All About Letters of Recommendation for Law School

WHY:
A letter of recommendation allows someone else to say things that would be completely inappropriate and arrogant for you to say about yourself. “Jennie is a very bright student and an excellent writer,” sounds a lot better than you saying in your personal statement, “I am very bright and an excellent writer.” It allows the writer to introduce something about you that you don’t want to waste valuable personal statement space discussing, such as how you came up with your thesis topic or how you dealt with a particularly challenging group during a team-based project. It also lets someone else verify a theme you are trying to present, that you dealt with an illness and still made school a priority, that you are extremely hard working, that you take initiative, etc. It lets the law schools know how you conduct yourself in an academic or professional environment, that someone whose opinion counts thinks you are the real deal and capable of representing the school well as a student and as a professional.

WHAT: What Should a Letter of Recommendation Say About Me?
The letter of recommendation for law school must express that you are capable of excelling in law school and in the legal profession. Some qualities that speak to this include academic performance in the past, writing ability, research skills, analytical skills, teamwork, management skills, people skills, experience with the law, demonstrated interest in law, ethical standards, pursuit of excellence, drive to serve specific needs, proven success in a sophisticated field, etc. It should include specific examples of the applicable qualities that the person is qualified, from a first-hand perspective, to discuss.

WHO: Who Should Write Your Letter of Recommendation?
The purpose of the letter of recommendation is to have someone else, whom you trust to strongly endorse you, speak to the admission committee. This person should be credible and qualified. In order to establish credibility, the person writing the letter should have supervised you in an academic or professional capacity, or oversaw some other significant work such as a volunteer position or leadership role that you undertook. It should be clear that the writer knows you, how she knows you, and for how long she has known you. The writer should be clear about her role and the level of her experience. Some statements that establish credibility might include:

  • I have taught pre-law students for 12 years since earning my JD/PhD at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Joe has taken two of my upper-level courses in which there were fewer than 30 students enrolled.
  • In my 20 years of practicing law, I have supervised dozens of paralegals. Joe, in the two years that he has worked as my paralegal, is among the best.
  • I have worked in senior management, supervising as many as 20 employees at a time, for 4 years. Joe has been a leader among them for the 3 years he has been employed here.

WHEN: When Should I Ask for LORs, and When Should They be Submitted to LSAC?
You should give the writer 2-4 weeks notice to write the letter. You may submit applications before LSAC has the letter on file, but if a law school requires letters of recommendation your file will not be deemed “complete” without the minimum number of letters, and your application will not be reviewed without them. If a law school says they will review your application without the letters and you want the law school to wait for your letters before reviewing your file, then communicate that to the admission office directly and follow-up with the school when the letter is submitted.

WHERE: Where Should Letters of Recommendation be Sent?
It’s very exciting that this is the first year when LSAC is allowing letters of recommendation to be submitted electronically. Things are moving much faster for Fall 2014 cycle applicants as a result. When you log in to your LSAC Credential Assembly Service Account and enter the contact information for your recommenders, LSAC sends them information about how to submit the letter electronically. This saves a lot of time from the olden days of 2013 with snail mail delays and from the grungy looking letters of rec that were produced in the era of fax transmission.

HOW: How Do I Properly Set Up a Letter of Recommendation in LSAC?
Make sure to check the box waiving your right to see the letter – this adds credibility to the letter because the law schools will know that the writer wasn’t worried that you would read it. (If the writer chooses to share the letter with you, that’s ok – you’re not promising that you have not or will not ever see the letter, just that you won’t sue the schools or LSAC to see the letter.) You will also need to create a description for the letter, which tends to freak people out. The description is for your purposes – will it go to all schools, or is the one that is specifically tailored for Stanford Law School.

[For more on Letters of Recommendation for Law School, see Chapter 6 of The Law School Admission Game and this blog post on AboveTheLaw.com.]

9 thoughts on “All About Letters of Recommendation for Law School

  1. Hi Ann,

    Your blog is great and really helpful. I have a question about recommendations and evaluations for applications. I have two letters of recommendation from previous professors, but I graduate in 2011. I also have two letters from two of my intern supervisors from the same internship, where I was conducting legislative research, from 2012. I’ve been a teaching assistant for two semesters at University of Canberra in Australia, and asked the professor I teach for to write me a letter of recommendation, since it’s a great job and something I’ve done more recently. With this in mind, do you think I should get him to do an evaluation, since I already have 4 letters? Or should I also have him write a letter of recommendation? Most schools accept 2 to 3 LORs, so I thought an evaluation would be an additional way to supplement recommendations for my application. Thank you for your help, I’d really appreciate any feedback!

    Best,

    Ari

    • Ann Levine on said:

      Hi Ari,
      I’m so glad the blog is helpful. It’s ok that your professor letters are older – it was smart of you to get them when you did. I generally think evaluations are a waste of time, but if a school will accept an evaluation in addition to your other letters and you think it would be strong, then this certainly can’t hurt.

  2. Hilary on said:

    Hi Ann!
    Your blog is so helpful. I know that I am way back, but I have been spending the evening reading this rather than staring at the status checker on my apps. I submitted an application monday evening, and it is now “in review” on status checker. Today, another professor of mine that I had asked to write a letter sent me a copy of the letter he wrote. It was extremely glowing, and very detailed letter that I really would like to add to my application. Can I do this?

    Thank you so much!

    • Hi Hilary,
      I’m so glad the blog is helpful. You can have LSAC forward the letter to the school and they will add it to your file, but it might be too late for it to be considered if your app is already under review.

  3. Annonymous on said:

    Hi Ann,
    I currently have 2 LORs from supervisors at my workplace. I am slightly unconventional as I earned my master’s in the time from undergraduate degree to now. At this point however, my M.A. was four years ago and as it was only a year long I did not really maintain any contacts within the department that would be useful to me (except one professor who has seemed to have gone MIA since then). Do you think 2 LORS are enough?

    Also, I do have observations written about me (as I am an adjunct professor) once a semester from full-time faculty that would add to overall assessment of my abilities. Do you think that these would be a good addition to the application as an addendum?

    Thank you for your help!

  4. Hi Ann,

    Love your blog! I could really use your advice on my LOR.

    I’ve gotten two great recommendations from professors and I’d like to get one more from one of my supervisors at the law firm I work for. It’s one of the bigger law firms, and I believe I’ve done pretty impressive work for them, so I want to supplement it as my third letter where I can. I’m having trouble deciding which of my supervisors to ask. Could you help me decide how to rank the importance of my relationship with each, as well as their position in the firm and the law school they went to? I’ve rated each factor as best, great, good, or average:

    Supervisor A: Great relationship. Good position in the firm (but not partner). Average law school.

    Supervisor B: Great relationship. Best position position in the firm (managing partner). Average law school.

    Supervisor C: Great relationship. Great position in the firm (partner). Average law school.

    Supervisor D: Average relationship. Great position in the firm (partner). T14 law school.

    Thoughts? Thanks in advance!

    • Hi FO, I don’t care where the writer went to law school (unless they are writing you school-specific letter for the school they attended). It’s all about the substance of what they would say about you.
      Sorry for the delay – we were evacuated from our home for 2 weeks and it’s taking me a while to catch up on the blog comments. Happy New Year!

  5. Deepika on said:

    Hi Ann,

    Thank you for a very informative blog. It cleared by doubts. I have 2 LoRs, one from my supervisor who I interned with and other from my current boss with whom I have been working as a research assistant.
    Most of the professors who taught me at Law school have left and I also did not keep in touch with them. Now few colleges ask for academic LoR. My question is how badly not having a academic LoR impact my chances?
    Also If I am using LSAC services to send my LoR, do I need to submit separate recommender from like in case of George Washington.

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