Law School Applications: Evaluation vs. Recommendation

If you're applying to law school this coming fall, you probably already know that you'll have to submit recommendations for most of your applications. When you're setting up your LSAC account, though, you'll see references to "recommendations" and "evaluations," and you might wonder why they're using those two different words.

It's important to understand the distinction between an "evaluation" and a "recommendation," because when you enter information about your individual recommenders in your online account, you'll be asked to label each one as an "evaluator" or a "recommender."

While most law schools have required traditional recommendations for years — you're probably familiar with recommendations from when you applied to college — the "evaluation" is a relatively new offering from LSAC, and seems still to be a bit of an experiment.

As LSAC describes it, the evaluation "rates both cognitive and noncognitive attributes and skills that have been identified as important to success in law school." The form asks evaluators to quantify your skills in the following categories:

  • Intellectual skill
    • Is a critical thinker and problem solver
    • Is an analytical thinker
    • Can synthesize information
    • Is intellectually curious
    • Constructs logical, cogent arguments
  • Personal qualities
    • Is highly motivated
    • Shows empathy/compassion
    • Has surmounted difficulties and obstacles
    • Possesses practical judgment
    • Shows initiative
    • Demonstrates professionalism
  • Integrity and honesty
    • Behaves in accord with high ethical standards
    • Is reliable
    • Is trustworthy
    • Is honest
  • Communication
    • Communicates effectively in writing
    • Writes persuasively
    • Communicates well orally
    • Is a thoughtful attentive listener
    • Asks appropriate questions for information gathering
  • Task management
    • Prioritizes well
    • Has realistic objectives
    • Fulfills commitments
    • Manages work and time efficiently
  • Working with others
    • Respects other points of view
    • Works well with people from different backgrounds
    • Motivates others toward a common goal
    • Is able to lead groups of people from different backgrounds
    • Organizes and manages others well
    • Demonstrates good judgment in leadership decisions

For each quality, evaluators are asked to rate you along the following scale:

  • Below Average (Bottom 50%)
  • Average (Top 50%)
  • Good (Top 25%)
  • Very Good (Top 10%)
  • Excellent (Top 5%)
  • Truly Exceptional (Top 1-2%)
  • Inadequate Opportunity to Judge

The evaluator can also write comments of up to 750 characters for each category, and there's more room at the end of the form as well:

Evaluators will have an opportunity to enter free-form text of up to 3,000 characters. An evaluator who has also completed a letter of recommendation for a candidate often copies his or her letter to this section of the evaluation.

The form itself is agnostic about who is completing the evaluation. The options given are:

  • Teacher/Instructor
  • Employer
  • Coworker
  • Friend
  • Family
  • Other

Are any schools requiring or even just recommending use of this evaluation? To my knowledge, it's not the norm. (If you discover any, please post in the comments.) As always, pay careful attention to your individual schools' instructions. 

Not sure what to do with this evaluation option? My advice is the following:

1. Unless a school expressly recommends or requires the evaluation, don't use it. Stick with traditional recommendations. 

2. In my experience as a former admissions officer, any input from family members — whether it's as a recommendation/evaluation or a phone call to the admissions office or an appearance at a law school forum — is not helpful to admissions officers and reflects poorly on your judgment and maturity. Do not have family members write recommendations or evaluations for you, even though the evaluation form lists that as one of the options.

3. Keep in mind my general guidelines for recommendations (academic vs. professional, whom to ask, etc.) here.

Read more about LSAC's evaluation and recommendations process here and here.

Do you have thoughts on the evaluation form? Have you dealt with schools that want you to use them? Please leave a comment!

Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a former lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants think through their educational and career goals, navigate the admissions process, and make smart choices along the way. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissionsfollow Anna on Twitter (@annaivey), or come introduce yourself and join the conversation on Facebook