The letter of recommendation is probably the least understood aspect of the application process.
Why? Because it is one aspect that applicants have little control over. The letters are written by professors, employers, politicians, judges, and a range of people too diverse to categorize. The letters are never read by the applicant, but sent directly to LSAC or the school. There is also little information and no feedback to guide a letter writer, so the whole process remains shrouded in mystery. Here are my 5 keys to rec letters, hopefully they will help shed some light on this murky subject!
WHO: Who should write your recommendation letter? Someone who can tell us about your academic abilities and character. Academic abilities include writing, analytical ability, classroom discussion skills and work habits. The person writing the letter does not need to be famous, often, a national politician will use a form letter that is vague and tells us nothing. It is especially annoying to read the exact same form letter over and over! An assistant professor or TA that can speak enthusiastically about your writing, ideas, classroom participation, and eagerness will do a far better job than someone who hardly knows you, no matter their prominence.
An employer can write a very good letter of recommendation for law school, but make sure they understand we are interested in your law school aptitude, not your business acumen. Writing, hard work, research, and teamwork are skills valued both by law schools and the business world!
Most schools require more than one letter, so make sure and check to see exactly what they are looking for. At Chicago, we require two letters, but will accept up to 4. Our preference is for academic letters, so two letters from academics if possible. If you can't get two great academic recommendations (or have been out of school for awhile) then professional recommendations are fine, and especially helpful if they are from lawyers.
WHAT: Okay, now that we have an author picked out, what should they say? While there are no set rules, here are a few guidelines... (to be continued later this week)