Let’s talk about letters of recommendation

It’s hard to say how much weight your letters of recommendation (LoRs for short) carry in your application. Your LSAT score and GPA are by far the most heavily evaluated components of your application. American law schools claim to look at your app “holistically,”  but the reality is that it’s a numbers game. However, you only get one shot to convince a school that you’re the right fit for them, so you want to make sure your entire application is as strong as possible.

Give em what they want

Each school’s application usually has an “Instructions” section. Read these! They outline exactly what the school wants in terms of resumes, essays and LoRs. Most schools’ applications open at the beginning of September. However, if you want to get your applications in early, you should approach your LoR writers over the summer. It is standard to give them at least two months to write the letter. If you are choosing your LoR writers over the summer, you won’t be able to refer to each application’s instructions regarding LoRs. Thankfully, most schools are pretty similar in what they want.

Most school require two LoRs. I am not aware of any schools that require more than two, but if you know of any, post them in the comments! Law schools have a strong preference for LoRs that are written by professors who taught you. They want to hear from someone who can attest to your ability to succeed in the classroom. You should definitely have at least one LoR from a professor, unless you have been out of school for 5+ years. Even then, you should still try to get one.

Another good option for LoR writers are supervisors who oversaw your work in employment, internships, or volunteer work. However, keep in mind that schools still prefer LoRs from professors, especially if you are a recent graduate. Steer clear of letters from sports coaches, religious leaders, or family friends. These people are unlikely to be able to attest to your academic or professional aptitude.

In undergrad I prioritized day drinking over attending office hours. Who the heck am I going to ask?

It’s always best to get an LoR from a professor who knows you well. If you have the choice between asking the adjunct professor who knows you super well and you got A’s in three of her classes, and the former state Attorney General department head, whose giant lecture you got a B in, choose the adjunct professor. Though the department head may have a fancy title, law schools can tell when a professor doesn’t know you very well, because they will probably submit a basic generic letter. That being said, it is better to have a letter from a professor who doesn’t know you very well, than having no letters from professors. Also, don’t worry about the subject matter that the professor taught you. It doesn’t matter if it was math, science, pre-law or Spanish. Law schools truly don’t care.

I did not have close relationships with my undergrad professors. I didn’t go to office hours even once throughout my entire undergraduate career. When I decided I wanted to apply to law school, I began wracking my brain thinking about which professors I could ask for LoRs. I was still a recent graduate at that point, as I had only graduated about 6 months prior, so I had it easier than some of you folks that had been out of school for longer.

I decided to ask a professor that I had in my last semester of college. I got a B+ in his class, though I was super close to getting an A, and I felt like I put had put in my best effort. I never skipped class, I sat near the front of the room, and participated a lot. At my graduation ceremony, he approached me and had some really nice words to say. Other than that, I had never communicated with him outside of the classroom. Despite this, he remembered me, and said he would gladly write a letter for me.

For my other letter, I asked a professor who I had worked for as a research assistant the summer before my junior year. This lady LOVED me, and said I was the best research assistant she ever had. Throughout my junior and senior year, I would bump into her at department events, and she was always extremely warm and friendly, even going so far as to tell me to reach out to her if I ever needed a recommendation. Though she was never my professor, asking her for an LoR was a no-brainer, because I knew that she could write me a very personal letter.

The logistics

Some people are able to ask their LoR writers in person, but if not, email is the way to go. Write a nice, warm email telling them that you are going to law school and asking them to write a letter for you. Unless you have a very close relationship with them, remind them who you are (“I took Criminology 201 with you in Spring, 2017”). Attach your resume to the email to give them an idea of who you are outside of the classroom. If you wrote any papers for their class that you still have saved, attach that as well so they can refamiliarize themselves with your work.

Be prepared for your writers to respond with a lot of questions! One wanted to know my LSAT score, the schools I was applying to, and read a copy of my personal statement (eek!! Which I hadn’t even written yet!). Provide them with any supplemental information they request, and give them the CAS link to upload their letter. They will likely ask when you need the letter by. Give them a soft deadline of about two months, and follow up with them a week or two before the deadline. Professors procrastinate too!

Help! My LoR writer is ghosting me!

Sometimes someone will enthusiastically agree to write an LoR for you. Then, when the deadline you gave them is approaching, they don’t respond to your follow up emails or phone calls. It sucks, but it happens. This is why it is a good idea to have at least three recommenders in mind, just in case one turns out to be a flake.

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