In general, law schools often require letters of recommendation as a part of the application process. Many law schools require between 2-3 letters of recommendation; however, it is important to check with each law school’s requirements. Strong letters of recommendation usually come from academic professors or direct supervisors, who are able to explain your academic achievements, skills, and professional accomplishments. In general, an impactful letter of recommendation will address these four things:
- A brief introduction outlining how the writer knows the candidate/student; this helps provide context for the reviewer.
- Specific information regarding the skills pertinent to being successful in law school, i.e. research skills, reading comprehension skills, analytical reasoning, etc.
- Highlight attributes that you believe will help the student be a successful law student. i.e. leadership skills, ability to work in groups and work independently, etc.
- Identify the course(s) the student took, how the student performed and any progress you believe the student made in the time you worked together. (Tracy Simmons, Assistant Dean, Admissions, McGeorge School of Law).
Below are some common questions to help with this part of your application.
If you are a current student, it is important to begin cultivating relationships with your professors and employers early. Build meaningful, genuine relationships with your academic professors by taking multiple courses from the same professor, attend their office hours for additional help, or volunteer to assist with a professor’s research. Investing your time early to build relationships will enable these individuals to see your character, work ethic and personality. Your potential recommenders will, then, be able to advocate for you, the applicant, to get into law school!
When you ask for a letter of recommendation, you are asking the person to recommend you (i.e. vouch for you) and explain why you would be a strong candidate for law school. Read each school’s application instructions carefully and contact the school’s admissions office, if you still have questions. Also, see below at “What should a referee write about in his/her letter of recommendation?”
Requirements vary from school to school. Some schools have strict limits on the number of letters allowed, while others have only a minimum number and will accept more. Some schools may specify who should write your letters (e.g. academic professional), and others may leave the choice entirely up to you. It is important to check with your school’s requirements and read the instructions carefully.
If you’re still in school, your strongest letters will likely come from professors, who are in a position to evaluate your academic performance and your potential for law school. Law schools prefer to see letters from academic recommenders, especially for recent students (some law schools even require academic letters of recommendation – another reason to verify their requirements prior to finding recommenders). That being said, it is still important to ask professors that know you best. Just because you received an “A” from a professor, it does not mean that he/she knows enough about you to distinguish you from hundreds of others who have received similar grades. The “A” will show on your transcript, so it is better to ask for letters from individuals whom you have spent time with, admire your work, and can talk about you as a person.
If you are no longer in school and are working, your strongest letters will likely come from supervisors, professional colleagues, or mentors, who can share their knowledge of you and evaluate your potential in a professional setting.
Some students ask for a letter of recommendation to demonstrate a specific interest in a program, certificate, or specialty that a law school offers. Students may also ask a professor to recommend them to his/her alma mater. If you plan to have specific letters, remember to designate them appropriately on your LSAC account. Click here for more information.
Many schools ask for several letters. Try to balance the content of your letters and what each writer will say about you. For example, if you are allowed three letters, it is good to have each writer address a different area of your dossier (e.g. academics, work experience, and personal characteristics) rather than have all three write about one area.
DO NOT obtain letters of recommendation from relatives or famous strangers. It is also recommended to avoid asking individuals, who do not know you well. Those individuals will likely not be able to write a letter that specifically discusses your abilities, work ethic, and potential to succeed in law school.
Give your referee (letter writer) at least one month to write a letter. This deadline should also be a few weeks before your personal deadline for submitting your application to your law schools. Letters may always be added to your account early, but no matter who procrastinated, a late letter ultimately affects your application timeline.
Are you a current classified student or graduate (alumna/alumnus) of UH Mānoa? Consider opening a Credential File at Mānoa Career Center (808-956-7007, QLC Room 212). This service acts as a repository for any letters of recommendation that you may receive from a professor or other professional. By using this service, you may request people to submit letters at an even earlier deadline. Also, a credential file is useful if you plan to take a gap year or if your referee is on leave during the time you are putting together the rest of your application.
It is important to be sensitive when you ask for a letter of recommendation. Try to find a moment when the person is not rushed or distracted, such as at the beginning and end of a semester for professors.
Do not just ask for a letter of recommendation, but let your referee first know that you are asking around for letters and will be in contact later with instructions. Also, remember to ask them if they think that they can write you a strong letter or if they know you well enough to write a meaningful letter. In general, a generic or “lukewarm” letter may make your application less competitive.
It is important to pay attention to your contact’s demeanor. If he/she hesitates or seems reluctant to write you a letter, then thank the person and ask someone else. If the person reacts enthusiastically, then that is a better indication of someone who will write you a strong letter for your law school application.
Help your referees by giving them something to work with as they write your letter! One helpful way to do this is by creating a letter packet. Providing this information in a letter packet will facilitate the process, making it easier for your references to write your letters and avoid delays. A letter packet may also help make your referee remember important skills, examples, and details that he/she would want to include in your letter.
Your letter packet should include:
- Instructions for submitting an either online or hard copy. Be sure to include the deadline (at least four weeks before you need the letter). Instructions may include information specific to the law school’s application.
- Recommendation form downloaded from LSAC.org and signed by the applicant (if applicable).
- Your personal statement and your résumé, including a clear statement of your intent to go to law school.
- A list of courses you have taken from the reference, including grades you received and examples of work you completed (copies of term papers, essays, tests).
- Your transcripts (optional and unofficial copies are fine).
- A stamped envelope addressed to the LSAC (if applicable).
Writing a letter of recommendation can be quite time-consuming. Also, not everyone writes these types of letters often or with ease. It may assist your recommender to provide some guidance with this list of suggestions.
Suggested Topics for Letters of Recommendation
- Personal Knowledge of the Student
- How long and in what capacity have you known the applicant?
- How well do you know the applicant?
- How does the applicant compare to students in the past or present?
- How well did the applicant perform in your course(s)/employment/etc. (beyond receiving a good grade)?
- How difficult is your course(s)/employment/etc. and why?
- Provide context both for your knowledge of the applicant and for his/her performance.
- Intellectual Readiness and Academic Ability
- General intellectual ability
- Ability to learn and retain information
- Oral and/or written communication skills
- Ability to deal with complex and abstract ideas
- Ability to handle ambiguity
- Critical thinking skills
- Problem-solving abilities
- Evidence of interest in the course(s) subject matter
- Evidence of being a life-long learner
- Evidence of initiative and the ability to work independently
- Research skills
- How well do you think this applicant will handle law school?
- Motivation and Suitability for the Profession
- Exposure to the realities of the profession of law
- Understanding of the profession
- Understanding of current issues affecting the profession
- Evidence of commitment to public service
- Suitability for the profession
- Do you think this applicant will thrive in this profession?
- Personal Characteristics and Evidence of:
- Moral/ethical integrity
- Law-abiding behavior
- Social skills
- Responsibility and dependability
- Empathy and altruism
- Sincerity and dedication
- Tolerance for diversity
- Personal initiative
- Overall potential for law school
- Share any observations that will illuminate the applicant’s strengths and weaknesses.
Check-in with your references occasionally to see if they have had a chance to write or submit your letter. Do they need more information or materials to write your letter?
After your reference has submitted your letter of recommendation, be sure to write a sincere thank you note to show your appreciation. Writing a letter of recommendation is extremely time-consuming, so this is an easy way to thank them for their time in helping you get into law school!
If you are planning to take a break after college prior to applying to law school, you may want to look into opening a Credential File account through the Mānoa Career Center. This service is generally a useful way to store letters of recommendation from professors until you are ready to apply. Click here for more information about this service.