CMC Checklist for getting recommended to Law School
I. How to choose a referee. The ideal referee is someone who knows you very well, writes detailed, accurate, informed letters, is a tough judge of scholarship, and gave you an A. Less than ideal, but more common, are referees whose knowledge of you is somewhat sketchy, who may or may not be tough judges of scholarship, and who gave you something less than an A. You have little control over your referees' scholarly standards or your grades from past courses, but you do have control over whom you ask to write for you and how much they know about you. Pick referees who come closest to the ideal, and do not hesitate to consult your adviser or potential referees themselves, if you are in doubt. Many will tell you, roughly, how good a reference you can expect. Graduate schools and others assume that you have picked the most favorable referees available. Don't pick low when you could pick high. Don't try to spread the load of recommendations to "lighten the burden" on each referee. You will only thin out your endorsements by reaching deeper into the barrel, and you will actually make your referees' burden heavier because the first letter is the one that takes the work, not the next twenty. If your referee has an in with a particular school, don't ignore it, but remember that a referee who knows you well but has no in carries much more weight than one who has an in but does not know you well. And don't neglect to shore up your referees' limited knowledge or flagging memory of your own situation with the best priming you can provide. No one knows your own situation better than you do.
II. How to get the best letter from a referee. The best letters of reference are the most informed. Skimpy, sketchy ones carry little weight, even if they praise you to the skies. Misinformed ones--such as letters which describe you as a polished, thoughtful writer when your personal statement is a mess--destroy your referee's credibility, along with your own. Help your referees and yourself by giving them everything they should know to emphasize your strengths or explain away your weaknesses. A well-primed referee should have:
1. A copy of your resume.
2. A copy of your statement for law school. This should show: a) your career objectives); b) your evaluation of your own strengths, weaknesses, interests, and preparation--academic or otherwise--for your planned career; and c) some thoughts as to how the particular law school could further your progress from where you are to where you want to go. This is normally the one firsthand example of your mind in action that the law school's admissions committee will see. Make it shine with thought, organization, and style.
3. A copy of your transcript. Need not be official. Fill in instructor's name and brief course title, including current courses.
4. Your GPA, broken down to factor out possible strong and weak points.
a. Cumulative _______
b. Current __________
c. Major in __________ (specify field)
d. Last two years _______
e. Other favorable ________
5. Anything to explain away a bad semester or year: health, job, or family problems, for example.
6. LSAT score(s) _________
7. SAT scores V__________ M_________
8. (Optional) A copy of written work, showing you in your best light, preferably done for referee. Xeroxes of referee's comments on a paper or exam serve same purpose. At very least, remind referee of titles, topics, and date(s) of work done for him or her. Occasionally you can persuade a referee who gave you a B- to look at an A paper done for someone else, to gain firsthand knowledge of your best work. This is never as firsthand as the original instructor but better than nothing.
9. Senior thesis topic and advisor __________________________
10. A list of law schools to which you are applying, with your estimate of your chances of admission. Use pre-law handbook grids. This is especially important if your referee is not an expert on law schools. Make him or her one on yours.
11. Anything else that might bolster your case: unusual background, unusual accomplishments, minority status, special preference for a particular law school, family ties, etc.
12. Stamped, addressed envelopes to all your schools, with waiver to assure confidentiality. Non-confidential letters are assumed to be inflated. Put your name in pencil on lower left-hand corner of envelope.