If you are applying to law school this fall, now is the time to ask your potential recommenders if they will write letters of recommendation for you. If you have not already done so, register with the Law School Admission Council for the Credential Assembly Service (also known as the Law School Data Assembly Service, or LSDAS). LSDAS offers a letters of recommendation service through which you can have your recommenders send just one letter each to the LSDAS, which will distribute the letters to the schools to which you apply. You will be able to track what letters have been submitted and mailed to the law schools, and there is a chart to show how many letters of recommendation each school accepts.
Whom should you ask to serve as your recommenders? Law schools (almost always) want to hear from professors, since they can discuss your classroom performance as well as your research, analytical, and writing abilities, all of which are important to success in law school. Focus on finding people who will be able to write STRONG letters on your behalf. A professor -- even a T.A. -- who knows you well, who can discuss your skills in detail and with specific examples, will be a more effective recommender than a big-name professor or a well-known attorney who is a family contact but has not worked with you at all.
Unless a school specifies otherwise, provide two letters of recommendation. You may wish to ask a third person to write on your behalf in case either of your primary recommenders drops the ball or so you can send in another letter if you get waitlisted.
Ideally, schedule appointments to see your potential recommenders, ask them in person to write on your behalf, and tell them why you want to attend law school. Inquire as to whether they feel they know you well and have time to write strong letters on your behalf, and be prepared to accept gracefully a "no" or to reevaluate your plans if a "yes" is lukewarm. You do not want lukewarm letters of recommendation!
Also make sure that they realize that the main point of the letter is to focus on you as their student. It's fine if they like you personally, and have things to say about your life outside the classroom, but those aspects are secondary and not necessary. So when thinking about whom to ask, don't nix a potentially great recommender just because he or she doesn't know you very well on a personal level.
If the people you ask agree to write for you, provide them with copies of the following: your resume, transcript, any work from their classes to remind them what you did, your personal statement for law school (if possible), a signed LSAC letter of recommendation form (click here for information on that form), and stamped/addressed envelopes for mailing the letters to the LSAC. Give your recommenders a timetable for writing the letters so that you can follow-up if they aren't prompt, and also because it takes the LSAC a while to process letters (i.e., to coordinate your letters with your file and schools). Of course, you should work around your recommenders' schedules as needed! Ask them to let you know when they have submitted the letters, and definitely send them thank you notes, and circle back to them after the process is behind you to let them know where you're headed off to law school.
Questions? Thoughts? Advice? Please post a comment! We're curious to hear about your own experiences.
Nicole Vikan is a graduate of NYU Law School. She spent her first law school summer at a large law firm, and her second summer in the Homicide Investigation Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. She returned to the District Attorney's Office after graduation and spent five years as a criminal prosecutor, handling cases such as robbery and assault. Nicole then joined Fordham Law School's Career Planning Center, where she advised students seeking employment in the private and public sectors. She is currently a career counselor at Georgetown Law Center's Office of Public Interest and Community Service. As part of the Anna Ivey team, Nicole works with law school applicants and people exploring legal careers.