How to secure a stellar letter of recommendation

law school admissions letters of recommendation strategy

Letters of recommendation can make or break an application. Check out the guide below to ensure that you get the strongest letters of recommendation possible:

Choosing your recommenders

Choose someone who:

  • Knows you well
  • Knows your writing and researching abilities well
  • Has seen you work through and learn to understand complex issues
  • Has known you for several years or semesters and thus can speak to your evolution as a student over time
  • Has interacted with you in a variety of contexts (academics, extracurriculars, community leadership, etc.)
  • Is (ideally) a professor
    • Bonus points if they are a law school professor (because they can speak to your potential for success in law school)

Note: you should aim to secure at least two letters written by professors. That said, if you have been out of school for a while, it is understandable to submit a letter written by a nonacademic reference, like a boss or manager from your workplace. 

Don’t choose someone who

  • Has a fancy name or title, but who doesn’t know you or your work very well - that person can instead help your application by reaching out to the admissions office on your behalf or by contacting someone who can draw more attention to your application.
  • Gave you a good grade in their class but knows very little about who you are as a person compared to your other options

 

Feel free to choose more than three or four someones! 

You can also get school-specific letters to strengthen or supplement your applications to your top schools. For example, you could solicit a Yale-only letter from an alum that you submit only to Yale Law School.

Preparing your recommenders

 
When to ask? 

  • Option 1: as you’re starting a new class or joining a new team
    • Consider finding out which professors (or colleagues) are known for being great mentors. Find ways to take their class(es) or work with them. At the start of your experience in their class or working with them, explain to them that you are excited to learn from and work with them and inform them that you anticipate asking them for a recommendation letter for law school
    • Informing a potential recommender in advance primes the recommender to look for opportunities where you’ve demonstrated skills and insights they could highlight in a letter.
  • Option 2: before you graduate from undergrad or soon after
    • You want to be fresh in the professor’s mind when they write their letter, even if you aren’t applying for several more cycles. Many colleges will store letters of recommendation at a student’s request for several years after they graduate to comply with LSAC’s rules requiring that you not see the contents of the letter while also allowing the professor to write the letter contemporaneously. 

How to ask?

Meet with your potential recommender in person or via Zoom.
  • First, thank them for their time and emphasize the role they have played in your academic/professional journey and path to law school. 
  • Explain why you want to go to law school — consider what you want them to emphasize in their letter when doing this.
  • Ask them whether they are willing to write a very strong letter of recommendation for you (AND offer them an out - explain that other people are willing and able to write you a letter of recommendation and clarify that your letter is not hinging on their willingness to write you a letter).
  • Give them an overview of the application process and timeline. 
  • Lastly, explain that you’re happy to provide any materials that might be useful to them in writing their recommendation. Specifically, tell them that you plan on sending the following materials (ideally, these materials would be packaged, combined into one PDF, and ready to go immediately following your conversation with the professor): 
    • Complete resume 
    • Final (or near-final) draft of your personal statement and (if applicable) diversity statement 
    • Undergraduate transcript
    • Copies of papers written/exams taken in their class 
    • Copies of written feedback—emails, etc they’ve sent you 
    • A short primer reminding them: 1. What law schools are looking for, and 2. Instances where you’ve demonstrated those skills and traits while working with that professor 

 

Following up with your recommenders

Make sure you tie off this request with the proper etiquette 

  • Send a handwritten thank-you note 
  • Keep them posted on where you get in and where you decide to go 
    • Professors might have unexpected connections—they may be able to help your application get a second look and potentially help you get off of a waitlist 
    • Professors are invested in the outcomes of your application efforts. So, thank them and let them know where you decide to go!

Sydney holds a degree in Political Science from Yale College and is pursuing a JD from Yale Law School. Post-grad, Sydney will be clerking on the Eastern District of New York and the Second Circuit before working for a DC law firm.

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