Let’s take a look at the technical aspects of the law school recommendation letter:
– Make sure to provide your recommenders with the required form and make it clear that the completed form must accompany the letter of recommendation. If LSAC receives a letter without a form, it will be returned to the recommender, eating up valuable time.
– In most cases, the letter should be no more than one single-spaced page in length.
– The letter should be typewritten in black using a standard font such as Times New Roman.
Substantively, a powerful letter of recommendation should:
– Include a brief statement of the writer’s background as it pertains to his qualification to write the letter. This may include credentials, but the primary focus should be how that background prepares him to make the evaluation he’s offering.
For example, “In 12 years as a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wherever, I have taught formal logic and critical reasoning to several hundred students….”
– Draw on that background to compare the applicant to others–the admissions committee is called upon to differentiate among hundreds of applicants who are in many ways similar, and that’s difficult for them to do with the limited information available to them.
Letters of recommendation allow professionals with more extensive experience of the applicant to help with that assessment by sharing their observations and drawing comparisons to other students, employees, etc. If the applicant somehow stood out to the writer against the backdrop of those hundreds of previous students, he should say so. If the student is making an impression in the midst of an already elite honors group or held his own in a tough upper- level course as a freshman, the fact that he’s being evaluated in comparison to older and more educated students is relevant.
– Illustrate the characteristics they seek to highlight rather than simply naming them. No one asks for a letter of recommendation from someone she doesn’t expect to speak well of her, so it’s no surprise to the admissions committee that the vast majority of letters of recommendation are very positive, and that fact standing alone carries very little weight. It’s certainly not a differentiator.
The letter that will have an impact is the one that tells the admissions officer something about the student: that doesn’t mean “honest” or “intelligent”—it means a substantive example that demonstrates the characteristic(s) that the writer is trying to convey. Depending on the writer’s background, this may be unfamiliar and seem difficult; it certainly isn’t the way most letters of recommendation are written. But it’s actually quite simple, and boils down to this: if a recommender wants to say that an applicant is highly intelligent, for example, he should simply imagine that someone has said to him, “Why do you think so?” The answer to that question is what he should be including in the letter.