Letters of Recommendation
As noted above, your LSAT score and GPA form the foundation of the admission evaluation process. Although other factors--such as the personal statement and letters of recommendation--cannot totally override the primary predictors, they can provide valuable information about a candidate's qualifications.
Who Should Write
The Admissions Committee is considering you as a potential student. Letters from non-academic people are not as impressive because they do not typically address themselves to the applicant's intellectual prowess or aptitude for law school. If the writer of the letter is not a professor, his/her comments will probably be limited to the applicant's personality and industry (not the most important information sought by the admission committee). Accordingly, try to get letters from professors who know your work and can speak to your academic aptitude and achievement. Do not submit letters from congressmen, politicians or other power brokers unless you have done significant work directly for them upon which they may base evaluative comments. The casual letter from a "name" can seriously turn off a reader. Employer recommendations are acceptable if the student has been out of school for some time.
Ease the Writer's Burden
To make the most out of your letter of recommendation, prepare your writer. If possible, select professors who both know you personally and who have been able to examine a great deal of your work. The professor's rank or scholarly reputation is not as important as the content of the letter. In the letter (which should be written on official school stationary and list your full legal name), the writer should emphasize your general academic capabilities, writing skills, analytical and logical reasoning skills and anything else that helps the committee compare you to other applicants. Law schools want specific information about the applicant's breadth and depth of knowledge, ability to analyze, writing acumen, problem-solving ability, and scholastic aptitude. Thus, you should share as much specific information as possible about yourself with the writer. Make the writer aware of both your objective status (LSAT and GPA) and subjective abilities. Make sure your writer knows enough about you to write a detailed recommendation. Remind the writer of specific research or projects you completed for him/her. Bring copies of your work and a resume for the writer to review.
What a Good Recommendation Says
The following is a list of specific topics your writer might want to incorporate in his/her letter:
- outstanding projects or papers, unique academic experiences or accomplishments,
- overview of the class that you attended, its specific requirements, its level of difficulty, and your performance compared to others in the class,
- special interests and motivation; personal qualities or background information that distinguishes you from others,
- observations about your character and integrity,
- observations on academic promise in a rigorous professional program,
- contributions to college or community in non-academic endeavors,
- intellectual capacity, motivation, emotional maturity, and seriousness of purpose,
- if you have a weakness in your file, the writer might want to help you explain it (e.g., Although x's GPA is low...; Grading in this department is low, however...; X's choice of classes and performance demonstrate an ability to take on challenges and ...).
Make sure the writer has a chance to decline your offer to write a letter if he/she cannot be glowing in good conscience. Provide the writer with an envelope (and stamp) and the completed Credential Assembly Service form. Without being pushy, set a reasonable deadline for completion of the letter. Give your recommender several weeks to complete the task.
Waive Your Rights
While you are not required to waive your right of access to letters of recommendation, most applicants do because they have confidence in those who are writing on their behalf. Law schools also take more seriously letters that are confidential. Remember, if you are unsure that someone is actually going to write a favorable letter, you may want to rethink asking this person in the first place.