This 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