Recommendation letters, in addition to your personal statement and resume, are a vital part of the qualitative portion of your law school application. You may have aced the LSAT, scored great grades, and written killer essays, but recommendation letters are required for a reason. Your recommendations give schools a sense of whether you have displayed the skills and qualities needed to thrive in law school and be a great lawyer, from the ability to write and speak well to analytical and critical thinking skills to emotional maturity and good character.
It might seem like your recommendations are a portion of your application that is out of your control, in your recommenders’ hands rather than your own. And while this is true to some extent, there are several things you can—and should—do to ensure you get the strongest possible letters.
1. Choose your recommenders strategically
The vast majority of law schools require you to submit at least one recommendation letter as part of your application, but some will accept as many as four or five. However, more letters aren’t necessarily better: you should be thinking quality over quantity here, not submitting five letters for the sake of having five letters. Some schools have requirements about who you should ask—for example, a professor, or someone who has worked with you one-on-one. Regardless, it’s a good idea to ask individuals who can each provide a unique perspective on you or know you in a different context.
I personally submitted three letters, but how many you opt to include is up to you. When determining how many letters I wanted to submit, I used two criteria. First, the letter had to contribute something new that was not already covered by another recommender. Second, the letter had to be from someone I knew well and who I believed would write me a glowing letter. If you’re unsure whether someone would write you a great letter, that is probably a good indicator that you should not ask that person!
2. Ask early
This is key for a variety of reasons. First, you want to give your recommenders the time to write a thoughtful letter, rather than a quick note dashed off at the last minute. Second, those you will be asking, whether professors or work supervisors, may have other obligations that prevent them from devoting the time to writing you a great recommendation. This happened to me—one of the professors I originally asked had a lot going on personally and professionally so was unable to write me a letter at that time. Luckily, because I had spoken to her well in advance, I had plenty of time left to ask someone else in her place.
3. Tell your recommenders what to highlight
While the content of the letter is ultimately in your recommenders’ hands, it’s perfectly acceptable, and even advisable, to let them know what you’d like them to mention or emphasize in the letter. You should have chosen them to write for you for a reason, so let them know what that reason was!
In addition, many schools also include a list of specific qualities or capacities they want to see your recommenders comment on, or what an ideal recommendation should include. Law schools provide this information because they want you to use it, so be sure to send along your schools’ instructions to your recommenders.
4. Send them your other application materials
It’s important that your recommenders have a full picture of your application and what kind of narrative you’re trying to create. That way, they can build on and reinforce what you already have and contribute some additional insights. Seeing your resume and personal statement will also give your recommenders a sense of your relevant preparation for law school and inform them about why law school makes sense as a next step for you. Having this background information will make your letter that much richer, as your recommenders can ensure that what they write fits with the rest of your application. And, as a bonus, they can also give you feedback on your personal statement!
5. Remind them of your deadline
While it might seem rude or pushy, I’ve found that most people find a gentle deadline reminder helpful, and some even request it. It’s especially important that your recommenders submit your letters on time because your application will not be considered complete until your recommendations are in and have been processed by LSAC, which can take a little bit of extra time (another reason to ask early!). Be sure to mention the date you’d like the letter to be in when you first ask for the letter, as well as in a follow-up email with the submission instructions and relevant information. Then, a week or so before, send a (polite!) email reminding your recommenders of the deadline. Don’t forget that they are taking time out of their busy lives to write on your behalf, so make sure to also express your gratitude.
While it can be scary having such an important part of your application be out of your hands, I hope the above tips have shown how you can exercise agency in the process. Now go out and get those glowing letters!
Looking for more tips on how to put together a great law school application? Check these out:
- Applying to Law School 101: What You Need to Know to Succeed
- Podcast Episode 119: Navigating the Law School Application Process (with Admission Logic)
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