While your LSAT score, GPA and personal statement will make up the majority of your application packet, your law school letters of recommendation are an integral part of it as well. It’s easy to treat them as an afterthought, just hitting up a few professors in whose classes you received a good grade. However, if you plan out your law school letters of recommendation, they can become a huge plus. Here are a few rules to guide you in the process.
Law School Letters of Recommendation Rule #1
Ask for them early
Professors are notoriously slow at writing law school letters of recommendation. On top of that, it can take a few weeks for them to process through the mysterious channels of the CAS offices of the LSAC. Give your professors plenty of time to write them by asking for your law school letters of recommendation at least three months ahead of when you plan to apply. If you give them enough time, they’ll usually get them done.
Don’t give them too much time, however, or they’ll procrastinate and forget about it. Make sure to mention when you’d like to have your law school letters of recommendation in during your meeting. Also, ask for a few more law school letters of recommendation than you’ll need; you never know who’s going to take too long to send one in or forget entirely.
Law School Letters of Recommendation Rule #2
Ask people who know you well
“My dad knows a judge.” “I’m peripherally related to an alumni.” “One time, my dad ate lunch at a restaurant frequented by Scalia’s ex-hairdresser and he thinks he can get him to write a law school letter of recommendation for me!”
That’s good for you. However, don’t ask any of those people for a law school letter of recommendation.
The prestige factor in a law school letter of recommendation probably isn’t going to help you very much, especially if it’s obvious the person doesn’t know you. Don’t ask someone to write you a letter because of who they are; ask someone for a law school letter of recommendation because they know you well enough to write a personalized and amazing note.
And don’t be afraid to ask a TA if you were in a large class and didn’t know the professor well. Have the professor sign off on the law school letter of recommendation, but it’s fine (and usually preferable) to ask a TA who knows you well than a professor who doesn’t.
Law School Letters of Recommendation Rule #3
Ask people who have seen different sides of you
This rule probably takes the most thought, but it’s also something that most people won’t do, and it might put you slightly ahead of the game.
When you’re planning out your list, think about the context in which you know these professors. If each person on your list is going to say the exact same thing about you, you might as well have only one law school letter of recommendation.
See if you can get a variety of comments. If one professor knows your writing abilities very well, find another professor who saw you in a more clinical or oratorical light. Your law school letters of recommendation will be more varied, painting you as more in-depth.
Law School Letters of Recommendation Rule #4
Ask English professors first
While the quality of the writing of your law school letters of recommendation won’t be held against you, a beautifully written one will really shine. English professors are usually much better at this than, say, math professors are.
I had a teacher who specialized in Italian literature and poetry write one of mine, and the thing was beautiful (she read it to me later).
Law School Letters of Recommendation Rule #5
Go into the meeting prepared
At some point, you’re going to meet with the recommender to ask for your law school letter of recommendation. When you go there, you should have the following materials prepared:
• Personal statement (or an outline at least)
• The best piece of work you did for that professor
• An answer to the question, “Why do you want to go to law school?”
• A cover sheet talking about a few qualities you believe you demonstrated in class (see rule #3)
Be polite, be engaging and be quick. Don’t linger. They need to start on that law school letter of recommendation ASAP!
Law School Letters of Recommendation Rule #6
Ask professors first
You should try your hardest to have at least two law school letters of recommendation from professors. You can get a third from a supervisor at work, but the law schools really care about the academic letters more than the professional ones. They’re evaluating you as a student, not you as an employee, and would rather have a law school letter of recommendation that evaluates you in that light.
However, if you’ve been out of school for several years (five or more is a good rule of thumb), you can start using law school letters of recommendation from employers instead of professorial ones. However, you should still try to submit at least one academic law school letter of recommendation.