Don't Let Your Recommender Ruin Your Law School Application

by Vault Education Editors | September 10, 2010

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This summer, we gave you five questions to ask yourself before choosing a law school recommender. Numero uno: "Does my RTB [ed. recommender to be] have a perfectly good, objective reason to think I'm a total idiot?" Our questions were designed to make sure you got the best recommendation possible for your application. But it seems some law school applicants didn't heed our advice.

Figure out who the right person is for your law school recommendation by talkingIn a recent Kaplan study, almost 90 percent of law school admissions officers said they had seen at least one bad letter of recommendation for an applicant. In other words, the recommender wrote negative things about the aspiring JD. 90 percent! And of those, 15 percent said that a negative recommendation letter was an application killer. But even though you can't write the letter yourself or see it when it's finished, the quality of your letter of recommendation is something you can control. You should know almost exactly what a professor or manager/supervisor will write about you when you ask them to write your rec. Here's how you do it.

Before you decide who to ask, ask yourself the questions we put forward in July, including No. 4: "When was the last time you and your RTB had a one-on-one conversation that lasted longer than 10 minutes?" You should have a real relationship with your recommender. That way you know that he actually knows you--and knows you well enough to write a full page of glowing things about you. That's step one.

If you ask someone to write your letter of recommendation and that person hesitates, even for a millisecond, find a new recommender. Someone who only has positive things to say about you will jump at the chance to share them. Any reservation at all--even if he ultimately says yes--is a bad sign. Find someone new.

OK, so you found someone awesome with whom you talk all the time and who jumped at the chance to write your recommendation letter. Now what? Schedule a time to talk with him about why you're applying to law school. Even if this person knows you really well, he may not know that particular fact. You want to make sure he knows what your goals are so he will be better able to help you achieve them.

Also spend that scheduled time subtly suggesting things your recommender could write about. However, be sure to mix these topics into the conversation: if you start reciting your resume, your recommender will likely feel uncomfortable and like you a little less. Exactly the opposite of what you want! Ideally, remind your recommender of things he already knows; for example, the class trip you organized to a local museum, the research work you did for his book, etc. "Remember the time I lead the student team to create the presentation about Fin de Siècle literature? I had so much fun working in a group and making that presentation" is a perfectly reasonable topic opener that can open up pathways of conversation about your experiences in the student team without sounding horn-tooty.

If after you do all of the above, your recommender still writes a negative letter of recommendation, then it just wasn't meant to be. You did all you could. At that point, it's the recommender's fault. He's kind of an a*hole.

Filed Under: Education

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