Law School Letters of Recommendation Rules to Live By

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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:

• Transcript
• Resume
• 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.

23 Responses

  1. Great advice, particularly #3 and #4, which I hadn’t really thought about.

    It’s also really critical to make sure that you’re going to get a great letter from each recommender. If they’re lukewarm, better to move on to someone else!

    Here’s a script for getting clerkship LORs from law school professors, but it’s equally applicable to law school LORs from undergrad professors: http://thegirlsguidetolawschool.com/08/make-your-clerkship-application-letters-of-recommendation-shine/

  2. Tammy says:

    What advice do you have re: asking for letters of rec when you live out of town? Also asking for letters of rec in classes where you didn’t get an A, such as a B+?

    I am about 2 years out of school and live about 6 hours away from my undergrad. 1 professor specifically offered to write me a letter of rec when i talked to him about law schools a couple years ago and requested an email.

    However, I still need to request 1-2 more. Contemplating how I should do it. Suggestions? I do plan on requesting 1 from my employer since I’ve been working for the last 2 years.

    • Making that 6 hour trip > phone call > e-mail.

      If it’s at all possible to make it out there, arrange a few meetings ahead of time and then schlep your way over. Meeting in person makes you seem more serious as well as allows you to gauge how interested the potential recommender is in writing you a LoR.

      If you can’t do that, try to get the person on the phone (probably by arranging it through e-mail), or get in touch by e-mail as a last resort. Though if the person is ducking your other e-mails and calls, you might want to reconsider asking them for a LoR.

      As far as asking a professor who gave you a B+, that depends on your relationship. If you feel they have a positive view of your abilities as a student, then go for it. However, be careful, because they obviously didn’t think you were one of the best students they taught (otherwise, they’d give a grade that reflected those accomplishments). If you developed a personal relationship that transcended the academic one, and the professor recognizes that you’re a strong student in spite of the B+ grade (which is by no means bad, and there’s an number of legitimate reasons for receiving that instead of an A), then go for it.

      • Tammy says:

        Ah, i was afraid you were going to say that. But yes that is a good point. I’ll make some time to do that.

        And, ironically it’s the class that I got a B+ in that I really felt like I had made an effort to the point where my TA/professor would’ve noticed it. In most of my other classes, (even the ones with good marks) I feel like my professors hardly knew me.

  3. Lisa says:

    Rule # 5 (” go into the meeting unprepared”) threw me…

    • shah says:

      I believe its supposed to say “prepared”. Threw me off too.

      Thanks for the tips, I have searched many places for good ones and some of these are not mentioned anywhere else.

      • I don’t know what the two of you are talking about. *quickly edits original post* It’s said ‘prepared’ the whole time!

        • shah says:

          Matt I have a question for you, hoping you could give me some advice. I haven’t asked for any LOR’s yet because I am having a hard time choosing which teachers to ask. I feel like none of them really know me that well because I didn’t really interact with any of them outside of class. Do you have any tips so that I can help them write a more detailed and personal letter about me? I know rule #5 helps in this respect, but I haven’t written my personal statement, nor have I finished my resume to give to them. I would like to ask them to write it ASAP because I am taking the test in December and then applying write away and its some time to process too.. (Obvisouly I didn’t follow rule #1)

          Thanks!!

          Any help would be appreciated.

          • shah says:

            At this time I’d like to ask for an edit feature to me added to the commenting system, haha, sorry for the spelling mistakes!

          • On that short of a timeline, it’s going to be hard. I can’t tell you to start developing a relationship with a professor, because you should really be asking for the LoRs RIGHT NOW.

            I would pick a few professors who gave you top marks. Meet them during office hours, show up with a copy of your best work for that class, write out a beautiful cover letter discussing your background, and talk with them for a little while before leaving that information behind. Being polite and gracious will get you everywhere.

          • Tammy says:

            This might seem like a dumb question but, I’m not taking the test in December but I haven’t formally asked for LoR yet either because I barely started my personal statement. Would you say it’s advisable to spend some time, say 1-2 weeks (I’m leaning towards 1 week) preparing a draft of a personal statement, or throw together a cover letter, some bullet points, (I have transcript and resume) and ask RIGHT now?

  4. Hey Tammy,

    Are you planning to apply to start in 2012? Do you already have an LSAT score?

    If you answered yes to these questions, get to asking the professors for LoRs ASAP. It’s going to take a few weeks to get everything in, and you want to aim to be done by Thanksgiving.

    If you answered no, then you’ve still got time.

    If you answered yes to the first, but no to the second, you’re in trouble. You want your applications in as early as possible, so if you’re planning on taking February to apply for 2012, you’re way behind the game and might want to consider taking a year off to get some work experience and allow yourself time to apply early.

  5. Tammy says:

    Yes I’m planning to apply for 2012. Yes I have an LSAT score. I was ready to ask for my LoR’s as soon as I got my score a few days ago, but then i saw the blog post mentioning the personal statement and freaked out, haha.

    • Ah, well in that case, ask them ASAP! The sooner, the better. It’s good to be prepared and have all those materials when going into the meeting, but at this point it’s better to get the ball rolling ASAP. You can always send them a draft later (believe me, the ‘ideas’ for their LoR will still be roiling in their heads, and not on a sheet of paper).

  6. Tammy says:

    Would you advise nixing rule 1, asking my profs now and give them a month-ish for my LoR, to get all my applications materials in by Thanksgiving then?

    • Yes, definitely. The ship on Rule #1 has already sailed. Don’t throw Rule #5 out – meet it to the best of your abilities (which won’t include your PS).

      Realistically, however, you’re looking at a post-Thanksgiving application. Professors drag their feet to begin with on these things – it gets worse over the holidays. Add to that postal transit time and LSAC’s processing time… it adds up quickly.

      Which is why you should be asking now! Stop posting! Come back when you’ve asked and let me know how it went :)

      • shah says:

        Thanks you so much Matt for all your advice!! I am definitely going to put everything together this weekend and go after my teachers this Monday. I will let you know how it goes!

  7. Carolina Guiral says:

    Hi! I am a bit confussed about how the application process goes…
    I have been studying intensely for the LSATs since July and I did not take the october test because I did not feel prepared (and I still have a terrible 155) but I am taking the December one and I am applying for 2012. I already asked two of my professors for LORs last week since I have my personal statement and resume done and I thought I was early for all of this, but I guess not? I thought applications were due in the months of March and April so I have an ample amoung of time since I have not taken the LSATs yet I can’t send in applications until after I get the results anyways…does this mean I’m supposed to send in everything in already to the schools not knowing my LSAT score or should I wait to get my LSAT score and then send my applications and the application fees according to what I get on the LSAT, because my current score is really not good at all and I’m losing hopes I will get into most of the schools I am applying to….

    Sorry for how long this is, I will appreciate the advice though! :)

    • Hey Carolina,

      You are definitely confused about the application process. March and April will put you WAY behind in the process – in fact, many schools (including most of the higher ranked ones) won’t accept an application that late, having deadlines in February (or early March).

      You can send in all your information to LSAC to have on file so that you can apply as soon as your December score is released in early January. However, that also puts you behind the curve – Thanksgiving is generally the split between ‘early’ and ‘regular’, and Christmas is the split between ‘regular’ and ‘late’.

      Sorry for the bad news, but hopefully you can adapt your schedule a bit to get your applications in in early January!

  8. Tammy says:

    Matt,

    Just popping in to let you know all my 3 recommenders accepted! :) 1 of my professors anticipated my question and accepted and offered to proof my personal statement. The professor I had emailed (he told me to email when he previously offered) I had to call after a week. He basically accepted without me even having to ask. He said, “Don’t stress. Your letter of recommendation will get written.” They were all very warm and nice about it. So far, the experience has been a lot less scarier than I anticipated. :)

  9. Emily says:

    Dear Matt,

    This is a really helpful post. My question is what would you recommend for someone taking three years off before law school? I will graduate this semester and will be volunteering for the Peace Corps for the next three years. People have told me to ask for LORs now instead of in three years, which makes sense (so that the recommenders’ memories of me are fresh) but how would one go about holding onto those letters? Aren’t they supposed to be sent directly to LSAC? Can I start my LSAC application this far in advance (I’ll be applying to begin in 2016)? Thanks for your help!

  10. CJ says:

    Hello!

    I found this article doing a google search on advice for letters of rec.

    My main concern is that every one says to have at least 1 academic letter of rec, but I’ve been out of undergrad for (counting on fingers, 1,2,3…14 years!).

    At this point none of my professors will remember me, even if they’re still teaching. Even if they did, I barely remember them!

    So, are 3 letters from former employers/colleagues acceptable here? Or do I need to ask my H.S. english or journalism teacher who happens to be a friend on Facebook.

    Thanks!

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