Ineffective Law School Recommendation Letter

The below excerpt about ineffective law school recommendation letters is from A Guide to Law School Recommendations.

LSAT Blog Ineffective Law School Recommendation Letter***

Of course, you won’t be creating letters of recommendation—not even if your recommenders suggest that you just draft something and send it over to them for signature—but in order to choose the best recommenders and educate them, you’ll need to understand what makes a winning letter of recommendation.

Like your personal statement, letters of recommendation provide an opportunity for the admissions committee to learn things about you that aren’t conveyed by the dry information contained in your transcripts, LSAT score and other data.  That means that just as you strove to show yourself in three dimensions in your personal statement, the ideal recommender will flesh you out for the committee and demonstrate your desirable characteristics through stories and examples rather than simply listing adjectives and superlatives or reporting grades and accomplishments.

Unfortunately, many people, including professors and law school applicants, have a sort of form letter in their heads that is what they think a letter of recommendation looks like.  This letter says something like:

Francis Cortez has worked in my law office for the past two summers.  Francis is bright, hard-working and demonstrates high integrity.  I believe that he will be an asset to any school he attends and to the practice of law, and strongly support his admission.

It’s positive, it’s on point and it doesn’t carry any weight at all.  Why not?

- The letter gives no indication as to whether the writer actually knows Francis personally or to what degree he has personally observed his work.

- The writer gives no indication of his basis for assessing Francis—in addition to not knowing how closely he’s actually observed the applicant, the reader also doesn’t know what basis for comparison he may have (or whether he has any).

- The letter doesn’t show the reader anything about Francis. The adjectives listed are pertinent, of course, but they’re also just adjectives—and ones law school admissions officers hear quite often.  So often, in fact, that they tend to lose meaning.

- The writer hasn’t shown us any connection between the vague attributes he lists and Francis’s projected law school success. In short, this letter could have been written by anyone about anyone.  It could be a letter written by a direct supervisor who has truly been impressed with Francis’s work, and who as a law school graduate and attorney himself has a solid basis for understanding how the characteristics he’s seen in Francis will serve him well in law school and the practice of law.   But it’s equally possible that a secretary popped her head in the senior partner’s door and said, “Mr. Washington, could you write a letter of recommendation for the summer intern?” and Mr. Washington said, “Sure. What’s his name?”

Photo by bobaubuchon


  1. Great post. Would you be able to give us a good example? I'm not sure how detailed it has to be to stand out yet stay professional.


  2. One other benefit of meeting with your potential letter-of-recommendation authors is that it will give you an opportunity to discuss your goals, career interests, and the schools to which you are planning to apply.