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.