5 Mistakes to Avoid When Requesting Law School Recommendations

Don't slip up on what can be a powerful part of your law school application.

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Between studying for the LSAT and writing your law school application essays, you may not have spent a lot of time thinking about your recommendations. Admissions committees, nevertheless, put significant weight on recommendations, and a stellar letter—one that is personalized, detailed, and clearly demonstrates how you stand out from other candidates—can be the key to your admissions success.

I’ve seen countless students overcome low GPA’s and LSAT scores with powerful recommendations that helped them get into the top-14 law school of their choice. To maximize your chances of admission, you should develop a clear-cut strategy when it comes to whom you ask for recommendations and how you ask them.

Here are five don’ts when it comes to requesting law school recommendations:

1. Don’t request recommendations via E-mail: If at all possible, request an in-person meeting with your recommender. Meeting in person demonstrates to the recommender that you are taking this process seriously and gives you a chance to personally share your motivations in applying to law school and your future plans. This will ultimately give the recommender the opportunity to customize your letter to your specific academic and professional goals.

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If geography makes an in-person meeting impossible, use E-mail to schedule a phone call so you can still have a live conversation.

2. Don’t choose a recommender based on his or her position alone: Many applicants want to impress law school admissions committees with a recommendation from a senator, a CEO, or a famous lawyer, even though the recommender has never been their direct supervisor.

Simply put, the admissions committees will not be impressed. Admissions committees care much more about the content of the letter (and the specific examples it provides) than the résumé of the author.

3. Don’t choose a recommender who is understated: Consider the demeanor of your potential recommenders. Is he or she generally overly enthusiastic and expressive, or more subdued and understated?

Admissions committees are looking for effusive letters of recommendation, full of impactful examples of your success. A tepid letter that uses words or phrases such as “good” or “met expectations,” even from a notoriously tough grader or an understated boss, will significantly limit your chances of gaining admission to the school of your choice.

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4. Don’t select a recommender who has not seen your best work: While this may sound obvious, I frequently meet with students who are dead set on choosing a professor with whom they had a close personal relationship, even though this professor only gave them mediocre grades. Even if you went to office hours every single week and the professor knows all about you personally, he or she will not be able to overwhelmingly commend your academic abilities.

Law schools care first and foremost about getting a sense of your academic and professional potential from your recommenders. Never select a character reference over someone who can testify to your most profound academic and professional accomplishments.

5. Don’t wait until the last minute: Your recommenders are likely writing dozens of other letters in addition to yours, so give them ample time to prepare a strong recommendation on your behalf.

Request the letter at least a month before it is due, and give your recommender a deadline that is at least two weeks earlier than the actual due date. Remember that it can take a week or more for LSAC to process your letter of recommendation.

I hope these tips help you obtain extraordinary letters of recommendation. If you have any questions, you can always contact me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com or @shawnpoconnor. Check back here next week for some of the law school admissions trends I foresee for the New Year.