“James is a pleasure to teach. He picks up new concepts faster than a waterfall picks up speed. If you don’t accept him into your law school the world may end.”
This is part 2 of the series. Starting with Reference Letters – Part 1
Professors or employers often claim to be too busy to write references and offer to let you write your own letter and submit it for them to sign and send under their letter head. At first this may seem like a wonderful plan, as whom better than you to sing your praises.
While this may seem enticing at first, don’t do it! Even if you’re a literary genius and a better wordsmith than Tolstoy, don’t do it!
It is better to have your reference person write the letter themselves. They likely think they are doing you a favor by letting you compose your own letter. If you are asked to write your own, politely let them know that it would be much more effective if the letter was in their words. You can offer to help them by providing some sample reference letters or coming in to meet with them and providing them with more information about you. But if they don’t already have some personal experiences with you, you may want to look elsewhere for a reference.
Writing your own letter is a bad idea for a number of reasons:
Most importantly, admissions officers review thousands of reference letters and personal statements. With all this experience they can very often pick out similar writing styles and identify when the author of your personal statement is the same as that of your reference letter. Even without a personal statement it is often obvious when the letter was written by the candidate. If the admissions officer or committee picks up on this it will likely eliminate you from consideration even if your LSAT and GPA are excellent. Ethics are very important in the legal profession and law schools do not want to admit anyone who demonstrates questionable ethics in their application.
You may be an excellent student, writer and have great knowledge of your wonderful qualities and abilities, but you likely lack the experience and perspective to write a proper reference letter. Professors, supervisors and employers will not only have a difference perspective but often greater experience in providing references. In short, they are better able and better situated to write your letter.
So, when your professor, supervisor or employer says “write whatever you want and I’ll sign it” you say “I really appreciate the offer, but it’s very important to me that this letter is in your words.”
Continue to Reference Letters Part 3.