What is a Law School Addendum?
A law school addendum is a short (usually no longer than one page) “essay” that attempts to either legitimately rationalize or explain a weakness in your application.
Types of Law School Addenda
There are a handful of law school addendum that you may want, or need, to write for your application to be complete.
Character and Fitness Addendum – Many law schools will have a Character and Fitness section of their application. This section questions the applicant about his or her past, usually focusing on any behavioral issues that may have popped up. Usually schools ask that you disclose personal information like whether you have ever been arrested, charged or convicted of a crime or misdemeanor, or sanctioned/punished by your university for any reason. Every school will ask different questions, but the important thing is that you answer truthfully, and read the instructions carefully.
Normally, if you have had character and fitness problems in past, the school will require that you explain the details of the incident in a short addendum. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you may think!
Poor Performance – Although it is not always beneficial, many applicants choose to write an addendum in an effort to explain away poor grades, LSAT scores, or other performances that turned out to be substandard.
Poor Performance addenda due to below-average grades are usually most effective when the applicant cites a specific year or semester in which his or her GPA was affected by an external source or circumstance. Common reasons for poor grade performance include extreme illness, family issues/deaths and personal injuries.
Poor performance addenda due to a poor LSAT score, on the other hand, may be more difficult to explain, considering the fact that you can retake the test and/or cancel scores if you feel you hadn’t performed up to your expected abilities. This type of addendum will try to show that your less-than-perfect score does a poor job of representing your intellectual abilities, and that your history of academic excellence is a far more telling tale of your true potential than this one test score.
Gaps in Your Academic and/or Professional Career – If there’s a gap in your scholastic pursuits or in your post-grad profession, it may be beneficial to write an addendum, even if schools don’t ask. Whether this gap can be explained by unfortunate injuries or sickness, family issues, financial obligations, etc., schools would most likely want to know what you were up to rather than guessing at the blank spot in your life’s timeline.
When to Not Write an Addendum
It’s human nature to deny. When things go awry, our first instinct is to find a scapegoat, anything at all to push the blame off of our self and onto another. But when it comes to your law school portfolio, you should be wary to write an optional addendum unless you have a pretty damn good excuse.
Don’t write an addendum for poor grades or a low LSAT score unless you can honestly, logically, and reasonably give an explanation as to why the scores in question truly don’t represent your abilities.
Your explanation doesn’t have to involve a dying parent, serious illness, or tragic accident to be excusable. However, if you feel that your reasons are weak, admissions committees will most likely feel the same way, and your efforts will most likely be frowned upon.
How to Write a Law School Addendum
Every properly written law school addendum consists of two parts: the Introduction and the How I’ve Grown.
Start with your Introduction
Your introduction should plainly and clearly state why you’re writing an addendum.
If you’re writing a Character & Fitness addendum, make sure to introduce the issue, when and where the incident occurred, and what resulted from it.
On January 1, 2011 at 2 a.m. I was issued a D.U.I. citation from the Pennsylvania State Police Department for driving under the influence of alcohol. In addition to the citation, my license was revoked for 6 months, I was put on a two-year probation, and was subsequently issued 50 hours of community service.
If you’re writing a Poor Performance or Gap in Academic/Professional Career addendum, introduce the issue and when it occurred.
On November 2008, during my freshman year of college, I received a phone call from my father; my mother had just been in a car accident and was in critical condition. Because of the seriousness of the accident, she was put into a medically induced coma. That same day I left for home to stay with my family, putting off college for another semester.
Again, your introduction should be clear and to the point. It should simply state the facts of the matter, what happened, and the results.
End with a bit about How You’ve Grown
Law schools want to know about the experiences that have shaped your life. But more importantly, they want insight into how you’ve handled these situations and how you’ve grown from them.
If you’re writing a Character & Fitness addendum, you need to detail what you’ve done to improve yourself, ensuring that this issue is in the past and won’t pop up again in the future. Don’t make excuses! Admit that you were wrong, and show them that you’ve grown.
Sticking with our Example:
My arrest showed me how serious of an issue drinking under the influence can be. Not only did I endanger my own life, I risked the lives of everyone else on the road that night. I’ve taken time to really look at myself in the mirror to help me improve my character and decision-making. I know that I can’t take back what I’ve done, but I want you to know that I will never do something like it ever again. I’ve learned from mistakes and I’m working on improving myself day in and day out.
And if you need to write a Poor Performance or Gap in Academic/Professional Career addendum, you’ll still want to show that you’ve grown from your experiences.
Although I’m well aware of the importance of higher education, there was no way I could concentrate in class, knowing all the while that today could be my mother’s last. Luckily, she survived the accident, and after a brutal few months, began her recovery.
- If the addendum is not required, and you don’t have an excellent excuse, don’t write an addendum
- Addenda are fact-based, concise, and to the point. Keep it short and stay on topic
- If you are unsure of whether or not it’s necessary for you to write a Required Addendum (usually the case with Character & Fitness addenda), it’s best to err on the safe side and disclose the information
- Don’t take risks. This is not a place for you to show off your writing. Keep it simple and truthful
- Don’t lie! If law schools find out you purposefully lied on your addenda (or anywhere else in your application), you will have about a 0% chance of gaining admission to any law school in the States.
Sample Law School Addendum
Character & Fitness Addenda
On September 20, 2008, a month into my freshman year of college, I was charged with Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana and Possession of Paraphernalia by the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania police. Both of these charges are misdemeanors in the state of Pennsylvania. Because I had never been in trouble with the law before this incident and was in good standing with the university, I was accepted into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (A.R.D.) program, Pennsylvania’s first time offenders program. After successful completion of A.R.D. on March 22, 2010, both misdemeanor charges were dismissed and expunged.
That night, four years ago, I simply made a terrible decision and have been feeling the consequences of it ever since. Although I was a younger and less mature man at the time, I knew what I was doing was wrong; there are no excuses for my actions. Thankfully, however, this incident has helped mold me into the individual I am today. I learned very early in my college career that obeying the law, concentrating on school, and improving my decision-making would be imperative to my long-term future. I stopped abusing drugs, focused on my studies, and was even invited by the university to be the sole student representative of my freshman dorm building, Carter Halls. I continue to look at my past decisions from an honest lens as I work on improving myself a little each day.