It takes a bit of finesse to get a solid letter of recommendation. To get a good letter in your law school applications, you need to lay the groundwork early.
The first step: learn to spell “recommendation.” Sadly, I learned this one the hard way, as the first couple times I asked for recommendations, I misspelled “recommendation.” Uh… oops? So, remember, it’s one “c” and two “m’s.”
Now that we’ve established that, let’s think about what the letter of recommendation really is. It isn’t just a one-time favor you ask of someone—done right, it’s an opportunity to build a relationship with a potential mentor.
Who to ask? Think about your law school applications as a puzzle. Each piece is a chance to show a different side of yourself, until they add up to the entire picture of who you are and why a law school would have to be crazy not to accept you. The trick is getting all those pieces together. So, which piece of your character or experience do you want to highlight in your application? Who can best help you do that? Identify those people, and ask them to write for you.
Put in the time. First, you have to build a relationship with them, and that takes time. There’s no way around this one. So start now! Make a list of possibilities, like professors, former bosses, mentors. Send out a few emails, maybe ask to meet for coffee or a face-to-face chat. No need to ask about recommendations yet; just work on building a strong relationship.
Make the ask. Maybe about two or three months before you’re planning to send in your law school applications, think about how you’re going to pop the question. Be honest—and give them an out, just in case. You want a recommendation, but you really don’t want some professor to reluctantly agree and end up writing a half-hearted letter —or an outright negative one. So give them a chance to say no.
If they say yes, don’t be afraid to give them some guidance. Now is the time to tell them exactly which puzzle piece they are. What do you want them to talk about in the letter? How do they strengthen your application?
Follow up. With a thank-you note, first of all, but also send a copy of your personal statement, a résumé, and any additional notes about what you’d like that person to write about. This letter is theirs to write, but you can cheerfully offer to make it easier by sending these little reminders.
Don’t forget to give your recommenders a deadline. If they’re professors, they are likely writing a dozen letters alongside yours, so make things as easy as possible.
Now that you’ve developed this relationship, don’t drop it just because you got your letters. Follow up during the admissions process, and, finally, don’t forget to send another note when it’s all over, letting them know where you’ve ended up.