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.