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By: Jennie Goldsmith Rothman, Managing Director, Admit Advantage
Jennie Goldsmith Rothman, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, is Managing Director at Admit Advantage, a premier admissions consulting firm. Following a career as an employment lawyer, Jennie has been advising applicants to college, law school, graduate programs, and fellowships for more than 10 years. You can sign up for a free consultation with Jennie at http://Calendly.com/admit-advantage to learn how Admit Advantage can support you through the application process.
Law school applicants are often focused on two things: taking the LSAT and writing their personal statements. These are both critical aspects of any law school application, but they are not the only ones. All law schools require that applicants submit at least one Letter of Recommendation. By following these guidelines, smart applicants can maximize the positive impact of their Letters of Recommendation and boost their chances of admission.
Choosing a Recommender
Applicants come to us regularly with questions about how to secure a good Letter of Recommendation. The first step to getting a Letter of Recommendation is choosing the right recommender. Most law schools state that they want Letters of Recommendation from professors, and they mean it. You are applying to be a student, not an employee, and professors are in the best position to establish your strengths and abilities in an academic setting. All applicants should include at least one Letter of Recommendation from a professor if at all possible. Applicants who are current students should aim to submit 2 academic Letters of Recommendation. Applicants who have been in the workforce for a number of years may decide to submit 1 academic Letter of Recommendation and 1 professional Letter of Recommendation.
A recommender who knows you personally and can attest to your skills with specificity and detail will provide the strongest Letter of Recommendation. What this means practically is that you should cultivate relationships with professors at your college early and often. Students should seek out opportunities to get to know their professors better, and for the professors to get to know them. Attend office hours regularly. Take that opportunity to be a TA or research assistant. Work one-on-one with a professor on a thesis or in-depth project. Join a campus organization that your favorite professor advises. It is important to look for and take these opportunities to get to know your professors as they arise, and not wait until your senior year of college to form a relationship with a professor whom you expect to write a Letter of Recommendation. For those students who plan to take time off before applying to law school, remember to stay in touch with the professors you may ask to write a law school Letter of Recommendation, reaching out once or twice a year with updates and queries on what the professor is up to.
Finally, when it comes to choosing a recommender, we are often asked whether it’s better to choose a junior professor who knows you well, or the department head in whose lectures you sat. Always go for the recommender who knows you the best. Law schools use the Letters of Recommendation to gain insight into your ability to contribute to and succeed in law school. The admissions committee will learn much more meaningful information from the professor who has actually seen your work and interacted with you than it will from a paragraph or two of generalities written by a “name” professor who doesn’t actually know you. The same principle applies for professional Letters of Recommendation; a Letter of Recommendation from a direct supervisor is preferable to a Letter from the CEO, unless you actually report to her.
How Many Recommendations to Include?
A quick side note. Not all law schools require the same number of Letters of Recommendation. Some specify that only 1 or 2 may be submitted, but others give applicants the choice of submitting up to 4. So, how do you choose how many Letters of Recommendation to submit?
You should choose the number of Letters of Recommendation you submit based on what they actually contribute to your application package. If you have a dual major in Engineering and Music (or any two contrasting fields), plus a great internship at the White House, each of your professors and your direct supervisor can provide perspective into unique aspects of your skills and abilities. If this scenario sounds like yours, by all means submit all 3 Letters of Recommendation. However, applicants should not submit 3-4 Letters of Recommendation that are repetitive and add nothing new to the picture of the applicant’s skills. Law schools know when a weak candidate is trying to supplement his record, and have enough documents to read without reviewing multiple vague, identical recommendations.
And, whatever you do, make sure you observe the limits set by each school to which you apply.
Content of Recommendation
Once you’ve lined up professors and employers to write Letters of Recommendation for you, you still have more work to do. Applicants should look carefully at their application package and determine which aspects of their candidacy need further support that can best be provided in the Letter of Recommendation. If an applicant has focused on science or engineering, she should ask an English Literature professor to highlight her writing skills. If an application doesn’t fully demonstrate an applicant’s leadership skills, he should get a Letter of Recommendation from the professor in whose class he served as a TA. In short, applicants should use the Letter of Recommendation to balance the other pieces of the application and help present a complete picture of the candidate’s skills and abilities.
The best way for an applicant to ensure that the recommender includes this important information in the Letter of Recommendation is to provide it to the recommender up front. When you ask a professor or supervisor to write a Letter of Recommendation, give her the information she needs to write it: any papers or projects you did for her; a draft of your resume and personal statement; and a cover letter addressing your desire and reasons for going to law school, as well as any specific strengths or characteristics you would like her to address. If possible, ask the recommender to write the Letter of Recommendation in person, and give her a chance to say “no.” A vague, weak Letter of Recommendation is a missed opportunity for the applicant and will detract from the application package.
As you can see, there is a lot law school applicants can do to secure a glowing Letter of Recommendation. That great Recommendation, together with all the other pieces of the application package, will help you present a compelling case for admission. Good luck!
To make sure that you can take full advantage of your Letters of Recommendation, be sure to stay on top of the logistical issues for submission. First, when you ask a Recommender to write you a Letter of Recommendation, clearly explain the process of uploading the Letter of Recommendation to LSAC site and provide the correct link. You don’t want a Recommender to write you a great Letter, but find herself unable to get it to your file. Second, make sure that you give adequate time for Recommender to write and upload the Letter of Recommendation. LSAC states that it typically takes 2 weeks to process documents submitted to the lsac.org site. Your application will not be complete and ready for review until the processing is done. Thus, you should make sure that you ask your recommenders at least 6 weeks before you hope to complete your file for submission. And don’t forget to waive the right to read your Letter of Recommendation, which will signal to the law school that the recommendation is the Recommender’s honest opinion.
Finally, thank your Recommender. Twice. Thank her immediately after she submits the recommendation. And, after you’ve been admitted and chosen a school, let her know where you’re going. Remember that this recommender is part of your network now, so you want to cultivate that relationship.