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How Law Schools Read Your Letter of Recommendation
Law school admissions committees read your letters of recommendation with three questions in mind: 1) how well does the writer know the applicant; 2) what information does the writer give about the applicant’s ability to excel in law school; and 3) how enthusiastic is the writer’s support for the candidate?
Remember to find a recommender that is going to reflect well on you in light of these principal questions.
Requesting a Letter of Recommendation
If possible, you need to request the recommendation in person. Drop by the professor’s office and ask for a meeting to discuss a letter of recommendation. If the professor is reluctant to set up the meeting, look elsewhere for a recommendation. Be prepared to have the discussion on the spot if time permits.
When you meet, articulate your interest in law school. Be ready to discuss why you are applying to law school, why you will make a good law student, and why you have chosen this particular person as a potential reference. Ask the professor if she would be willing to write a strong letter of recommendation for you. Use the word “STRONG” in your request. If the professor gives you any reason to believe that the recommendation will not be strong (e.g., concerns about not knowing you well enough or being busy), look for someone else.
During the meeting find out how much experience the recommender has in writing law school recommendations. Identify any special connections to your target schools that may merit a targeted letter. If there are, ask the professor if they would mind providing a separate letter for the particular law school. Explain that you will provide a packet of information to make their job a little easier, and ask if there is anything in particular that they want included with this information. Also explain that you are available to review a draft of the letter if it would be helpful. Tell the professor when to expect your information packet.
If you are requesting a letter from an employer, follow roughly the same procedure. Assure the employer that you will provide information designed to make the job easier.
Helping Your Recommender Help You
For each person who agrees to write you a letter, you need to prepare a packet of information that will make their job easier.
Provide a cover letter with the following information:
• An introduction thanking the person for his/her time.
• Information on how to contact you if she has questions.
• A due date, which should be within four weeks.
• If you have identified a reason, and gotten approval for, a targeted letter, politely remind the person of that fact. If it is true, you can let the writer know that the school is your first choice. (if it makes it into the recommendation, it is a very credible way to supply this information to an admissions committee).
• A request that the letter be sent on the recommender’s letterhead.
• Alert the writer to the fact that LSAC will be sending an email with instructions on how to submit the letter electronically.
• A list of the materials you are providing.
Provide the following materials:
• A reminder of the course(s) taken with that professor and the grades received.
• A list of papers or projects completed for the recommender and any notes/remarks/grades on those items.
• A writing sample from the professor’s class (preferably graded with the instructor’s comments).
• A completed LSAC letter of recommendation form (signed waiver included) for each letter you are requesting.
• Any other information the person requested during your meeting, but preferably not a personal statement because there is a tendency for writers to use it as a crutch rather than using their letter to add new and helpful information to your application.
The 8 Qualities You Want Highlighted in Your Letters
The most substantive purpose of a letter of recommendation is to supply the law school with opinions about how you will fare as a law student. As such, you want the following qualities discussed in your letters. You will provide this list, but it is useful to make sure that the recommender has examples available to draw from. If needed, highlight this information during your meeting with the writer.
1. Writing Ability
2. Research Ability
3. Ability to Work Independently and as a team member
4. Analytical Ability (especially to form and defend opinions)
5. Intellectual Ability
6. Interpersonal Skills
7. Leadership Ability
8. Special attributes or circumstances
Requirements for the Letter of Recommendation
The majority of law schools require that you provide them with two or more letters of recommendation. Pay attention to each school’s unique requirements.
The schools strongly prefer that your letters come from faculty members at the institutions you have attended because these people are usually well suited to comment on your intellectual and academic qualifications. If you are a non-traditional student, employer letters are accepted.
Letters should be 1 to 2 pages long, written on letterhead, and signed by the recommender. They should be submitted directly to LSAC.