When thinking about whom to ask for letters of recommendation for your law school applications, please do not – ever – ask family friends to write letters on your behalf.
(This post was originally published by Ann Levine five years ago, but was updated on 10/1/2012)
First, tell all those well-meaning, successful friends of your parents, “thanks, but no thanks.” Why can’t that nice judge who has played golf with your dad for 25 years write a letter? Think about what he might say (because trust me, I’ve read it) –
As a friend of Joey’s father for the past 22 years, I have heard stories of Joey’s progress during our weekly golf outings. I have seen Joey grow from a young boy to a college student who is bright and inquisitive. He is unfailingly polite and his parents are very proud of his accomplishments at fill-in-the-blank college. It is my understanding he did very well on his LSATs and that he has been active in community service and in his church. I am confident he will make an outstanding law student.
BLECH. I promise, even if you’ve been out of school for 10 years and don’t want your boss to know you’re applying to law school, we can find someone better to write a letter of recommendation for you. Scared of burning a bridge when someone already offered to write a letter? Tell him (if you’re applying to the law school he attended) it would be so nice if he might make a phone call on your behalf after your application is complete at the school.
Think about why a letter of recommendation is important: The writer is the only person who gets to talk in your application other than YOU. He/She can say things you can’t say about yourself (you’d sound arrogant). Your letter writer must say things about you that he/she knows from personal experience. And the things he/she says must be relevant to your law school application.
Who do law schools want to hear from? They want to hear from people in a position to share something meaningful about your academic abilities: primarily, writing ability, communication skills, research experience, class participation, the seriousness with which you approach your studies, etc. A work supervisor can do this as well, but not a co-worker. The key to success is for the writer to offer specific examples rather than blanket praise.
Click for more about letters of recommendation.
I’m in a bad place when it comes to recommendations. I have been out of school since 2004. I have two recommendations lined up from professors who knew me very well in college, but I have matured since college. I think I should have a recommendation from someone who knows my work now, but my only supervisor is a family member. What is your advice?
You are right – you do need someone to speak about your accomplishments since college. If you have any community involvements or service in organizations, that might be a place to look for a letter of recommendation. Or, perhaps a client of the business where you work who can address your service in a family business. It may also be that 2 letters are enough for most schools where you plan to apply. You probably have more options than you ever considered! This is absolutely something I work with my clients about – to make sure that they are covering their bases, thinking outside the box, and making sure to cover different aspects of their accomplishments in the different parts of the applications. Think of each ingredient as an opportunity to say something different about yourself that also helps develop a complete theme/strategy.
Ms. Levine, I work pro bono for Senators and Congressmen in e-commerce and intelectual property issues; are they suitable for recommendation? Do you think that an opinion from a political figure might damage my application?
Argentino – Why would a political figure damage your reputation? If you worked for these individuals and they are in a position to evaluate your accomplishments and abilities, then it absolutely works. Good luck!
Ms Levine. I am in a interesting situation. I am evaluating law school as a career change; however, I have been out of touch with all of my professors since undergraduate (1992) and graduate school (1999). What advice would you give regading the best people for me to pursue for Letters of Recommendation. Also would it be of any benefit for me to take a couple of classes to get a professor to watch my performance and provide a LOR?
It’s an impossible question since I don’t know enough about you. Taking a course wouldn’t get you a letter until very late in the admission cycle but might work for Fall 2010 admission cycle. When you’re more than a few years out of school, no one will expect a faculty recommendation. I work with each of my clients to make sure they found appropriate people, no matter how far out of school they are. I’ve never said to someone, “Sorry, no one can write an LOR? You’re SOL.”
There is always someone good, but perhaps unexpected….