The ideal letter of recommendation is a detailed and objective description of your intellectual capabilities, written and oral communication skills, creativity, integrity, judgment, and leadership potential. Law schools want to know that you have the intelligence and skills necessary to be a law student and a lawyer, and the ideal letter of recommendation demonstrates your abilities and capabilities with concrete examples and in comparison to other students.
Number of Letters of Recommendation
Follow the law school’s requirements. Most law schools request one to three letters of recommendation. Many law schools want one or two letters of recommendation to be from faculty members.
Even if a law school does not require a letter of recommendation, submit letters of recommendation as part of your application, especially if you can solicit two or three letters from writers who will give you a strong recommendation.
Selecting a Letter of Recommendation Writer
Letters of recommendation from professors carry the greatest weight since law schools are academic institutions. As a result, at least one of your letters of recommendation should be from a faculty member, and if possible, from a faculty member in your major. The professor should be one who can write a detailed letter attesting to your academic abilities. Don’t fall into the “star search” trap. An in-depth letter of recommendation from a young adjunct professor who knows you well will have a greater impact than a cursory letter from a distinguished professor who barely knows you.
Letters of recommendation from people outside academia, such as employers, attorneys, judges, or pastors, will only be effective if several years have elapsed since you graduated, and if the letters contain specific, substantive information about your academic potential in addition to information about your personal qualities. If you cannot provide a letter of recommendation from a professor, you should offer an explanation in a short addendum to your application.
Letters of recommendation from well-known politicians or other famous people who do not know you well are useless. These letters tend to be short and generic and will not make an impact on a law school admissions committee.
To avoid scrambling for letters of recommendation, set a goal of getting to know one professor reasonably well each academic year. If you start in your freshman year, you will have three or four professors who can write letters of recommendation for you law school application or provide references for internships or jobs. You can accomplish this goal by making the effort to schedule meetings with professors during office hours, taking advantage of the Dine-with-a-Mind lunch program, becoming a teaching assistant, or seeking ways to work and collaborate with professors on their research projects.
Students who are planning to spend several years pursuing other interests between college and law school should solicit letters of recommendation from professors before graduation. Over time, professors retire, die, move to other academic institutions, disappear on sabbaticals to remote places, or forget that you were a student in one of their classes. Students who are not going straight through to law school can take advantage of the Law School Admission Council’s (LSAC) Credential Assembly Service (CAS) (insert link) to “store” their faculty letters of recommendation at least for the duration of your registration period.
Requesting a Letter of Recommendation
You should not be shy or embarrassed about asking a professor for a letter of recommendation. Writing letters of recommendation is one of the duties of faculty members.
Approach potential letter writers well in advance of the application deadline. Ideally, you should give a letter writer two to four weeks to write the letter.
Make an appointment to see a potential letter writer in order to make a formal request in person. Sending a request via email or by dropping off a form is impolite. Remember, the way in which you make the request can influence the letter writer’s perception of you.
Ask the letter writer directly if they know you and your work well enough to write a positive letter of recommendation for your law school application. If the professor is unenthusiastic or equivocal, it is better to ask someone else. If the answer is positive, then be prepared to provide the letter writer with the following information to assist him or her in writing a detailed letter on your academic abilities:
- A short memo or cover sheet describing your relationship, such as the courses you have taken, the work you have done, etc.
- A resume.
- Copies of exams or papers from the letter writer’s class. To help you with your letters of recommendation, save exams and papers from the courses in which you did reasonably well.
- A list of dates when the letters of recommendation are due. In developing your deadlines, remember the LSAC takes about two weeks to process your letters after they are received.
- Submit the name and contact information for each of your recommenders using the LSAC's CAS. The LSAC will then contact your recommenders via email.
Be prepared to waive your right of access to your letters of recommendation. Law school admissions committees tend to discount letters of recommendation that are not confidential.
You can track the status of your letters of recommendation online through the LSAC's CAS. Shortly after the deadlines you gave your letter writers, contact those writers who have not sent their letters yet and politely remind them of the deadline.
After you have received decisions from the law schools, send thank you notes to your letter writers and let them know where you intend to enroll.
Letters of recommendation that are a few years old are still good, especially since an increasing number of law school applicants are taking a few years off between college and law school!
LSAC offers a letter of recommendation service through the CAS. Use of LSAC’s letter of recommendation service is optional, but virtually all law schools either prefer or require that you use this service. The service allows you to specify which letters will be sent to which law schools, up to the maximum number of recommendations that are accepted by each school. A letter of recommendation can either be targeted to specific law schools or a general one that can be sent to multiple schools.