Letters of recommendation are a critical part of your law school application. My recent article for National Jurist explains how to get the best LOR possible.
How To Get An Excellent Law School Letter Of Recommendation by Ann Levine (1/23/2018)
The people writing your letters of recommendation are the only people who get to speak in your application other than you. This is the chance for someone to discuss your dedication, seriousness, intellectual curiosity, research and writing skills, communication skills, teamwork and presentation skills, and leadership in a way that you cannot without sounding arrogant. The best letters of recommendation are written by someone whom the reader will trust to give an unbiased opinion.
Who Should I Ask To Write A Letter Of Recommendation?
It’s not who you know, it’s how you know them and what they can say about you that is meaningful to the law schools.
The best LOR is a (strong) academic letter. A detailed letter from a professor outlining the rigor of the class(es) you took, how you excelled in them, describing your abilities as a student, is the best tool for law schools who are trying to ascertain whether you will make it through a rigorous law school curriculum. A strong academic letter can show you are more than just a strong GPA – that you actually care about what you study and contribute meaningfully. Likewise, if your undergraduate grades are lackluster, a strong academic letter can demonstrate to a law school that you are more than your overall GPA would show.
People who attend large public schools often have a hard time getting an academic letter, even if they were a good student. But remember, a teaching assistant who led a discussion group, who held office hours that you attended, and who graded your work can absolutely write a meaningful letter on your behalf.
The prestige of the professor is not nearly as important as what she can say about you that is meaningful. What is meaningful?
• A description of the rigor of the course taken, including the kind of work that is required (essay exams, research papers, group projects, etc.)
• How you stood out, contributed to classroom discussion, sought out office hours – examples that show you are a serious student.
• A comparison between you and other students the professor has taught who went on to law school (or even a certain level of law school).
• It is not helpful for a professor’s letter of rec to recount achievements or things that the he could not have known about you firsthand.
What If I Don’t Have A Professor To Write A Letter?
For those of you out of school, or who simply don’t have a relationship with any of your professors, it is still possible to find a meaningful letter of recommendation.
Here are some ideas:
• Supervisor: Someone who is senior to you in a professional environment who has supervised you in tasks related to those that make for a successful law student and/or attorney is the next best bet. This person should address skills including managerial, leadership, communication, business experience, problem solving, teamwork and knowledge of the processes of the organization.
• An internship supervisor, if and only if you really did something impressive during your internship.
• Military Service: Commanders often write great letters of recommendation because they are detailed, usually in bullet point format, and very straightforward.
• A professional at a non-profit organization where you’ve contributed your time.
• If you have owned your own business or been a freelancer, consider asking a professional you’ve worked closely with (such as a lawyer or accountant) who can speak to your involvement with sophisticated issues.
Who Should I Avoid Asking For A Letter Of Recommendation?
Law schools do not want to see letters of recommendation from family friends, the judge who your mom plays tennis with, or internship supervisors with nothing original to say.
Likewise, avoid getting a letter from your internship supervisor unless you took the lead on a project or you acted in some way that was remarkable compared to every other intern that ever worked at the organization.
How Should I Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?
Give someone 2-4 weeks to write a letter. Professors may require even more lead time, especially during busy times of the academic year. I don’t believe in the value of giving a professor your personal statement or resume to help them write their letter because a letter of rec needs to add something new, and shouldn’t just read like a canned letter based off your resume; this will show that the professor really doesn’t know you at all and was a bit desperate for material. If a professor knows about your extracurricular activities firsthand (as advisor to a particular organization) or about your work experience (because he recommended you for a particular job on your resume and/or discussed your experiences at a position with you in a mentor capacity), then these items can be incorporated into a letter of recommendation with credibility. Instead, give the professor bullet point reminders of the work you did in class.
What Do I Do If They Ask Me To Write My Own Letter Of Recommendation?
If someone asks you to prepare a letter of recommendation for his or her signature, do not freak out. This is standard practice in the professional world. Here’s a brief outline of how to approach it:
Paragraph 1: Outline the writer’s experience to build her credibility. Provide facts demonstrating the context in which the writer knows you, including her supervisory role and the length of time she has known you.
Paragraph 2: Provide an overview of your accomplishments and duties.
Paragraphs 3-5: Use factual examples of certain characteristics you would like to highlight. Consider including a time you solved a problem in a professional and diplomatic way, how you demonstrated your writing skills, and/or your willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty. For example, instead of just saying you have communication skills, reference letters or materials you created that were used for internal or external matters, or a time you were selected to be part of a more senior team and earned the respect of co-workers and/or senior managers.
Conclusion: State the qualities you bring to law school and why the person highly recommends you for law school admission, and that he/she is available to answer questions about your experience and candidacy.
Thank you so much Ann for this helpful post! I am especially grateful for the end part about writing one’s own LOR, because I have seen other sites that say refuse to do it no matter what.
Hi Ann! Thanks so much for all this valuable information. I have a question about letters of recommendation. I am a non-traditional law school applicant. My undergraduate degree is in microbiology (gpa 3.4 taking the lsat in june) and I have been out of school for a year and a half. I have a couple of professors who know me fairly well and are willing to write letters of recommendation (medical bacteriology and genetics). Both have PhDs and run their own research labs. I also have remained involved in my high school debate team since graduating high school and have a close relationship/friendship with the head head coach who was my coach during high school. I know that traditionally asking high school teachers is discouraged. However, I am wondering if in this situation my former coach would be a better choice than college professors since he has seen my teamwork and debate ability and knows me much better than my former professors. Thanks for all your insight and advice!
Anna, I think that might be appropriate in your case.
Hi Ann! Thank you for your posts! Can I ask a further question about loc?
I graduated from university five years ago, took several jobs after graduation. I could get strong academic letters of recommendations as many as I want (I was a top student), but not so strong ones from my employers I guess. Is it wise for me to only submit academic locs to law schools? I am wondering if it is weird that the applicant only have academic locs so many years after graduation. Thank you so much in advance!
Hi Emma, it would be fine. Get the letters that are stronger. Often, people do not want to notify employers that they plan to leave so this isn’t out of the ordinary.
Hi Ann. I have been out of school for a year working as a paralegal at a large firm, and by the time I begin law school, I will have two years of work experience. I have three letters of recommendation from professors from college. Do you think I should get a fourth one from my employer or just stick to the three academic ones I have? Thanks!
Hi Ann! Thanks for the great post! Can I ask a question about whether or not to include an LOR from an employer? I am a bioengineering major entering my junior year at Upenn this fall, and I am planning on applying to the submatriculation program at Penn Law, to which I would apply this fall and if accepted, start taking law school classes during my senior year of college. I’ve heard that law schools are leaning more and more towards accepting applicants who have been out of school for a few years. I am considering asking both my boss from a summer internship at a tech startup as well as my boss from an internship at a government law department to write me letters, but I’m not sure if they would help my application. I’ve been working at at the tech startup for two summers, and I think it would be a strong letter as I’ve taken the lead on projects of my own as well as worked well in teams. I have been working for almost a year at the law department, and worked about 3 to 4 hours per week. I also think the letter from my boss at the law department would be strong since I’m the only undergrad there and have contributed to case preparation for court cases. However, a lot of applicants have been out of school for some years, and may have letters from jobs they worked at much longer and contributed more to than I could. Do you have thoughts on this?
Hi Thomas, Don’t worry about what others have. You’re competing for a program with other people of your age and experience. Pick the people who have the most meaningful information to share about you.
Hi Ann, Would it look bad if I didn’t include an academic recommendation letter? I went to a large public school, and have been out of school for 6 years, so not sure I could find someone to write a meaningful letter about me. I did however attend a study abroad program at a small school, and could receive a recommendation letter from a professor that I maintained a good relationship with. Any advice here?
Ashley, that would work well!