“My daughter, Lisa, is the most amazing person. She is exceptionally smart and has always wanted to be a lawyer. Any law school would be lucky to have her! I attach a photo for your review.”
This is part 3 of the series, beginning with – Reference Letters – Part 1
Schools often have their own list of who should write your reference letters. They may ask for two academic references, or some combination of academic and other references. Always make sure you meet the requirements of the school to which you are applying.
References should come from:
Someone who fits the requirements of your application package. E.g. don’t have an employer write your academic letter.
Someone who knows you well and has had some experience with your academic or other successes. References from Professors that hardly know you are not likely to be very effective.
A professor, academic supervisor or employer.
References should NOT come from:
A relative. No matter how much mom or uncle Bob thinks you are wonderful the admissions committee won’t care.
Politicians, clergy, celebrities, Judges, lawyers, or other authority figures that have no direct involvement in your education or employment. All too often students think that a positive letter from a figure of authority will carry great weight with admissions personnel. Unless the person has direct knowledge or involvement in your employment or education leave them out. Law schools are looking for an honest appraisal of your abilities not a vote from a famous or powerful figure.
Teaching assistants – unfortunately while TAs may have a great perspective on your academic abilities most schools do not consider them to be sufficiently reliable objective sources for reference letters. If you are left with no other options you might fall back to a TA but it will not carry near the weight of a professor’s letter.
Quality vs. Authority
A reference letter from someone of greater reputation, position or power might seem great but quality comes before authority. It is far better to have a reference from your professor that sings your praises and clearly demonstrates personal experience with you and a great respect for your abilities and character strengths than it is to have a mediocre letter from the dean of a university or a supreme court judge saying they like you and they recommend you for admission to law school. While there is a minimum requirement for authority (TAs don’t usually make the cut) you should focus on quality over authority.
A quality reference has a good knowledge of you and has direct experience with your employment or academic activities and successes.
Your priorities for determining who to ask for a reference letter should be as follows (listed in order of importance)
- Meet the requirements set out by the school to which you are applying
- Know you and are able to write a well informed and positive reference
- Are in a position of, or carry a title with, influence