Who Should Author Letters of Recommendation?
Almost every law school application requires letters of recommendation. This aspect of your application can be the most daunting because it is out of your control- or is it? In most cases, you cannot review the letter before submission, and this unknown causes some anxiety in applicants. However, as the applicant, you can play a significant role in the quality of the letters because you are responsible for choosing the author. This post discusses some factors to consider when you’re deciding who to author your letters of recommendation.
Who Should Author Letters of Recommendation?
The most highly requested author of a letter of recommendation is a professor who can speak to your academic performance and suitability for the study and eventual practice of law. Law schools are particularly interested in your prospective success as a law student given the academically intense setting, and the impact of a professor’s letter of recommendation will be the most beneficial to your application. If you are not convinced you should ask a professor, these blurbs from top law schools might persuade you:
“We strongly recommend that at least one letter of recommendation come from an academic source.” – Harvard Law School
“We strongly prefer letters from at least two professors with whom you have studied who can speak to your academic performance and who have had a chance to personally evaluate significant aspects of your academic work.” – Yale Law School
“Typically, the most helpful recommendations are from undergraduate or graduate faculty [. . .]” – Michigan Law
“We strongly recommend you submit at least one academic letter [. . .]” – University of Chicago Law School
Professional but Personal Relationship
Though these letters should be professional, a personal relationship with the author is key. A strong author for your letter of recommendation should be a professor who knows you as more than just a face in a lecture hall. When it comes to asking a professor to write a letter of recommendation, you should not have to re-introduce yourself. Choose a professor who personally reviewed your work, can identify your strengths using concrete examples, and can attest to your academic skills.
Keep in mind, however, that this does not mean that personal letters are acceptable. Do not have a friend or family friend write this letter of recommendation for you if you don’t also know them in a professional capacity.
Your relationship can also come from someone at your place of employment. In these scenarios, it’s critical that you ask someone who has a supervisory role over your work. This way, they can evaluate your work product, work ethic, and daily management. One of your colleagues who is at the same level as you in a lateral role is not in the position to provide this sort of feedback that schools will be looking for.
Your author of choice should be a person with whom you have had a positive relationship. Some applicants are quick to select a professor of a class where they received a high grade. These applicants don’t consider the many other qualities a professor can speak to! Consider whether you contributed meaningfully to class, whether you were respected and respectful of your classmates, and whether the professor saw into your character traits such as honesty or integrity, etc.
Aim to have at least one of the authors of your letters of recommendation meet all three of these characteristics. Law schools understand that some applicants may not have this type of academic relationship. Perhaps you have been working in a professional setting for many years after graduating from your undergrad. You are not out of luck. If you do not have an academic, personal, and positive relationship with a professor, you can substitute “academic” for “professional” and still have a strong letter of recommendation. Choose an author who can speak to your work ethic, demonstrated strengths and qualities that will suit you for the legal profession, and positive experiences they have had with you in a professional environment.
Letters of recommendation can be a major asset to your law school application if you choose the authors wisely. Prioritize the quality of the letter (with the above characteristics as a guide) over the quantity of letters you submit. A specific, relevant, and raving review will go much farther than many vague and disconnected ones.