Five years ago, LSAC rolled out an evaluation service. Evaluations are like letters of recommendations—those who know you judge your personal capabilities based on what they have seen of you—but in quantified form. There are questions within categories such as intellectual skill and task management, and, for each question, evaluators must select from the same answer choices: Below Average (Bottom 50%), Average (Top 50%), Good (Top 25%), Very Good (Top 10%), Excellent (Top 5%), Truly Exceptional (Top 1–2%), and Inadequate Opportunity to Judge. Evaluators also had space in each category (up to 750 characters) to make comments.
Back then, three schools required evaluations: Albany Law School, University of Detroit Mercy, and University of Montana. Is the evaluation service ubiquitous now that it has been alive and kicking for five years?
No. Looking at some of the top law schools gives a good idea of the attitude admissions offices have towards evaluations. Harvard, Columbia, and Yale require letters of recommendations and make no mention of evaluations. NYU, Penn, Chicago, and UCLA require letters of recommendations and will accept evaluations, though the evaluations are not a substitute for letters of recommendation (the tone being along the lines of, “Well, if you really want to…okay, sure”). Stanford requires letters of recommendation and will accept evaluations, but those evaluations need to contain narrative comments explaining the answers.
Stanford’s policy gives some insight as why evaluations aren’t ubiquitous. Evaluations serve the same function as letters of recommendation, which is to evaluate you in areas beyond your technical legal ability (your LSAT score) and academic ability (your GPA) and get a sense of who you are as an individual from an outsider’s perspective. While the quantification is good in theory (only the top 1-2% can be “Truly Exceptional,” after all), these numbers don’t really sketch out who you are as an individual. It boils you down to numbers, which the LSAT and GPA requirements already do, and takes very little time. Can law schools really trust an evaluation if all it took was two minutes to check Excellent all the way down?
The evaluations are also all relative. A professor might find you Truly Exceptional when it comes to “shows initiative,” but maybe that’s just because you once raised your hand in Rocks for Jocks to ask a question, and she never gets any questions in that class.
Plus, anyone can evaluate you, as opposed to the letters of recommendation, which law schools usually say should come from a professor or employer. The categories for evaluations? Teacher/Instructor, Employer, Coworker, Friend, Family, Other. Your best friend from kindergarten can evaluate you (you’re “intellectually curious” because you almost ate dog poop when you were four). Your mom can evaluate you (her sweetums is truly exceptional in every regard and now she can do something with this knowledge). You could bribe the bartender at your local joint to evaluate you (you “show empathy/compassion” all the time in the form of good tips).
When it comes down to it, letters of recommendation are much more important than your evaluations, so do not try to get your favorite professor to do an evaluation, since your letter writers cannot do double-duty as evaluators. If a school makes no mention of evaluations, don’t go through the hassle of trying to scrounge up evaluators.
If a school accepts them, don’t feel any pressure to get evaluators. Sure, if the professors who adore you outnumber the number of permitted letters of recommendation, or the law school requests letters from instructors and employers only and your neighbor has the remarkable story of how you organized a fundraiser gala for little Timmy when you were nine, go ahead. But if you’re trying to hit the max number of letters of recommendation the school accepts, and the last professor you ask says he’s really busy and only accepts when you propose an evaluation (your winning argument? “it only takes, like two minutes”), don’t bother. You want the people who will rally on your behalf, and are willing to take the time to write a thoughtfully-composed letter.
Just how little do evaluations stack up against letters of recommendation? Hilariously enough, of the three law schools that required evaluations back in the day, only one of them—Albany Law School—even mentions evaluations on its application page, and only to say that it will accept evaluations should you choose to send them in.