Law schools aim to admit students who have the intellectual and personal characteristics necessary to thrive both in the classroom and eventually, in the legal profession. Academic letters of recommendation provide additional information for the admissions committee, helping them get a better picture of you as a learner.
How important are letters of recommendation?
Letters of recommendation are required for almost every law school application and are a very important part of the application process. Usually grades and LSAT scores factor in most heavily; however, your letters of recommendation could be the deciding factor in the admission process. Strong letters of recommendation can strengthen your application and if there are deficiencies in your application, they can help to outweigh them.
How can I help make sure I have strong letters of recommendation?
Your strongest letters will come from faculty members who know you best, so make an effort to get to know your instructors. If possible, try to take the same faculty member for more than one class, be an active class participant, utilize office hours, and when possible, take on additional opportunities for research and writing.
How many letters of recommendation do I need?
Each institution will let you know how many letters it requires (usually 2-3). Some schools will require a certain number and allow candidates to optionally submit an additional letter. If you have more letters than required, you can consider submitting an extra one if it is strong and provides new information about you not mentioned in other letters.
Who should I ask for a letter of recommendation?
Most schools prefer comments about academic potential, so letters from faculty members are highly valued. The best letter writers are those who know you well and can provide an evaluation of your ability to perform and succeed at law school.
Letters from family friends, political figures, judges, and the like usually are discouraged and may, in fact, be detrimental.
How do I approach potential letter writers to make the request?
It can be intimidating to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation, particularly if you have not had the chance to develop as close a relationship as you would hope. Start by identifying your top choices -- which professors do you think could write you the strongest letter? Set up meetings (in person or virtual) to discuss your request. Be prepared to talk about your educational and professional aspirations. If the faculty member declines or you sense they are not enthusiastic about supporting you, ask someone else.
When should I approach potential letter writers? What if I plan to take a gap year or years before starting law school?
Professors and supervisors want to help you and are pleased to write on your behalf; however, they are usually involved in many activities. Make sure to be respectful of your letter writers time and approach them well ahead of when you need your letter to be submitted -- at least two months. Many students request such letters in the fall of their senior year, though you may also consider asking in the spring of your junior year. Many faculty members do not teach during the summer and can be difficult to reach, so do not count on being able to make a summer request!
If you plan to take some time off before going to law school, don't wait until you want to apply to law school to ask for letters. Your professors could be on sabbatical, or you may not be fresh in their minds anymore. So, ask professors for a "general" letter of recommendation before you graduate and place their letters in a safe place, like LSAC's LOR service. When you are ready to apply to law school, contact professors again, and ask them to update your letters if necessary.
What should I do if I have been out of school for a long time?
In some cases, it may be appropriate to request one or more letters of recommendation from professionals who have supervised you in the workplace. While in general, law school prefer academic letters over professional letters, they also do understand that individuals who have been in the workplace for some time (generally 4+ years) may not be able to secure letters of recommendation from former instructors. Additionally, some applicants may wish to supplement their 2 academic letters of recommendation with a professional letter highlighting intellectual or other characteristics demonstrated during a job or internship, as many law schools allow you to submit more than 2 letters. If a law school limits you to 2 letters only, then they would prefer to see academic letters.
What information do my letter writers need to write me a strong letter of recommendation?
Your letter writers generally want to write you a strong letter of recommendation but, because they have limited capacity to know every student at a deep level, will need help from you to do so. You can help your letter writer by providing them with ample information about yourself, your accomplishments, and your goals. Consider providing your letter writers with a (virtual) packet of information including:
A cover note or letter (generally, the body of the email) that includes:
What you would like emphasized in each letter
A list of schools to which you are applying, and due dates, with the earliest due date at the top
Any other information that is relevant
Open and close your note with thanks and acknowledgement that the letter writer's time is valuable and that this letter is important to your professional future.
Your unofficial transcript (note courses you took with them);
A draft of your personal statement;
A copy of your best work in the course;
How do I submit letters of recommendation?
Most law schools require applicants to have their recommenders submit letters of recommendation directly to LSAC. In order to do so, you should first add your recommenders in your LSAC account. You may then elect to have your recommenders use one of the following two procedures to submit their letters:
Electronic Process: After adding your recommenders to your LSAC account, you can initiate the electronic submission process by clicking the E-mail button to the right of the recommenders’ names on the Letters of Recommendation and Evaluations page in your LSAC account. LSAC will then e-mail your recommenders directly with information concerning the process for submitting a letter electronically. Be sure to personally contact your recommenders first in order to determine their willingness to provide a letter.
U.S. Mail Process: For recommenders who may not be comfortable using the electronic process, there is a paper option. To initiate this process, print your recommender’s form by clicking the Print button to the right of the recommender’s name on the Letters of Recommendation and Evaluations page in your LSAC account. Next, provide that form to the recommender for inclusion with the letter of recommendation. Be sure to provide a stamped envelope for the recommender’s convenience.