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Getting a Law School Letter of Recommendation

The Five W's and an H of Getting a Great Law School Letter of Recommendation

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The infamous law school letter of recommendation can cause stress in applicants, but it doesn't have to be that way. Here are some basic rules you should follow in selecting and asking referees, in the handy format of journalist’s Five W’s (and an H):

Who?

Many schools specify professors as preferred referees, and make no mistake: even if it’s not stated, letters of recommendation from academic sources are the best way to go; law schools are interested in how you will do in a rigorous academic environment, and the best judges of that are your past professors.

Preferred professors are those in your major, but if you’re asking more than one, use the opportunity to show your well-roundedness as a student; if you’ve taken courses such as these recommended undergraduate courses for law school, choose one or two of those professors as well. Seminars and classes in which you wrote papers are especially good choices.

If you've been out of school for a while, employers also make good referees.

What?

You should ask your potential referees whether they would be able to write a positive letter of recommendation for you. If you see any hesitation whatsoever, withdraw your request as you don’t want anything less than a fabulous, glowing letter in your law school application file.

Note that you should waive your right to see recommendations so that law schools know that the letters are objective.

When?

Ask for letters of recommendations as early as possible, but in any case, no later than a month before the deadline. You don’t want your referees to feel rushed in any way, and besides, you’ll earn yourself points by planning ahead. Be sure to make the deadline for recommendations absolutely clear to your referees.

Where?

The best place to ask a professor, employer, or anyone really for a letter of recommendation is in his or her office. Make an appointment, let your potential referee know ahead of time what the meeting will be about, and come prepared with anything that might help with writing the letter, discussed more below.

Why?

Law schools request letters of recommendation to get a better, fuller sense of you as a person and potential student. Keep that in mind as you select referees and ask yourself whether or not that person will help you achieve your goal of getting into law school.

How?

How should you ask for a letter of recommendation? Nicely! More specifically, ask in the most professional way possible, including the above suggestion of making an appointment to meet in the referee’s office. Some things you might want to include a folder presented to your referees include your transcript, papers written for that professor, and even a copy of your personal statement if you’ve already written it.

Overall, you want to make it as easy as possible for your referees to write letters of recommendation, so ask early, nicely, and professionally.

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