What's the best way to handle my reference/recommendation letters as I apply to law school?
The Law School Admissions Council offers a convenient reference letter service that allows you to build a file over time. Access to LSAC’s Letter of Recommendation (LOR) service is included in Credential Assembly Service (CAS) registration. This service allows you to manage your letters of recommendation through your LSAC.org account.
- How many reference letters do I need?
- Who should write my letters?
- How do I get strong letters?
- What should the letters cover?
- How do I obtain letters from my writers?
- When should I send my letters?
A word of advice
Gathering reference letters always takes much, much longer than anyone had anticipated, so do not procrastinate and get going with this time-consuming but very important task.
Law schools place a great deal of emphasis on strong reference letters. Most law programs require two or three reference letters for admission, although they may accept more than just three. While references from faculty members are ideal, law schools may seriously consider nonacademic references as well, especially if applicants have been out of school for several years. Application instructions often specify who should write the letters and, occasionally, what issues should be addressed. If you have more letters than the required minimum, you can consider submitting an extra one as long as you are not exceeding the maximum number of accepted letters (as specified by each school) and the letter provides new information about you.
It is important to get at least one reference from a professor, usually in your major. The best reference is from someone who has high regard for your work, knows you well and is a good writer. Ideally, your reference should be able to evaluate your performance in the same way and in the same language as law schools' admissions committee members evaluate students in their program. In addition to professors in your major, you may consider other professors who know you well and are willing to give you a strong, personalized reference. They may be advisors for student organizations or clubs, or professors for whom you have been a teaching assistant, grader or research assistant. If you have developed a strong relationship with your faculty advisor, a special Graduate Student Instructor, your dean, or other administrators, you may consider approaching them for a reference as well. You may also ask supervisors from volunteer experiences and employers from jobs where you have had significant responsibility.Refrain from submitting letters from politicians, judges or your congresspersons unless you had an opportunity to work for these individuals directly. Many admissions committees do not look favorably upon these "power letters" since the writers usually have limited first-hand knowledge of candidates and their abilities.
Always ask your reference letter writers if they know you well enough to prepare a meaningful and positive letter. When asking for a reference, remember that yours may be only one of many requests. Do not wait until the last moment to ask. As a courtesy, you should give your writers at least two to three weeks to craft your letter(s), so it helps to plan ahead. If at all possible, plan to meet in person to discuss your professional plans and bring/send any supporting materials that will assist your author in writing a detailed letter on your behalf, such as: transcripts, a resume, a copy of your personal statement (even if only at the draft stage), or a statement of intent to help them craft a thorough evaluation. If some time has elapsed since your last interaction with your writer, and you cannot meet in person, consider including a picture with your supporting materials, just to jog their memory. Later, your writers will appreciate a thank-you note. It is also a nice courtesy to let your writers know the outcome of your application to law school.
The Pre-Law Committee of the American Bar Association has identified the following core skills and values as important for those wanting to pursue a legal career:
- Analytic and problem solving skills
- Critical reading abilities
- Writing skills
- Oral communication and listening abilities
- General research skills
- Task organization and management skills
- The values of serving others and promoting justice
In addition to the fundamental skills and values listed above, there are also other traits and characteristics that are helpful to the development of a competent law school student and lawyer:
- Scholarship and intellectual ability
- Judgment, decisiveness and common sense
- Resourcefulness, creativity and initiative
- Work ethic and industriousness
- Willingness to assume responsibility and leadership skills
- Positive attitude and flexibility
- Self-confidence and awareness of own strengths and weaknesses
- Dependability, conscientiousness and follow-up
- Integrity: moral and ethical qualities
- Ability to overcome hurdles—special life circumstances
- Motivation, perseverance and stamina
- Emotional maturity and stability
- Cross-cultural awareness
Based on your academic and extracurricular experiences, ask yourself who could best speak of you about the skills, values and characteristics listed above.Who could be the best advocate for your candidacy?
If you are planning to use the LSAC’s Letter of Recommendation (LOR) service to obtain your letters from your writers, see these instructions.
While, in a perfect world, you would want to coordinate the submission of your law school applications with the forwarding of your reference letters, official transcripts, LSAT scores, etc. some of the components of your application may be slow in trickling in. Please follow individual law schools' preferences if provided, but in general, a good rule of thumb is to submit materials as they are ready and become available.