Law School Recommendation Letter Tips

LSAT Blog Law School Recommendation Letter TipsThe below excerpt about choosing recommenders for your law school recommendation letters is from A Guide to Law School Recommendations.


Choosing Your Recommenders

Too often, applicants assume that the highest-profile recommender is the best choice, whether that means getting a friend of a distant cousin to obtain a letter from the Lieutenant Governor or choosing a full professor over an instructor. And, of course, it’s true that prestige and credentials may carry some weight and that the number of years a professor has been teaching impacts his ability to compare you with other students and assess your academic abilities. But the recommender’s title and background are just one consideration, and not the most important one by a longshot. And, if the effort is too blatantly political—that is, if you’re obtaining a letter from a judge or elected official who truly doesn’t know you and is just doing someone a favor—it can backfire. Assess your recommenders on the merits of the letters they’ll be able to write first.

Assessing Your Prospective Recommenders

To begin the selection process, make a list of all possible recommenders— don’t try to narrow down the list at this point. When you have the list in hand, consider:

- How well the recommender knows you: a letter of recommendation carries considerably more weight if it appears to be rooted in adequate personal experience and observation to allow the writer to speak authoritatively about your qualifications. Consider how long the recommender has known you, in what context and the number and quality of opportunities he or she has had to personally observe and interact with you. For this reason, professors of seminar classes, self-study advisors and the like are often in a better position to write a solid letter. If you attend a large university and have primarily taken lecture classes in which you have little direct contact with the professors, consider asking a TA with whom you have a closer relationship to write one of your letters.

- How relevant the context in which the recommenders knows you is: If you’ve known someone for years because you play park district baseball together, that experience of you is probably less relevant to law schools than that of a professor you’ve taken three classes with or a long-time employer. Think in terms not only of how long and how well a person has known you, but also what that person knows about you firsthand that is of interest to law schools.

- What characteristics the recommender will be able to speak to: this consideration is related to the one above, but may involve thinking beyond the formal constructs of your interactions with the prospective recommender: while not every applicant has three solid “academic” recommenders available, relevant experience can often be found in other contexts. Though of course you don’t know exactly what a recommender will say, you know what each prospect’s experience with you entailed, what stories she has at her disposal and which characteristics she has had an opportunity to observe.

- How the recommender fits into your overall application package: Just as you balanced the content of your personal statement and your optional essays, you’ll want to balance your recommendations. Although most applicants will want to keep the focus on academics, you don’t want to submit three letters that say basically the same thing. As mentioned above, you don’t know and can’t control exactly what the recommender will say. But you do know something about the basis for the recommendation, and you can remind the recommender of specifics that you think are relevant when you make the request. Don’t think about each prospect purely in isolation: consider which possible recommenders will combine to create the strongest overall package.

- The recommender’s ability to write a compelling letter: Weigh the potential recommender’s ability to communicate clearly and compellingly; though this factor won’t necessarily rule someone out if the other factors are strong, it must be considered. Just as with your personal statement and other admissions essays, a letter of recommendation is more likely to have a positive impact if it catches the reader’s attention early and draws him along.

- The recommender’s willingness to invest: all of the factors listed above only matter if the recommender takes the time to craft a personal, compelling letter. To the extent that you have adequate information to assess this, consider how likely the potential recommender is to make that investment—to consider you as an individual and write a letter that supports his recommendation rather than just saying he recommends you.

Photo by jonno23


  1. After asking one of my professors if she would be willing to write an LOR on my behalf, I have registered her as a recommender through LSAC in order to print the LOR form, which I gave to her in early September, along with my resume and transcript. By November, I brought it to her attention, and she said she would take care of it soon. Her LOR still hasn't been received, and many of my fee waivers expire December 31. Is there any way I am able to remove her as a recommender?

    1. I have the same problem I don't think you can remove her if she has already acknowledged the request.

  2. I've read that various materials that state only professors you've taken classes with should write your letter. After reading this article I just want to make sure that it is ok if someone who is in academics, but never your professor can write a letter. Or rather even an employer who knows you extremely well.

  3. If/when using the LSAC Letter of Recommendation and Evaluation services, approximately what should the time frame be between getting Letters of Recommendations submitted and submitting your full law school applications?

    I intend to start law school in the Fall of 2014 and have already approached potential recommenders. Does it look bad if LORs are submitted very early (i.e. Do the law schools see LORs as soon as they are submitted, long before you apply to the school)? I've been searching the internet and can't seem to find a straightforward answer to my question. Thank you!