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.]