjure her out of her interactions with “proper” society. Likewise, studying the law requires endless amounts of patience and creativity.”)
- Arrogant proclamations of questionable utility (“I will be an excellent lawyer not because of an ability to cite case law or write moving statements. I will be an excellent lawyer because I seek to understand people, and recognize the individual as having a unique relationship with the law and society.”)
It’s pretty clear that I didn’t want to go to law school and had no idea what to write. After applications, I went for drinks and moved on with my life until I got that acceptance letter.
Academic/Career Goals Right Now:
A professor once kindly informed my 100-person class that there was approximately 1 job in constitutional law, and wished us the best of luck getting it. I was relieved, because that is way more than the number of jobs in maritime history (0).
I summered and will be articling at the Constitutional Law Branch of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. It is the perfect balance of nerding out (what were the drafters’ intentions for this wildly obscure section of the BNA Act?!) and meaningful contribution to society (assisting with the implementation of a concrete legislative framework for cannabis legalization). I love it so much.
Changes in Law School:
My GPA was below average, and so was my LSAT. I was barely accepted into law school in the late summer, and very, very reluctantly left my government policy analyst job for it. I spent my first two months pronouncing ultra vires as “ultra veeves” – Professor Walters had to kindly take me aside to correct me. My biggest pet peeve is wearing suits, and all my friends will tell you that refinement is not one of my qualities. During my first 2 months of 1L, I genuinely felt like Paris Hilton on The Simple Life, an absolute joke that did not belong.
After getting a B- on my public midterm, I made a pact with myself that if I didn’t do well on my final, I’d return to my old job that I loved. I think this terrible start made all the difference – the freedom of having nothing to lose allowed me to shed the inferiority complex, rat race mentality and the need to impress others. If I wasn’t going to see these people again, why not ask the stupid question? I’d already paid $9,000 – why not express my opinion in class, and be told why I was wrong?
I worked my ass off, learned to love and engage with, instead of simply consume, the law, and the rest is history. Since then, I’ve learned to embrace my difference – I’ll never be a cool and suave Harvey Specter in court (I’m a short, high-pitched Asian guy), but I’ve refined my combination of scrappy, sassy, and incredibly well-researched into a litigation style that judges and my peers have responded well to.
The Impact of OCIs on Academic/Career Goals:
None. I was incredibly privileged going into OCIs, because I already had an offer from the amazing government office I worked at in 1L. I only applied to 4 other MAG offices that I was interested in.
What I Would Tell My Pre-Law Self:
Like every law student, you will be rejected from jobs, get a dreadful grade, and be passed over for an award. Don’t let fear of failure paralyze you from reaching for what you want. Trying your best is all you can do. A yes or no is so much better than living in the limbo of “what if?”, because you can’t move on from a question that will never be answered.
It’s also easy to wallow on the bad, but please take credit for your successes. Imposter Syndrome is terrible. You didn’t win that Disciplinary Court trial because of a fluke, dumb luck, or pity. You completely over prepared and freaked about this for two weeks, which let you call out the officer’s alternative facts, and rework your client’s defense on the fly when things went sideways. Good for you. There’s a clear difference between being arrogant and being proud of your work.
Ben Wong, 3L, is a guest contributor.