Getting Good Law School Letters of Recommendation

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If you’re planning on applying to law school this fall and have already taken the LSAT, you should be working on everything else now; getting letters of rec., writing your personal statement, explaining how that 1.9 GPA from your first quarter of school was from a “family illness.” If, however, you’re taking the LSAT this September, you can pretty much ignore it all for the time being. Studying for the test can and should encompass hundreds of hours, which doesn’t leave you with much time for the other stuff. After the test, you’ll have all of the month of October to write your personal statement and get your other proverbial ducks in a proverbial row, and you can apply in early November if you really want, way ahead of the proverbial pack.

But there is one thing absolutely all fall applicants need to be doing right now. Hopefully you spent a lot of time kissing ass last semester, because you need to get some letters of recommendation. Professors can be incredibly slow at getting them sent out, so ask early. Since it’s summer, the hope is they can devote some time to writing a halfway decent letter. Also, the sooner you go to your professor, the more likely he or she will actually remember who the hell you are. If you’re a recent grad, this is especially pertinent.

If you’re like me, you can count the number of professors with whom you had a personal relationship on one fist. That’s bad news bears. My strategy was to get one from the only professor I knew, fret about not knowing anyone to ask for a second, put off applying, leave the country, and then decide not to go to law school. It was a pretty excellent strategy, if I do say so myself, although it doesn’t work for everyone.

If you’re still an undergrad and not applying this fall, that’s awesome. You need to start kissing some hairy professor ass right now. Go to office hours, engage your professor with real questions, and nod knowingly during lectures. The better he or she knows you, the better the letter you eventually ask for will be. They’re used to all this, and are actually usually welcoming and eager to talk about their brilliance. Mention how you loved Professor ___’s book and how much you admire his thick, full beard.

When considering whom to ask, remember that quality is king. An amazing letter from a TA is probably much better than a tepid one from the governor or something. Also, community college professors are just as good as real professors. At the end of the day, the better the author knows you, the better your letter is probably going to be. You want your professors to say genuine and amazing things about you, the things you daren’t actually say about yourself. If you were to write in your personal statement “I’m an amazing student,” you would look like a tool. If someone else says you’re an amazing student, and they believe it; that looks awesome.

One other thing—you absolutely want academic letters. People always tell me they’ll just get letters from employers, and that’s okay, but these should be in addition to ones you get from professors (really, a minimum of two). It’s a safe bet that law schools are interested in whether or not you’ll be a good student. Yale doesn’t give two shits whether or not you were the cashier of the month at Ace Hardware. (Work letters of rec. actually start to become more acceptable if you’ve been out of school for more than five years.)

Okay. Let’s say you’re in the worst-case scenario, you’ve graduated but you never got to know any of your teachers. This happens to tons of people and sounds absolutely terrifying. Look, it’s not ideal, but you can still stack the deck in your favor. Pick a professor who you think would be amenable to writing a letter, and in whose class you did well. Even if you don’t know the professor really well, don’t be frightened. They’re used to legions of their students who they barely know asking for letters of rec. Since your professor doesn’t know you, you need to rectify that as much as possible. Bring work from the class, such as tests or, even better, papers. Also, bring a resume, with the things you want emphasized written down right there in black and white. And don’t just give him or her the papers and leave. Stick around and ask if they want any more info. You want to make their job as easy as possible, and more often than not they will be glad to have you reel off all the great things about yourself.

So get to know your friendly professors. You might even learn something from them in the process. And don’t forget to ask about their beards; they love that.

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