For many applicants, letters of
recommendation are the most nerve-wracking part of law school admissions. It
can be hard enough just to approach someone and ask them to write a
recommendation for you. What's even worse, though, is that even well-meaning
recommenders can unintentionally submit a statement that, while supportive, does
nothing to win over an admissions committee.
Senior Admissions Consultant and former Dean of Admissions for
the University of Pennsylvania Law School Derek Meeker offers these pointers on
what to aim for in a letter of recommendation.
"The best letters of recommendation – the ones that can make a
difference in the admission process – are those that provide detailed examples
of the applicant's writing, critical reasoning, analytical, and research skills
– that is, the skills that are necessary for success in law school," Derek says.
"It's also advantageous for the applicant if the writer can
discuss how the applicant contributed to his or her class – if they show that
the applicant was prepared, engaged, and a frequent participator in class
discussions. If the writer is a supervisor or employer, they should discuss how
the applicant contributed to the organization or company on a daily basis, or to
specific projects. The more specific and detailed the letter is, the better.
"Admissions committees are looking for students who are going to
be engaged in the classroom and in the life of the law school community – not
passive observers who merely do their 'homework' and show up to class every day.
"The person who can write the most effective letter of
recommendation is the person who knows the applicant the best. The mistake that
applicants often make with letters of recommendation is that they think 'who'
the writer is makes a difference to the admissions committee, but what really
matters to the committee is the content of the letter. Be sure you are asking
the 'right' person to write your letter."
– Contributed by Derek Meeker, J.D. Derek is a Senior Admissions Consultant and former Dean of Admissions for the University of Pennsylvania Law School.