Generative AI and the Law School Personal Statement

This blog comes from our consultant Joe Pollak. You can read his full bio at the end of this post.

Last fall, we saw several law schools adopt new sections of their application instructions to address the use of artificial intelligence tools in drafting application materials. Unfortunately, there is no universal consensus among law school admissions officers about the proper role of AI in creating law school applications. We anticipate that several schools that were silent last year will add language prohibiting the use of AI tools and that some schools may revise the instructions they gave last year. At the same time, we do not yet know the precise language schools will use in the coming application cycle, and we will not until much closer to September 1, the traditional date when the application cycle begins and many applications are published. So, what should applicants do? We think it may be helpful to consider several broad categories of how admissions offices approach the use of AI.

A complete ban on AI

Some law schools strictly prohibit using AI tools in any form while creating law school application materials. The idea is that they want to ensure that a personal statement authentically reflects the candidate's genuine ideas, experiences, and capabilities. 

In my opinion, this kind of comprehensive prohibition is a mistake because AI tools are already pervasive and likely only to become more so. If strictly enforced, candidates who used spelling or grammar-checking apps or similar functions commonly embedded in word-processing software would run afoul of this instruction. We may see some schools back away from this kind of language in favor of more nuanced instructions.

Human ownership of words

This kind of instruction mandates that candidates refrain from using generative AI to draft their essays but leaves the door open for editing tools that might correct spelling or grammar mistakes. It would also more clearly allow, for example, using Google to verify a fact the candidate wanted to use in their essay even though AI is embedded within Google. So long as the candidate drafts the words, AI-powered research tools would be permissible, but submitting a personal statement written by ChatGPT would still be a breach.

This is the current middle ground where many admissions offices land. Enforcement remains a problem, though. We have heard from admissions officers who say they have considered but declined to implement AI-detecting software because they lack confidence in its accuracy. We have not heard from any admissions office that says that they are actively using measures to try to detect AI usage, but we have heard admissions offices say that they compared essays to the proctored LSAT Writing sample when they suspected illicit AI use or other malfeasance.

Responsible use

At least one law school allows candidates to use AI while charging the candidate with responsibility for certifying the truth and accuracy of their application materials.

I spoke with a current admissions dean whose application instructions prohibit generative AI use. That dean considered changing their approach to permit the use of AI if the candidate disclosed that they had used AI, but they are not planning to make that change for the upcoming cycle. Part of that decision was a belief that AI-written essays are distinguishable from genuine, human-written content. Still, as technology advances, passively detecting AI-written content may become harder, so the "responsible use" instruction may become more popular out of necessity. 

How to proceed:

Read the application instructions. Candidates should carefully review each school's application instructions and certification language. AI rules are just one more reason to do so.

Draft an organic personal statement. The odds are that most candidates will apply to at least one school that prohibits the use of AI tools, so draft your human-written personal statement first.

If you are tempted to use AI, consider some caveats. I have experimented with anonymously reviewing AI-written personal statements and heard from other admissions office colleagues who have done the same. We all think that, at present, ChatGPT can write a so-so personal statement but not an A+ essay. So, even if AI use were permitted, writing an organic personal statement remains the strategic move because it has the potential to be better. 

If you use AI, you must refine the draft AI gives you to prioritize your authentic, genuine, and compelling story. I suspect the effort it would take to work with AI to write a new essay once you already have an organic essay would be better spent editing the organic personal statement. However, this is an area that I will continue to watch with interest.

[After drafting this blog post, I asked ChatGPT to do the same. The results were… not good. I mean, it produced a technically and grammatically correct piece of writing, but it lacked insight into the subject matter. I would give it a B-.]

Future predictions

The jury is still out on whether admissions offices will adopt a universal expectation for using AI to write a law school admissions personal statement. If they ever do, it will take some time to get there. Still, we anticipate seeing admissions offices rely more heavily on the parts of an application that are harder to influence using AI. That means more emphasis on recorded and live interviews, greater attention to professional and other experiences, and more significant consideration for the cohesion and overall story when looking at the application components together.

Joe Pollak is a former admissions officer for the University of Michigan Law School, where he negotiated scholarships, counseled students on their law school aspirations, ran the waitlist, supervised application processing, and managed applicants’ campus visits, among other responsibilities. Joe received his B.A. and J.D., both with honors, from the George Washington University. During law school, he worked as a fellow in the writing center and was a member of the George Washington International Law Review where he evaluated articles for publication. At other points in his career, he was an associate attorney with a large law firm in Washington, DC, nonprofit executive director, summer camp director, and editor for job seekers’ cover letters and résumés. In his free time, he is a fair-weather hiker, so-so bread baker, and novice bike-camper. Joe lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with his wife and two sons.