Success in law school can be defined in more than one way: getting good grades, to acquiring legal skills and getting practical experience during law school, to the always-undervalued networking with professors and classmates.
Success (immediately) after law school is usually defined one way: employment. When you find yourself applying for jobs and asking for a letter of recommendation, follow these tips to enhance your chance of success.
Timing is everything
If you think law students are busier than attorneys, you are wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I can still remember how busy and stressful it was as a law student, but it does not compare to actually practicing law. Please keep that in mind when you are asking for a letter of recommendation.
Asking an attorney the night before (or day of) is a really bad idea. One, it makes you look irresponsible—why wait until the last minute? If you have a good explanation, then let the attorney know, but otherwise avoid the last minute scenario. Two, most attorneys never get through their own “to-do” list on a given day. Adding one more thing to their list at the last minute is unlikely to create warm happy thoughts towards you. Again, sometimes job opportunities do pop up at the last second. But most of them don’t.
On the other end of the spectrum, don’t ask for a letter of recommendation two months in advance. Plenty of attorneys will simply forget about it. Yes, that is severely not cool, but it happens. If you ask in well in advance, don’t be afraid to send a very short and very polite “just wanted to remind you about the letter of recommendation you graciously said you would write.” Lawyers like friendly reminders.
Provide instructions to make things easy for the recommender
Once the person commits to writing a letter, make it easy for them to follow through. Law students love to forget the details. One, give them the deadline. Two, provide the name and address of where the letter needs to go. Don’t make them ask for that information after they written the letter, just give it to them once they say yes. Nothing is more annoying than having to go back and forth regarding an address or a deadline.
Three, feel free to suggest what you would like them to say—within reason. For example “it would be helpful if you could discuss how I did ____ well in your class” or something along those lines. You are smart enough to know what you did well. If you think you are asking for something ridiculous, then don’t ask for it. For example “if you could let the court know that I will make a great judge someday that would be great.” Again, ask for something within reason—and something you feel confident they will be willing to write.
Ask the right person
This is not rocket science. Be sure to ask someone who will say good things about you. Most people will not turn a law students request to write a letter of recommendation—they will just write a mediocre letter. I’m not one of those people—I will only write a letter if I have good things to say. But I know other people who think differently.
For example, if you got a bad grade in a class and never talked to that professor, don’t ask them to write a letter. Even if they say yes, they probably have no idea who you are and will just copy and paste a previous letter they wrote. You want to ask the person who is genuinely interested in helping you and will write about you—not about a generic student.
Frankly, even if you got a so-so grade, but you have developed a strong rapport with a professor, they may still write you a great letter. Many professors have a soft spot for law students who work their butts off, but still end up with so-so grades. The bottom line is that you want to be selective about who ask to ensure you get the best possible letters.