How to set your letter of recommendation writer up for success

Every law school applicant needs a letter of recommendation. Most law schools require two, but many will accept three or even four. The best recommendations come from people who know you well and can write about your abilities from personal observation. Most applicants have enough self-awareness to ask the right people to write on their behalf. Still, a negative recommendation can have a severe impact on law school applications. Applicants should make it easy for their recommenders to write a glowing letter by following the tips in this post for how to ask for a letter of recommendation.

Set your recommendation writer up for success by asking in person first (or phone if you can not in person). That’s actually the easy part – just ask whether they are willing to write a supportive letter on your behalf and, when they agree (they will, you are asking someone you respect who you have impressed!), promise to follow up with additional details by email. The theme here is to make it as easy as possible for your recommender. Below is one way that your email could be written. This example assumes an academic letter of recommendation, but if you are asking an employer, then modify as appropriate.

Hi Professor Buttenbaum,

Good start!

You might remember that before I graduated I came to office hours and told you that I would be asking for a letter of recommendation for my applications to law school. Well, I am preparing to apply now! Do you think that you could write a strong letter of recommendation for me?

If it has been a while since you last communicated, then you can add the appropriate small talk here – college basketball rankings, your latest road trip, updates on your new job, etc.

If you can, then I would like for you to emphasize my critical thinking skills. I’m also attaching my resume so that you can see what I have been up to since graduation.

You do not have to ask for something, but your recommender probably will appreciate a push in the right direction. And, they totally remember you, but they have a lot of students, too, so following our theme: make it easy on your recommender by including your resume.  

The letter should be on letterhead, and you will receive another email from the Law School Admissions Council that will have the technical instructions for how to upload the letter to LSAC’s system. I think that I told you that my first choice is Spivey Barber College & School of Law, but I am planning to use your letter for other schools, too. You can just address your letter “To Whom It May Concern,” and you don’t need to mention any law school by name.

Include all of the necessary details. If your recommender has not written many letters in the past, then they will appreciate the guidance. But, even if they are a veteran recommender, a letter of recommendation for law school admissions might have different requirements than a recommendation for a PhD program. Remember our theme, and make it easy for your recommender by including these details.

Do you think that you could have the letter finished by July 31?

What, you thought that you were the only one who started your term papers the night before the deadline? Two weeks is a good deadline. Giving your recommender a six-week deadline is too long; your request will get buried on their desk. Two days is too short; a brief turnaround is an imposition on your recommender. Ideally, you will be sending this email asking your recommender to start writing two months before you want to submit your applications. Two months includes: two weeks for the recommender to write, one or two weeks for LSAC to process your letter, and a whole month to do this process a second time with a different person in case something goes wrong with your first recommender. LSAC’s actual processing time varies throughout the cycle, but if you assume two weeks then you will be pleasantly surprised if it is ready early. You can see that you could actually speed the process up from two months down to two or three weeks, if nothing goes wrong, but part of making it easy for your recommender means not rushing them through the process.

I know that you are busy, so if your schedule will not allow you to write the letter in the next two weeks, then just let me know and I can find someone else.

This is tricky, but important: give your recommender a polite way to withdraw. If they say that they cannot meet your deadline, then they might legitimately be too busy to write a good letter. It is also possible that they feel honor-bound to write you a less than stellar letter and do not want to say that to your face. If your recommender exercises their option to get out of writing you a letter, then just accept their excuse at face value and move on. The risk of not giving your recommender an out is that they write a lukewarm or maybe even a bad recommendation, and you do not want that.

I’ll check in with you at the end of next week to make sure you have everything that you need from me.

Giving yourself permission to follow-up is a boss move. You can still follow-up even if you do not give yourself permission, but this way makes the follow-up less awkward. Plus, it reinforces that you are serious about your requested deadline.

I really appreciate your doing this for me.
Very Truly Yours,
Applicant Name

Your recommender is doing you a favor, so be appropriately appreciative. After they upload the letter, you should send a thank you note. Want to really stand out from the pack? Set a calendar reminder for the middle of next August. Then, right before you start 1L orientation, send another thank you note to your recommenders telling them where you were admitted and where you decided to enroll for law school. Almost no one does this, so your recommenders will be blown away.

How do you set your recommender up for success? By following our tips and making it easy for your recommender to draft a sparkling letter of recommendation for law school. Most applicants handle this just fine on their own, but sometimes special circumstances require additional advice. If you are not sure how to ask for your letter of recommendation, then call Spivey Consulting Group. All of our consultants are former admissions officers and we specialize in answering tricky questions.

Written by Joe Pollak, Spivey Consulting Group admissions consultant and former admissions officer at the University of Michigan Law School.