Do Law School Letters of Recommendation Matter?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 12, 2017 2:00 PM

To get into a good law school, you not only need a high score on the LSAT and a decent undergrad GPA, you need some recommendations. At least two letters of recommendation, to be specific, one of which should probably be from a former professor. But as you run around begging others to sing your praises, then upload those praises to LSAC, you might wonder, is any of this worth it, when schools are much more likely to make their decision based on your hard numbers?

That is, do those letters of recommendation even matter? The answer is: probably.

The Benefit of a Strong Letter of Recommendation

Your letters of recommendation are an important part of your law school application. In some circumstances, they can make the difference between admission and rejection, or between a scholarship offer and paying full price. But an LOR isn't going to change your world altogether, either. If you scored a 140 on your LSAT, a letter of recommendation won't be enough to get you in to Harvard. If you had a middling GPA, a strong letter from your favorite professor probably won't make a law school admissions committee treat your 2.6 GPA like a 4.0.

But even if letters of recommendation aren't the most important, they still matter. "The letters of recommendation and the statements from the students end up meaning a lot, because it gives texture to the application, Maurer School of Law at Indiana University -- Bloomington Dean Austen Parrish recently told US News and World Report.

That texture can help tip the scales for a wavering admissions officer, giving them a strong reason to say "yes" or "pass."

How to Get a Good LOR

One of the frustrating things about letters of recommendation, however, is that they're largely out of your control. You get to select your recommenders, but you don't get to write the letters. But that doesn't mean you can't be strategic in your use of LORs, either.

If you're applying to multiple schools (and you should be applying to multiple schools), you can select different LORs for different applications. If you're applying to Lewis and Clark, with its highly respected environmental law program, a letter from the director of your college internship with the National Parks Service may be fitting. If you're applying to the University of Chicago, finding a Chicago grad to give you a rec could also help you seal the deal.

Even if you're using general letters of recommendation, those not tailored to a specific school, there are some strategies you can take to help make your LORs stronger. U.S. News says that letters detailing resilience do particularly well, as does evidence of growth. Detailed testimonials, rather than generic descriptions, also make for more compelling LORs.

So, when putting together your application, seek out recommenders who can speak to these areas. Their recommendations could be more valuable than you expect.

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