Law School Recommendations vs. Evaluations

I've received a number of inquiries about the new "evaluation" option that LSAC is offering this year. Those aren't scare quotes; rather, the quotation marks are there to distinguish "evaluations" from traditional "recommendations." LSAC's roll-out of the evaluation has been less than smooth, so I thought I'd share some thoughts.

The evaluation is different from the recommendations that almost all U.S. law schools have traditionally been requiring. It's important to understand that distinction, because when you log onto your LSAC account to enter data about your individual recommenders, you'll be asked to label each one as an "evaluator" or a "recommender."

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." Since that's not a very helpful description, it's best to look exactly at what the evaluation is evaluating. 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 judgement
    • 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
    • Fullfills [sic] 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 room for another 3000 characters at the end of the form.

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? None that I know of. (If you discover any, please post in the comments.) In fact, even LSAC's page that is supposed to list all the schools' requirements and preferences on this subject is still under construction ("This page is currently being updated. Please check back at a later date. We regret any inconvenience this may cause.") Given that it's already October 1, that's unfortunate, so pay careful attention (as always) 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. Treat the evaluation (for this season, anyway) as the LSAC experiment that it is.

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.

Thoughts on the new evaluation form? Have you heard of any schools that actually want you to use them? Please comment!

Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, recently updated and available as an e-book. Follow Anna on Twitter (@annaivey).