Top Ten Mistakes That Law School Applicants Make: #2

Leonardo-DiCaprioThis post continues our 10-part series of posts on the Top Ten Mistakes That Law School Applicants Make.

The #2 Top Ten Mistake That Law School Applicants Make every year is…
THEY PICK THE WRONG RECOMMENDERS.

One of my favorite stories from a law school admissions officer was about how one of their most memorable letters of recommendation (LOR) came from Leonardo DiCaprio. The whole admissions office was excited to read that letter! But before we talk more about Leo, let’s talk about the nitty gritty of LORs.

In terms of who to ask for a LOR, which is better?

Academic LORs from professors and teaching assistants (TAs)? Or work LORs from supervisors?

It depends on your situation.

If you’re currently in college or graduate school, you should try to get two academic LORs from professors and/or TAs. Two professors or one professor and one TA is preferable.

If you’ve already graduated and have been out of school for 2-3 or more years, get work-related LORs from supervisors and work leads.

On a similar note, what’s more important to choosing your recommender? Asking someone who really knows you and your work, or asking someone with a high title?

In most cases, pick familiarity over status or prestige.

For example, perhaps you’re thinking of asking three people that teach in your major: an associate professor, the chair of the department, and a TA. Turns out the associate professor and the TA know you and your work better. In that case, it would be better to ask those two for LORs and to use those letters for most of your schools (most require two LORs). If you still want to ask the chair, you can, but just know that the LOR you receive might not be as detailed or personal as you hoped it would be.

Also, there’s nothing wrong or uncouth about asking to see a copy of the LOR after they turn it in. Some will even show you the letter before they turn it in to ask for your feedback. Your recommender might say no, but more often than not, they will say yes. It doesn’t hurt to ask, so you absolutely should.

Also, not to be confusing, but you should waive your right to see the letter when you fill out the form for LSAC. That is an “official” thing to indicate that once you apply to that law school, you won’t contact the school to try to see your LORs. However, what happens between you and your recommender is between you two.

So, I know you’re all wondering. What about that Leo letter?

Turns out an applicant to that law school had worked as an assistant for Leo, so the LOR was legit! But if the applicant hadn’t worked for Leo, this letter would have gone down in that law school’s history as the LOR penned by the most famous person that didn’t actually do any good.

So, word to the wise: unless the person knows you and your work well, do not ask that person, no matter how famous they are, for a letter of recommendation. Unless you actually worked closely with Leo, and he really knows your work performance and skills, better to stick with your supervisors, professors, and TAs.

Photo credit: Siebbi

4 thoughts on “Top Ten Mistakes That Law School Applicants Make: #2

  1. Hello again Peg! Do you think a recommender that asks the student to write his or her letter is a good option? I received a great grade on the course and the professor reckons that I made valuable contributions and delivered good exercises. What’s your take on this?

    • I can’t stand recommenders who ask the student to write the LOR. It drives me crazy when people do this. One, it’s not ethical. And two, it’s lazy on the part of the recommender.

      Still, it happens more than I’d like, and sometimes you have to just bite the bullet and draft the letter. If you do this, make sure that your professor is going to review the draft with you and add more to it.

      • Besides that one letter, I was also considering to ask one of my supervisors for the second letter. I am currently clerking for a law firm and I’ve been at it since October. They’re really pleased with my work and I thought it was a no brainer. Still, should these letters be more academic in nature than professional at this juncture? Again, all of your insight is greatly appreciated.

        • If you can only send one LOR, I’d send one from a professor. But if the school requires two, then one from a professor and one from your law firm supervisor would be great.

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