What's the best way to handle my reference/recommendation letters as I apply to law school?
Although the Law School Admissions Council offers a convenient reference letter service, many UM students and graduates over the years have preferred to utilize the UM Reference Letter Service to collect their letters and then forward them to LSAC and/or the individual law schools. However, The UM Reference Letter Service is scheduled to operate only through June 30, 2018. As such, the RLS is of best use to students and alumni/ae who will be applying to law school before June 2018.
- 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?
- How do I send my letters housed at the UM Reference Letter Service to the LSAC?
- I have some specific questions about my letters and/or I cannot remember when/if I opened a file at the UM Reference Letter Service.
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 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 utilizing The UM Reference Letter Service, you can have your writers submit their letter on paper or electronically. Please clarify in advance their preference since they way you request the letter must match the way the writer will submit the letter. For example:
- if your writer prefers to send a reference letter on paper (hard copy), give them a duly filled evaluation form to return to the UM RLS along with the letter itself;
- If your writer is prepared to send your letter electronically to the UM RLS (which means either having access to a scanner or to electronic letterhead and e-signature), simply request your letter online.
Decide in advance whether to waive or not waive your legal right to read the letter. Once the letters are returned to the UM Reference Letter Service, you can either instruct this office to send your letters directly to each individual law school *or* to send your letters to the LSAC for further distribution (with the latter being by far the most common option). Although the LSAC accepts copies of letters from undergraduate school credential services (like The UM Reference Letter Service) the LSAC Letter of Recommendation form must accompany *each* letter. Be sure to fax, e-mail, mail or drop such form(s) to the Reference Letter Service if submitting your request to send your letters online. See more details about sending letters to the LSAC.
- If you are planning to use the LSAC 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.
I have some specific questions about my letters and/or I cannot remember when/if I opened a file at the UM Reference Letter Service.
You can check the status of your UM RLS file online anytime. For follow up questions, please contact the RLS directly at (734) 764-7459 during business hours (M-F, 8-5) or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.