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Law Admissions: Letters of Recommendation

By Peterson's Staff updated on Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Well in advance of any law admissions deadlines, you should request three letters of recommendation, at least two of which should be from professors (preferably ones whose classes you did well in). A third one could be from an employer, past or present, or from a family member, relative, friend, or distinguished acquaintance. As long as they know you well enough to write intelligently about your character and abilities, any one of them is fine.

Don't be too concerned if the professors don't remember you, although if at all possible you should select those who do. Either way, give them a brief resume, a list of when you took the class, the final grade you received, and copies of any papers you might still have from the course.

You're not required to get your letters from people who know you extremely well. They just need to be able to comment on your performance as it compares to other students. You should obviously ask if they can write you a good recommendation — if they hesitate, you should probably thank them for their time and move on to someone else.

Letters and law school admissions

Give everything to the professor at the same time and don't space out your requests for letters — get them all in together, even the same day, if possible. You should include envelopes addressed to either yourself or your chosen law schools, depending on what the applications require. To do this, you need to make sure you have all your law school application forms by mid-September so you can get your request for letters in as early as possible in September as well.

Waivers help with law admissions

You should also plan to give waiver forms to the professors as it's usually best to waive your right to see your letters of recommendation. Make sure the waiver forms are filled in correctly and completed with your signature. Without a waiver, law schools place less credibility in the letters, since they believe that the writers will be less forthcoming if they think you'll have access to them.

Sending law school admission letters of recommendation

Law schools receive your letters of recommendation in one of three ways. They may ask that the writer send the letter directly to them, in which case you should make sure that the envelopes are correctly made out and that all the required forms are attached to the appropriate envelopes with a paper clip.

Some schools request that recommenders enclose their letters in an envelope, sign it across the back seal, and then give the envelope back to you to enclose with your law school application. Make sure you know which school does things which way and keep your stacks of materials organized when you hand them over.

Another common way to submit letters of recommendation is to place your letters on file with the Law School Data Assembly Service; they will send the letters out to any schools that request your test scores. Some schools may require this, so make sure you have your ducks in a row before making your requests.

Provide the writers with helpful info
Very few college professors or employers actually know how to write an effective letter of recommendation for law school admissions. You may want to nicely suggest to your professors (or employers) that they write the letter with details rather than just a generic statement about you. For instance, rather than just stating that you were "a wonderful student who earned an 'A' in my class in American literature," it would help your cause if they also cited statistics or other details that placed their statement about you within relevant context.

For example, it would probably make a better impression on your law school admission status if they shared that historically only 5 percent of students in that particular class earn "A" grades. It might also help if specific details about your class performance were included, particularly if you demonstrated exceptional skills in a particular area or helped substantially in making the class successful. Likewise, detailed comments about your written coursework are preferable to general statements about your ability.

Ideally, the letters should concentrate on three things: your dependability in performing assignments and keeping up with the course readings, as well as your analytical skills and your communicative skills. Any additional positive comments about you should be welcomed as well, as long as it's appropriate to include them.

Dean certification forms
There are some law schools that may still need you to have the dean of your undergraduate institution fill out forms known as certification forms as part of the law school requirements. This process can be a bit confusing because chances are you don't know the dean of your school let alone have any idea what the dean actually does.

These forms are used to assure that you are formally held in good character or integrity by your school — thus, the form's purpose is to report any disciplinary action for cheating or violation of laws. You might not know the dean, but if you get it to the dean's office, it'll get taken care of. However, chances are you won't have to worry about these forms at all.

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