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How to Get Great Letters of Recommendation

Along with a stellar personal statement and resume, great letters of recommendation (LORs) can help tip the scales in your favor when your law school application is "on the bubble"--not quite in but also not quite out.


Never underestimate the power of a great recommendation.


WHO SHOULD YOU ASK FOR LORS?

If you are a current student, focus on securing all your LORs from professors and teaching assistants (TAs).

If you graduated college two or more years ago, and are no longer in touch with your professors and TAs, ask for LORs from your supervisors and/or professional mentors.


HOW MANY LORS SHOULD YOU GET?

Most schools require two LORs but I recommend getting three. First, it is possible one of your recommenders may not follow through. Second, you may need that third LOR for some schools. Third, for schools that place you on the wait list, you might be able to send the last LOR as further evidence that you are a great candidate.


WHEN TO ASK FOR LORS?

Fall always seems so busy for everyone--whether you're working or in school. Plan ahead. Ask for those LORs during June, July and August. If summer has passed and you're applying this fall and still haven't asked for LORs, then set up times to meet with your recommenders now. You haven't a minute to lose!


HOW TO ASK FOR LORS?

I recommend meeting with each potential recommender in person to ask if he or she would be willing to write you a good LOR. This person is going to spend two to four hours writing a letter for you. That's a lot of time! They're doing this as a favor to you. So, treat them with your utmost respect and courtesy.

When you meet with your recommender and ask him or her if they are willing to write you a good LOR, pay attention to the person’s reaction. Make sure they really want to write you the letter. Ask the person what he or she might write about. If they know you, they should have a good idea of what skills and strengths they will write about.

If the person’s reaction is not positive, thank them for their time and leave. Never insist that someone write you a LOR if they aren’t up to the task.


WHAT SHOULD YOU GIVE YOUR RECOMMENDERS?

If the person says “yes,” then put together a packet for him or her that includes:

  • Brief cover letter that states your gratitude, some background on why you want to go to law school, and your agreed-upon deadline for mailing your LOR
  • Unofficial transcript
  • Resume
  • Other relevant materials (some professors and TAs want copies of the best essays that you wrote for their class)
  • Signed LSAC LOR form (only if he/she is sending a paper letter)

If you are asking early enough, I recommend that you set a deadline with your recommender that is actually four weeks earlier than when you actually need the LOR, but don’t let your recommender know that you're asking for it early.

No offense to recommenders but I’ve seen too many cases where recommenders put off writing the LOR for so long that she/he actually made the applicant late in applying. Don’t let that happen! For example, if you want your LOR at LSAC by October 1, then ask your recommender to mail it by September 1.


JUST IN CASE YOUR RECOMMENDERS ARE NEW AT THIS...

Forward him or her this helpful article on how to write LORs for law school written by the prelaw adviser at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Thank you, Diane Curtis!


REMEMBER TO THANK YOUR RECOMMENDERS

So many people don't take the time to thank their recommenders when all is said and done. It's a shameful travesty. When your LORs are safely stored in your online LSAC file, buy some nice thank you cards and hand-write a note of gratitude to each of your recommenders. Though it's not necessary, you can also add a small gift like flowers, a potted plant, cookies or chocolates. Your recommender will appreciate your thoughtfulness and it's simply the right thing to do.


Have questions or comments about law school LORs? I'd love to hear from you! Post your thoughts in the comments section below.


PEG CHENG is the author of The No B.S. Guides for applying to law school and the founder of Prelaw Guru, where you can find law school admissions tips, videos, books, and more. For more great tips, follow Peg @prelawguru.


Letter photo by Petar Milosevic.

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