When applying to law school, your admission decision is largely based on your GPA, LSAT, and personal statement. However, when it comes down to a pool of applicants with similar stats but not enough spaces, admission boards look to the letters of recommendation to make a final decision. For many students, a stellar letter of recommendation can be just what they need to push them into the admitted pile. Each school will specify how many letters of recommendation it wants students to submit, but for the most part you should be prepared to turn in at least two letters.
As a general rule, two of your letters of recommendation should be from academic professors. When planning who to ask, consider what professors know you as a student and an individual. Did you do a directed research with a professor? Were you a TA? Were you particularly participatory in a certain class? While it is beneficial to have recommendations from professors in whom’s classes you scored a high grade, it is more beneficial if that professor can attest to what kind of person you are. If you got a high A in a class, but you never participated and the professor does not know your name, you may want to reconsider asking for a letter of recommendation. The letters of recommendation that really stick out are the ones in which it is clear that the professor really has something to say about you and your work ethic.
For non-academic letters of recommendation, employers and advisors make great choices. Employers can especially illustrate your ability to work within groups, multitask, or take on leadership roles. These letters are particularly useful if you have worked in the position for an extended period of time and they have seen you grow and develop.
A lot of students make the mistake of asking their parents’ friend who is an attorney or judge for a letter of recommendation,despite having no personal relationship with said person. This will not make your application stand out. In general, the more personal the letter is, the better. You want to the school you are applying to to get a sense of who you are and what you can contribute.
Plan to ask early! Especially when it comes to professors. Applications and letters of recommendation deadlines usually come around midterms, and professors may be too busy to get a letter in on time. For this reason, you should try to ask as early as possible. It will be one less thing for you to worry about when you are completing your application process.
If you have a few years before you graduate, it's still a good idea to start looking for potential recommenders now. Too many students miss opportunities to get letters of recommendation in their first or second years of school, not realizing that they'll need such letters or assuming that they can always get them later. The best strategy is to be constantly looking out for possible recommenders, maximizing your options and your likelihood of getting great recommendations.
If possible, you should ask for letters of recommendation in person. Emailing and phone calls are okay if the person you are asking is not in your geographical area, but otherwise you should arrange a time and place to meet in person.
When requesting a letter of recommendation, make sure to have materials for the writer to look over, such as transcripts, resume, writing samples, or specific work you completed in a professor’s course. In addition, be prepared to give the writer information that you would like to be included in your letter of recommendation, and be prepared to talk about why you want to attend law school.