Law School Applicants: Don’t Write Your Letters of Recommendation | Law Admissions Lowdown


Requesting recommendation letters can feel awkward for law school applicants.

Even if you feel confident about the people you plan to ask, it’s hard to know exactly how they will react. A seemingly enthusiastic recommender may become waylaid and unreliable.

Older applicants may feel self-conscious about seeking recommendation letters from former professors. Younger applicants may feel bashful about approaching supervisors at work.

Fortunately, most people are surprisingly willing to be helpful, particularly if they know how committed you are to a legal career. Professors and employers are routinely asked to write recommendation letters, so they will likely know how to handle the request.

That said, recommenders differ in how they approach the process. Some may ask for guidance, while others may prefer to write the letter independently.

That’s why it’s important not to come across as pushy or overbearing when you make your initial request. It’s perfectly fine to offer ideas and advice, particularly if a recommender encourages input or wishes to discuss the letter with you. Unsolicited suggestions can come across poorly.

Some recommenders may ask you to draft the letter yourself, so that they can simply sign off on it. Perhaps they feel busy, unsure of what to write or genuinely believe you’ll do a better job than they could.

Writing your own recommendation might be tempting. If you hope to become an advocate for others, why not start by tooting your own horn? However, this isn’t as simple as it sounds.

The Problems With Writing Your Own Recommendation Letter

The Law School Admission Council’s guidelines on misconduct and irregularities prohibit the “submission of an altered, nonauthentic, or unauthorized letter of recommendation.”

Having another person sign a letter that you’ve written is against the spirit of these rules, whether or not it’s a clear violation. The process of having recommenders submit their own letters through the Credential Assembly Service is intended to ensure that recommendation letters are genuine and original.

Frankly, admissions officers are familiar enough with recommendation letters to spot one written by an applicant. It can be difficult for most applicants to perfectly replicate the tone of a letter written by a college professor, for example. Even minor word choices may seem out of character.

Letter readers may notice similarities between the letter and other examples of your writing, such as your personal statement. Moreover, any time spent pondering the authenticity of a recommendation letter is time taken away from absorbing the content of the letter, along with other application materials.

What to Do if Asked to Write Your Own Recommendation Letter

The best way to avoid this situation is to be clear early on about the purpose of the recommendation letter and what it should include. For example, the letter should compare the applicant with his or her classmates or peers, which would be hard for the subject of the recommendation to do alone.

This is one reason why it’s important to ask for letters well before you plan to apply, so that you have time to clear up any misconceptions.

If a recommender still suggests that you write your own letter, briefly and gracefully explain why you shouldn’t write the letter yourself. To ease the burden on the letter writer, it may help to provide guidance like tips, talking points and examples. You might mention some times when you feel like your work stood out or you handled challenges well. It can even help to remind the recommender of prior feedback or comments.

If the recommender still seems unwilling to write his or her own letter with your input, then it may be time to find another recommender or forgo that letter altogether. Thank the recommender again and explain that you’re not comfortable with writing your own letter.

In the case of a current employer, try turning to another person in your organization who knows you well enough to help, even if he or she is not a direct supervisor.

Ultimately, it’s better to have fewer letters than one that could detract from the rest of your application.

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