Getting Letters of Recommendation
Looking for letters of recommendation? These are critically important to your application, so finding the right people to write them is an important task.
When Do You Ask?
You should give your letter writers as much lead time as possible: four to six weeks is a good rule. The exception to this is if a letter writer has already written a letter for you and they can use the same letter or make minor revisions.
How Many Do You Need?
You will need a minimum of 2 letters, which should be from your professors. You can submit more: 3 is not unusual.
Who Should You Ask?
BE STRATEGIC! Law schools want letters that have in-depth information about your academic skills, especially writing, research, and critical thinking skills, so your professors are your best bet.
Spend some time making a list of all your potential letter writers and what you think they could say about you before narrowing down your choices. You do NOT have to narrow your list to professors who taught courses that focused on law (such as Civil Rights & Liberties or Constitutional Law). Any class or project (like an Honors Thesis) that required you to do a lot of reading, research, and writing is appropriate.
Do not ask a professor that you have only had for 4 weeks. Ideally you can ask at least one professor that you have had for more than one class.
Ask professors who can write you a letter that talks about how outstanding you are. If you got a B- or worse in a professor’s class because you didn’t show up and turned in crappy work, do not ask that professor. If you got a B- or worse in a professor’s class, but it was because you were dealing with a family emergency or personal crisis and you worked your a** off – and the professor can talk about your perseverance and professionalism when dealing with serious adversity – then that professor might be a good choice.
Letters from employers are generally not as effective, unless they can talk in-depth about your research, writing, critical thinking, and communications skills.
Law schools do not care if your aunt is a federal judge or your next-door neighbor is a state legislator, unless you spent a summer working for them and they can talk in-depth about your research, writing, critical thinking, and communications skills.
How Do I Ask for a Letter?
In your request for a letter of recommendation:
- Explain how you know the letter writer and for how long. Be specific. For professors, give them the title(s) of the course(s) and the exact semester(s) you took the course(s), for example Spring 2022, PLS 201 Intro to Law.
- If appropriate, mention anything specific that you want them to write about (like a major research paper or project you did).
- Explain your timeline, including when you are submitting your application, so they understand that you would like them to submit your letter around the same time so your application is complete.
- Ask them if there is anything else they need from you. For example, they may ask you for your resume, a draft of your personal statement, or copies of papers you wrote for them.
Once your letter writer agrees to write you a letter, be sure to enter them into your LSAC account. Once you have done this, the LSAC will send your letter writer a link via email so they can submit their letter electronically.
Should You Waive Your Rights to See Your Letters?
You should ALWAYS waive your rights to see your letters – and tell your letter writers you have done this. Whether you like it or not, law schools will not “count” or take seriously any letter that you have not waived your rights to see.
Even if you waive your rights, some professors might still provide you with a copy, but this is their choice. Do not ask to see it.
What if it is getting close to when you want to submit your applications and be done with all this and letter writers have not submitted their letters yet?
If your letter writers have not submitted their letters (and you gave them ample time to write them), it is perfectly OK to send a gentle, professionally worded reminder. You can email them and say something like, “I wanted to give you an update on where I am at on my law school applications. I am planning on submitting my applications on November 15th. Is it still possible for you to submit your letter of recommendation by November 25th?”
There are rare occasions that after a professor has agreed to write a letter for you that you never hear from them again. And it is the end of December, you have all your applications in, and you are missing a letter. If this happens, it is OK to approach a different professor. Explain the situation, apologize, and talk to them about your timeline and what would be a reasonable amount of time for them to get their letter done as soon as possible.
Most professors get asked to write letters of recommendation all the time. How you ask for the letter can affect the quality of the letter they write! You will earn a great deal of good will if you are professional, plan ahead, and make it as easy as possible for them.