How To Get Stellar Law School Letters Of Recommendation
Law school letters of recommendation are vital to making an application stand out to admissions committees. For applicants, these letters are critical for admission but can feel out of their control. Many applicants are unsure of who to ask for these important letters. However, there are things applicants can do to ensure they solicit stellar law school letters of recommendation! In this post, we’ll discuss who to ask for law school letters of recommendation, when to ask, and how to leverage these letters to work for you. These tips will help you feel confident you’ll receive great law school letters of recommendation that will help your application shine!
How To Get Stellar Law School Letters Of Recommendation
What are schools looking for in letters?
To start, let’s discuss the purpose of these letters and what schools are looking for in them.
When reviewing application documents, admissions committees are looking to law school letters of recommendation for tailored and enthusiastic testimony to the candidate’s future potential as a law student and lawyer. They want to see sincerity and authenticity in letters. That’s why it’s so important that you ask someone who knows you well to write the letter (more on that below!).
Law school letters of recommendation are a tool to get to know who the candidate is as a person, but also who they are as a student or professional. Admissions readers need to be sure that applicants have the skills to be successful in a school’s rigorous academic program, but also that they will contribute to the law school community and are employable after graduation. (They need to know that you’re not just book smart but that you work well with others too!)
Who should you ask to write these letters?
Law school letters of recommendation should be professional or academic. They should come from professors or supervisors who are familiar with your work product and your work ethic.
- For professional work-related letters, look for a supervisor or someone who is in a position to evaluate your work.
- For academic letters, you’ll want to find professors whose classes you excelled in, participated frequently, and attended office hours. It’s great if you have a personal relationship established with them, where they know a bit about your interests and goals.
Keep in mind that many admissions committees often include law professors. Therefore, having a glowing letter of recommendation from another professor speaking to your academic aptitude is helpful in deciding admission. Professors often read letters to determine if you are someone they’d like to have in their own class one day. Hearing you’re an excellent student from a fellow professor helps to answer that question for them.
For more tips on who you should ask for law school letters of recommendation, check out this post.
Ensure you’ll get a positive letter.
When you ask others to write law school letters of recommendation for you, don’t be shy about asking if they are comfortable writing a positive letter for you. This is so important!
You want their honest feedback before they write their letter. If they aren’t comfortable writing a letter or simply don’t have the time to write a thoughtful and positive letter, then it’s in your best interest to ask someone else!
You don’t want any surprises either. Despite you liking a certain professor or supervisor, if the feeling isn’t reciprocal or there are underlying issues you were not aware of, then it’s important to discuss them before they write you a letter. Though I wouldn’t expect an author to write anything that’s negative in the letter, their true feelings may come across in their tone or brevity. You want to avoid any lackluster law school letters of recommendation.
Who should you NOT ask for a letter?
For professional letters, don’t be tempted to ask the most senior person in your organization or the company owner. Keep in mind the goal of the letters: authentic and genuine testimony as to who you are as a person, employee, and/or student. If the author doesn’t know you well, the letter won’t be able to serve its purpose. Instead, you want a supervisor or manager who can speak to your day-to-day work and management.
For academic letters, don’t ask a professor to write your letter if you were merely one of many students in their class, rarely participated, and seldom went to office hours. Even if a professor agrees to write you a letter in this situation, it likely won’t be very illustrative of what makes you a great student and law school candidate.
Avoid generic letters and boilerplate.
You want to avoid submitting letters that are generic and boilerplate from authors who clearly don’t know you very well. Having a genuine relationship will spur authentic testimony, and that is key to securing great law school letters of recommendation!
Having impersonal or tenuous relationships with a letter writer often forces the author to lean on facts relating to your performance, such as which class you took and how you performed, instead of personal characteristics that make you stand out.
While mentioning the grades you received is helpful, the letter cannot end there. That alone can be read in your transcript and won’t add anything new to your application. Therefore, the letter must expand upon that student-professor relationship to describe the type of student you were. The letter might discuss you progressed in class discussion, your interaction with the material, and your overall abilities as a student.
If you’re still unsure who to ask for this letter, check out this post for tips on fostering relationships to yield a great letter.
Letters should not be from personal relationships!
Law school letters of recommendation should not be exclusively personal. Though it’s important that the author know you personally, letters should still be professional or academic. Therefore, do not ask your friend, neighbor, or family friend who happens to be an attorney to write your letter if you didn’t also work with that person in a professional capacity.
Think about your application holistically.
Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions reader and think about your application holistically. What will they want to see in law school letters of recommendation?
Remember, a school will have copies of your transcripts. Merely knowing what class you took and how you performed is not helpful information to have in the letter! They already have that information and likely just reviewed it! You want each document you submit in your application to be able to showcase a new aspect of your candidacy.
Therefore, you should find recommenders that know you in different capacities! They can highlight various aspects of what makes you an outstanding candidate. You can easily do this by thinking of your application holistically when selecting your authors.
What if I have no professional experience or have been out of school for a long time?
Ideally, most applicants will have both professional and academic letters of recommendation. This applies to applicants who are either still in school or graduated in the last five years or so.
If, however, that doesn’t apply to you, how should you proceed?
If you’re a mid-career professional who has been out of school for over five years (and possibly decades), it’s perfectly fine to not have law school letters of recommendation from professors. In this scenario, you’ll still strive to have letters from your work environment that showcase different aspects of your candidacy.
For example, it’s great to have letters from managers who oversaw different projects you worked on. Other letters can be from co-workers who can attest to your work outside the scope of your technical role. If you helped provide training for new employees, this letter can come from an involved HR director. If you served on various committees, these letters can be from another committee member familiar with the work and effort you put in or from the committee’s leader.
Are you a student or recent graduate without any professional experience? You can use these letters to highlight different aspects of your academic abilities. For example, you could find a professor who can speak about your academic achievements in their class. Then, another could be from a professor you did research with, highlighting your research and writing skills. Lastly, a third academic letter could come from a professor who might have asked you to be a teaching assistant.
Therefore, even if your letters are exclusively from work or entirely from professors, they can still showcase your different skills. Think of your application holistically and be thoughtful of who you ask for your letters to achieve this result.
Leverage letter to address weaknesses.
In thinking about your application holistically, consider gaps you may need to fill and what type of letters may help. Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions reader and consider what concerns/questions they might have after reading your application. How can you help alleviate these concerns?
Don’t shy away from addressing any potential weaknesses. Instead, face them head-on! Law school letters of recommendation are a great opportunity to help put any other concerns at ease.
If, for example, you have a weak GPA and you know schools might have a concern about that, don’t pretend it doesn’t exist and hope for the best. Instead, find a professor whose class you did well in or who is familiar with how hard you worked. Ask that person to write a letter speaking to the type of engaged and hardworking student you are. This can help reconcile any concerns that your transcript might present.
They should be able to contextualize everything you might have been juggling alongside schoolwork. This can help highlight why a grade is actually quite good, despite not being an “A.” This might also be an opportunity for them to explain their strict grading curve and why a “B” is actually a top grade in a very demanding class. Keep reading on why letters are a great tool to contextualize your transcripts.
Likewise, if you performed poorly on the LSAT (in addition to submitting an LSAT addendum explaining the circumstances), you could find a supervisor who might be able to attest to just how many competing demands were on your time at the time you took the test. Perhaps you had a major work deadline that fell at the same time as the exam? Maybe your employer was short-staffed and you were helping to pick up extra shifts until additional coverage could be arranged? This won’t erase a low test score but it can help to contextualize what might have been going on in your life at the time as a reason for your distracted performance. It can also highlight how you’re a team player and a valuable employee to any company.
Letters should contextualize your performance.
Readers can see that you performed well by looking at your transcripts. Likewise, they can see you were promoted via title changes on your resume. Letters of recommendation are a great opportunity to contextualize your achievements with details not already included in your application materials.
It’s great if you performed well at work or in the classroom but knowing that isn’t as effective as knowing how you performed compared to your peers or others in that role.
If a professor is writing the letter, then it’d be great to know that you earned the highest grade in their class or you were one of their top 10 students they’ve had in their entire career teaching. This is also a chance for your professor to explain any grading curve he or she might have employed when grading coursework. If they explain that they don’t give out A’s, it will help your grade shine even brighter.
Likewise, if a supervisor is writing the letter, then knowing what value you brought to the role that your predecessor did not is incredibly helpful. Comparing you to others in a similar position or those that came before you by detailing what you achieved in that role will also help your accomplishments stand out much more.
Contextualizing your performance also helps you become more memorable to the reader. So many applicants applying to law school are high achieving. A high GPA is wonderful but if the reader learns that you were a professor’s favorite student or stood out to them in a way that your classmates had not, that immediately makes you a more attractive candidate for their law school program.
When should you ask for law school letters of recommendation?
The short answer is that 2 weeks to 2 months is appropriate. Check out this post for help detailing a larger timeline for your entire application, including letters of recommendation.
One of the most important things in asking for recommendation letters is to give authors plenty of time to write! Be considerate of their schedule. (If you ask a professor, avoid the start of the semester or during midterms exams. They’ll likely be busy getting their courses up and running or grading exams at that time.)
The best time to approach professors for law school letters of recommendation is just before school begins. (This is usually late July or early August for most colleges and universities.) This gives them a few weeks or more before the school year begins and still allows you plenty of time to apply early when applications open in the fall.
For professional letters, be mindful of their schedule and work around any big project deadlines or vacations.
Share your deadline with authors (and buffer it!).
When you do ask for letters, be sure to share your deadline so recommenders are aware of the timeline. Without any timeline, they may put law school letters of recommendation at the bottom of the priority list. This means that your professor might not begin writing for weeks or months.
Keep in mind that other applicants have likely asked them for letters as well. Your letter may be one of many they need to write. Even if your letter is their only one, these authors might be busy. Therefore, buffer the deadline your provide them with a few extra days or possibly even a couple of weeks.
If, for example, your goal is to submit all your applications by November 1, tell your letter writers you’d like their letters by Oct 15. This will not only give you valuable peace of mind knowing that the letters are in early, but it ensures that your application isn’t waiting to be made complete for lack of a letter.
For more details on how to ask recommenders to write your letter, check out this post outlining the process including a template on how to ask for a letter of recommendation.
Can you re-use old letters of recommendation?
My advice is that even if you have old letters of recommendation on hand, or know the author is willing to quickly submit an already used letter, do not use old letters.
Have the author write a brand-new letter for the purposes of your applying to law school. Authors can reuse language used in past letters, but old letters likely had a different goal in mind. The goal of this letter is different and therefore should be written with your law school candidacy in mind.
Also, keep in mind you can’t submit letters yourself. All law school letters of recommendation must be submitted to LSAC directly from the author. At no point will the letters pass through a candidate’s hands. Sometimes authors will allow you to view the letter but not always.
Lastly, if you’ve applied to law school before and are applying again, I still encourage you to solicit new letters of recommendation for your new application. Not only will former letters still be available for law schools to view from past cycles, but oftentimes not much in your application changes in less than a year that you’ll be applying again. Using new letters is a great way to freshen up your application when reapplying.
Remember, you may not be able to review the letter before it is sent. Be thoughtful when asking people to write a letter so that you can feel confident they’ll do a great job!
We hope this thoroughly explains how to secure great law school letters of recommendation so you can be confident your letters will boost your application in the admissions process!