Most law schools require two letters of recommendation.
You need to think strategically in choosing the people you ask to
write those letters.
If you are applying
to law school
directly from college, or a few years out, your letters
should most likely be from faculty who have taught you in class. If you have graduated from college more than a few years ago and have been working, you may
submit a professional letter of recommendation, but submit an academic one as well, if possible.
If you have been active in a particular organization,
either on campus or in your community, a letter from someone who can speak to your service, leadership, and commitment would be an excellent supplemental
letter to your academic and/or professional letters.
Depending upon your individual situation, you may even benefit from submitting an
optional third letter to certain schools. This is most likely
to be advantageous in a situation where your first two recommendations aren't quite adequate to substantiate a story theme or
'wow' factor, to highlight your strengths, or (possibly) to mitigate your weaknesses.
Focus on Your 'What,' Not Their 'Who'
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 –
i.e., the skills that are necessary for success in law school.
It is also
advantageous for the applicant if the writer can discuss how the applicant contributed to his or her class
and show that the applicant was prepared,
engaged, and a frequent participator in class discussions. (If the writer is a supervisor or employer
instead of a professor,
they should discuss how the applicant contributed to the
organization or company on a daily basis, or to specific projects.)
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. That person may
be the TA for a particular class as opposed to the professor. That person may be
an office manager or legislative aide as opposed to the senator.
that applicants often make with letters of recommendation is that they think "who" the writer is makes a difference to the
They will ask a judge, a senator, or the chairman of the political science department
to write their letter instead of asking the person with whom they worked directly.
What matters to the admissions committee is the content of the letter,
not who signed it. Again, the more specific and detailed the letter is, the better. Be
sure you are asking the "right" person to write your letter.
It is important that applicants be proactive in order to get the best letters of recommendation. They should set up a meeting – in person if possible,
otherwise via telephone – with the people they intend to ask for letters of recommendation. Applicants need to ask: Can you write a strong letter of
recommendation for me? Do you have time to do it? How can I make it easier for you?
Faculty, in particular, get asked for many letters of recommendation.
They are also busy with research and teaching,
or they may be on sabbatical. It is important that the applicant also gives these
and other writers plenty of lead time to get the
letters written and submitted.
The admission process is perhaps most frequently delayed because a letter of recommendation has not been received by the
admissions office. The applicant can make it easier for the writer by providing her
resume and, perhaps, examples of work that were done for the writer.
Making the request via a meeting also gives the applicant an opportunity to discuss his goals, career interests, and the schools to which he
or she is planning to apply.
But Be Timely, Too
You want to request your
letters of recommendation early enough to guarantee that your application receives timely consideration. However, you also
want to make sure that your letters complement the rest of your profile and
support your case for admission. That means that you should complete at least a
rough draft of your personal statement and any necessary addenda before
approaching your recommenders. Your recommenders can draw on those drafts to
tailor the content of their letters to your needs, "filling" any "gaps" left by
the rest of your file. It is critical for you to take the same holistic view of your
application that the admissions committees will.
Save Something for a Rainy Day
Finally, if you are fortunate enough to have more than two people who are able to write strong, detailed letters of recommendation for you,
it is often wise to save at
least one letter for later. You may get waitlisted at your top choice school. When that school reviews applicants on its waitlist for admission in the
late spring or summer, the admissions officers will be looking to see that you updated your file with additional information. An outstanding letter
of recommendation, particularly one that provides a different perspective than your original letters, might get you off the waitlist and into your
dream school's next incoming class.
Do you have questions about any of the items you see here? Please call us at 1.800.809.0800 or
email us if you do. Our consultants can help you with school selection, application
strategies, application preparation, and all other aspects of the law school admissions process.