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How Do I Get Letters of Recommendation?

Most, but not all, law schools require at least one letter of recommendation. You should follow the instructions on the individual applications regarding the number and types of letters that they want to receive. In general, however, the following guidelines apply:

  1. Law schools use the letters to determine "close calls" or to make decisions about applicants who are in the large gray middle area (not instant accepts, not instant rejects).
  2. You should have at least one letter from a faculty member. That letter should tell the school why you are capable of the intellectual work necessary of a law student. In short, the best letter tells the law school that you can do the work because you have the requisite analytical and writing skills. The law schools want to know what kind of student you are going to be. You should, therefore, develop a close relationship with at least one faculty member who can attest to your skills as a student. This is particularly important if you have a low GPA or LSAT score. You need someone to attest to you academic abilities. If you have been out of college for a long time and cannot obtain faculty letters, you should have your recommenders attest to your intellectual abilities and skills.
  3. The more specific and detailed the letter, the better. Give your recommender a copy of the attached guide for letter writers, along with a resume and copies of your work.
  4. Letters from advisors, employers, internship directors, or supervisors are fine, so long as they can attest to the same kinds of skills.
  5. Letters that discuss your personal qualities are less useful. See the attached guidelines for letter writers. Personal qualities count, but more importantly, the law school wants to know that you can handle their work. You can discuss your personal qualities in your personal statement.
  6. Some letters are useless. These include "name dropping" letters from people who do not really know you, such as letters from famous people or political officials; very short or generic letters; and letters that you have reserved the right to see.
  7. You have the choice about whether to waive your right to look at your letters of recommendation. However, it isn't really a choice, because a letter that is not confidential is basically discredited by law schools. Your recommender should be able to write the letter in confidence, and you should waive your right to see it.
  8. Many law schools prefer that you use the LSAC's letter of recommendation service. You should consult with the school regarding which course is best (usually indicated on the application). However, there is some evidence that personal letters—ones sent directly to the school, with the school's name, and tailored to the school—matter more, because law schools pay more attention to them. If you have schools where you would like an "edge," or would prefer to attend, consider asking your recommender(s) to prepare a personal letter for that school.
  9. Letters that are old are still good. Most law school applicants have been out of school for a few years. You can either arrange for your faculty letters before you leave or contact them again when you actually need the letters. If you contact a former professor, it is helpful to enclose a resume, a list of the courses you had with him/her and your grades, and samples of your work for those classes. A photo helps, too. Your professor will not be insulted if you do this; he/she will be grateful. Remember, your professor sees hundreds of students each year, so reminders from former students are helpful. (Note: you may wish to use the LSAC's letter service, as they will hold letters for you for the duration of your registration period, which is currently 5 years.)
  10. The LSAC is continually updating its letter of recommendation service. You need to check when you register about the benefits it has added. For 2005-06, there are several changes. First, you can store up to 4 letters of recommendation. Letters are still initially identified by the order in which they are received, but you have the ability to designate which letters go to which schools. Also, the service is accepting "targeted" letters (also known as "school specific" letters) for the first time.
  11. When to Use a School-Specific Letter: You need a reason to send a targeted letter to a specific school. If you don't have one, a general letter will do just fine. Some reasons are better than others: "I have always wanted to attend your particular school" is not very compelling. "I like your small class size" is no better. The reason should be particular to that school. Maybe it has a special program for which you are ideally qualified. Perhaps for personal or family reasons you cannot move and must attend the school closest to your home. A targeted letter gives you the chance to explain why you are uniquely suited for that school.


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