In your capacity as a professor, supervisor, colleague, teacher, or volunteer coordinator, you may be asked to write a reference letter for someone who is interested in attending law school.
This is a big responsibility, since reference letters play a role in which applicants law schools admit. So before you agree to write a reference letter, make sure that you are prepared to give a glowing endorsement. If you don’t feel that you are familiar enough with the person's work habits and qualifications—or you don’t feel that they would make a strong candidate—it is best to politely decline to write the reference.
Don't overthink how to tell the person you won't be writing a reference for their law school application. You can simply say you're too busy to take on the task. Or, you might say that you don’t feel that you know them well enough to provide enough detail to be effective as a reference.
That said, if you are able to write a reference for someone you know to be capable, do so. It reflects well on you and is very helpful in the application process for a well-deserving candidate. Plus, it's the kind of favor that nearly everyone will need at one point during their career or education. Think of writing the reference as paying forward the favor that someone likely did for you earlier in your life—or may do in the future.
If you're writing a reference letter for someone, here's what you need to know.
What to Include in the Reference Letter
Start off your letter with an introduction: You'll want to provide information about who you are, why you are qualified to endorse the applicant, and how you know the individual.
Include a few specific instances and examples of qualifications and achievements that highlight the applicant's most relevant skills.
Tips for Writing a Law School Reference Letter
Follow these strategies to write an effective reference letter.
Ask for Information
You may remember the person who requested a reference letter personally and fondly. But if you can't recall specifics about your interactions, don't shy away from asking.
For instance, if the candidate is a previous student of yours, consider asking them to provide details about which courses they took. This will help you look up their grades or any notes you may have from that time period.
You can ask the person requesting the reference to share their transcript, resume, and other background info you believe will help you write the letter.
You can also ask the person requesting a reference if there are any specific points they'd like emphasized in the letter. That way, you can be sure to deliver something helpful for their application. For example, they may want you to note their LSAT scores. Or, they may want their writing skills highlighted in the reference letter.
The applicant should provide you with a deadline for when to submit the reference letter. If they haven't done so, ask when it's due. Make sure to submit the reference letter on time — or even early.
A late reference letter could have a negative effect on the person's application.
Focus on Attributes That Matter to Law Schools
For a reference for law school, you can focus on skills like writing, communication, organization, critical thinking, integrity, and logical thinking. Try to provide specific examples of when you were impressed by the candidate’s skills in key areas.
You might mention how well he or she wrote reports as your research assistant or the quality and relevance of the newsletter they were responsible for. Maybe he or she was tasked with making a presentation to your department and was recognized for their effort by a senior-level administrator.
You could also share your impressions of the student's critical thinking skills while in your employ. Highlighting someone's honesty and integrity through their actions can be included as well.
Keep It Positive
Again, you should only write a reference letter for someone you truly believe will do well at law school. Once you've agreed to write the letter, keep it positive.
Don't shy away from adjectives. For instance, you might "strongly" or "enthusiastically" recommend a candidate.
And again, examples can help power your case for the individual's candidacy at law school.
Reference Letter Format
A reference letter is a professional document. Aim to follow a proper business letter format. This means you'll want to do the following:
- Share your contact information. If you're sending your letter through the mail as a hard copy, list your contact information, the date, and the contact information for the law school at the top of the letter. If you are emailing your reference, the subject line of the email should read "Recommendation - Firstname Lastname." Your contact information should be included following your closing and signature.
- Include a salutation. For example, you might use the salutation “Dear Mr./Ms. LastName.” It is possible, though unlikely, that you won't have a name. If this is the case, you can send the letter to the academic department and use “To Whom It May Concern” as a salutation.
- In the body of the email, discuss the person's merits and why you believe they should be admitted to the law school.
- Close by offering to share more information as needed. Include your contact information.
Reference Letter Sample
This is a reference letter example for law school. Download the reference letter template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online) or see below for more examples.
Reference Letter Sample (Text Version)
123 Main Street
Anytown, CA 12345
April 28, 2021
Duane Lau Director, Admissions Office
123 Business Rd.
Business City, NY 54321
Dear Mr. Lau,
I have worked very closely with Jane Doe, both as her supervisor while she worked in the Career Office, and as her advisor. In both situations, I was very impressed by the dedicated manner with which Jane carried out her work assignments and pursued her academic coursework.
Jane has displayed a maturity, motivational level, and seriousness of purpose which I have rarely encountered during my extensive interactions with college students. Jane is very bright and has demonstrated an eagerness to learn. She is a quick study and has shown an ability to grasp general principles as well as subtle details.
Jane possesses many other qualities which I believe will make her a successful student of the law. She is very well organized, approaches projects in a systematic way, and manages her time effectively. She also possesses an excellent grasp of the English language and displays effective writing and editing skills.
In conclusion, Jane is an outstanding young woman who has a very strong interest in studying the law with the ability to grasp its intricacies.
She has demonstrated the character and work ethic that I am confident will lead to success in her legal studies and subsequent legal career. Jane left San Juan College as a well-respected student and solid member of the community. I recommend her without reservation for a spot in your incoming class of law students.
Please feel free to contact me if you need further information.
Signature (hard copy letter)
Director, Career Office