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How to Ask a Law School Professor for a Letter of Recommendation

Published: Mar 09, 2021

Topics: Law  

Whether you're applying to jobs or seeking to transfer law schools, it can be intimidating to ask your professors for any required letters of recommendation. But there's no need to be shy when it comes to asking. Professors are used to getting these requests and usually have a system in place to streamline the process—and many see it as an honor to write a letter on your behalf! Here are a few tips to help you navigate the process of requesting a letter of recommendation from a law school professor.

Select the professors who know you best.

You don’t need to be teacher’s pet to ask for a letter of recommendation, but ideally you have professors who know your name and are familiar with some of your skills and strengths. If you’re thinking ahead, you can build this rapport throughout the semester by regularly attending office hours, participating in class, and asking thoughtful questions about course material. If you weren't as forward with getting to know your professors, hope of getting a letter isn't lost. Consider asking professors in the classes where you received the best grades—your academic performance provides a good starting point for them to write about. You could also consider asking a professor from one of your smaller-sized classes: While your property professor might not know you from the other 99 students in your section, your legal writing professor with only 25 students in class will be more familiar with you and your work.

Formalize the request.

If you’re able to meet with your professor in person (or face-to-face virtually) to request a letter, it's a nice gesture to do so. This is a more personal way to ask for a favor, and it allows you to provide ample background information about why you need the letter. If you ask in person, be sure to follow up with an email that formalizes your request so they don’t forget about it. It’s also okay to request the letter via email and let them know you’d be happy to provide more information in person if they prefer.

Ask early and follow up.

Always leave plenty of time to spare when asking for a letter of recommendation. Not only is it a basic sign of respect to your busy professors, but it maximizes the potential you’ll get the letters you need in time. Once you’ve made the initial ask, don’t be afraid to follow-up—on a reasonable schedule. Check in with a quick email if it has been a couple of weeks and you haven’t heard anything, but don’t reach out so often that you are badgering your professors.

Have a backup plan.

If you need one letter of recommendation, ask two professors to write one for you. Life happens, and you don’t want to risk the chance that someone doesn’t come through with a letter in time. Your applications have a deadline, and the last thing you want is to be scrambling for letter of recommendation—you won’t have much success asking for a letter at the last minute.

Be prepared to provide information.

Even if they know you well, professors might ask you to supply additional information to help them write a fully fleshed out letter. This could mean sharing a few bullet points about your strengths, interests, goals, or education and background. Or you might encounter a professor who asks you to write an initial draft for them to revise and sign. If this is the case, be sure to include specific examples of how you excelled in their class, other strengths and positive personality traits, and why you are a good candidate for the position or school you are applying to. You can leave some blanks—for example, the recommender should include some information about their credentials and background—but you can make a note where they should fill this in.

Don’t be afraid.

You might be nervous to ask for a letter, but you shouldn’t be! Professors are used to getting these requests. Even if you need the letter because you're planning to apply to transfer law schools, this isn’t something to shy away from. Your professors are familiar with the legal industry and most will be understanding and happy to help. And even if the worst-case scenario comes to fruition—they say no—it’s not the end of the world, and it doesn’t reflect negatively on you. This is why you should have a backup list of additional professors to ask.  

Send a thank you.

Be sure to express gratitude after a professor has written a letter of recommendation. Follow up with a thank-you note or a small token if you know them well. Not only is it the right thing to do after the time they spent on the letter, but it is a good way to strengthen a professional relationship you'll want to keep throughout your career.

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