Who You Gonna Call? Letters of Recommendation

We’re (just about) halfway through the Fall 2019 application cycle, and this week we’re talking about letters of recommendation!

After personal statements, this is the part of the application we get the most questions about. The reality is, it’s also the hardest part to advise on. You know the people who know you best, and those should be the people you ask for a recommendations. Professors, supervisors, mentors, academic advisors, the list goes on! But for the sake of consistency, here are answers to a few questions we get for navigating the process.

  1. How many letters of recommendation should I have? That all depends on the school you’re applying to, but most will ask for 2 at the least. Make sure you do your due diligence and research each school’s requirements! Some don’t require any, and some have very. specific. requirements. Don’t be that person who doesn’t do their research because you might miss out on an admission letter!
  2. Who should I ask? Someone who knows your academic background is a must. Law school is, after all, an academic environment; we want to know what you’re like in the classroom. Individuals who know you on a personal level are helpful to hear from as well. We also like to know that you’re not a serial killer. Both sides of the same coin (you’re the coin here…).
  3. When should I ask my recommendors for the letter? As soon as possible! Professors have a lot going on and likely many people asking for letters. The more time you can give them the better. If you can, provide them with a copy of your resume, maybe even your personal statement. This will help them to get caught up on what you’ve been doing and highlight your biggest achievements. The same goes for supervisors. And don’t be afraid to remind them of upcoming deadlines!

Most importantly, you need to really think about who to ask. Just because you did well in a class doesn’t mean that professor knows you well enough to give you a favorable recommendation. Depending on the size of the class, how long ago you took it, and your relationship with them, they may not even remember you. Goodness knows we’ve read some letters that were not favorable, and some that downright declined to recommend them for law school. So do your due diligence and really consider your options.


Let’s Get Personal

Application season is here, and William & Mary Law School has already received a number of strong applications for the Class of 2022! Many of you, however, are still in the midst of completing your applications, and one topic we often get questions about is the personal statement. Associate Dean for Admission Faye Shealy took the time to outline a few tips for personal statement success this week – certainly it’s not an exhaustive list, but hopefully this will give you a good idea of the things that we, and often many law schools, are looking for.

What should I write about?

library (47)You, you, you! We will read your GPA and LSAT scores on the LSAC report; the personal statement is your chance to attach a personality to those numbers. We are looking to enroll a dynamic class of people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Everyone has a story, and we want to hear yours. Find a way to tell us who you are and what you care about. Convince us that you have something to add to our community. There is no single “right” way of constructing the personal statement. We leave you with an enormous amount of liberty to show us who you are (but do remember that you’re applying to a professional school).

Keep in mind that your extra-curricular and community activities and recommendations will be important parts of your application materials. Your personal statement should supplement – rather than repeat – your credentials. If you want to change the world, tell us why and how. Should you want to write about a past experience, explain to us how it affected you. When you write about an issue of national or international importance, show us why you are so intrigued. Read your statement aloud before submitting it. Ask yourself if it’s sincere. Ask yourself if it’s you.  We read personal statements submitted with all applications, and we can easily separate essays with a clear voice from essays that are clearly canned.

How heavily do you weigh the personal statement in relation to the rest of the application?

We conduct a comprehensive review of your application, and every aspect of the application is important. William & Mary is a small school. When we mail acceptance letters, we are not merely building a class. We are building a community. We pride ourselves on producing Citizen Lawyers, and we keep that mission in mind as we select each class.

Can a strong personal statement compensate for low numbers?

Yes.  Again, we review your application as a whole. Although your academic record and LSAT score are very important factors, each applicant should invest the time and thought necessary to produce essays that impress us.  If your numbers aren’t stellar, the personal statement is your chance to blow us away.

What is the proper length for a personal statement?

As long as it needs to be…and no longer.  We read thousands of personal statements each admission cycle. Your personal statement should be gripping – especially if you choose to write a long piece.

What about the optional essays?

If you have a genuine and specific interest in one of our programs, tell us! We want people who want to come to William & Mary, and we want to know what’s attracting applicants. You can also use an optional essay to tell us about an event in your life of which you are especially proud and couldn’t include in your personal statement.

 Is content more important than style?

No. Both content and style are very important. Most lawyers spend the majority of their days writing. Above all, the personal statement is a writing sample. It demonstrates your critical thinking skills and your capacity for creativity. It demonstrates your ability to organize information cogently and convincingly. The statement demonstrates your attention to detail. Finally, it gives us a glimpse into your character. All these qualities are important to the successful and ethical practice of law.

Any other advice?

Think and then write.  Set it aside for a day or two.  Return for a review prior to submission.  And make sure that if you highlight a specific law school in your personal statement that it matches the specific school application!