Our next installment in the Real Talk blog series covers letters of recommendation. Read on for more!

Letters of recommendation can be one of the more challenging elements of the application to navigate. After all, it’s a piece of the file that applicants don’t write or submit themselves. Luckily, there are numerous ways to be strategic when approaching these letters. So let’s get to it – some advice for your letters of recommendation.

If possible, try to include an academic perspective. Law school is, at its core, a rigorous academic experience. We suggest including an academic perspective among your letters. As we read your application, we’re looking for evidence of your ability to succeed in the learning environment here at HLS. Hearing directly from an instructor who can provide insight into your performance in the classroom helps the Admissions Committee better discern this. While all sitting members of the Committee value this perspective, the HLS faculty members that review your file especially appreciate hearing from their peers in academia. Of course, we certainly understand that some applicants have been out of school for several years or might otherwise be unable to secure a letter from an academic source. In such instances, we suggest asking your professional reference writers to comment on qualities and skills that can translate to an academic context.

Prioritize substance, rather than signature.  Those who know you best can write most precisely on your behalf. Including a letter from someone with an impressive title isn’t always as useful as one may think – especially if that individual can’t speak as specifically to your work and accomplishments as a direct supervisor or instructor might.

Avoid requesting letters from friends, or family members. It’s easy to ask friends or family members to write a reference on your behalf, but these typically don’t end up being useful to us. Perspectives from professional supervisors and academic instructors or mentors typically provide the most substance on your accomplishments, successes, and abilities.

Help yourself by helping your letter writers. One way to get a effective letter is to be proactive in starting a dialogue with your reference writer. An important, but basic, question that should be asked in some form is: “Would you be able to write a supportive letter for my application to law school?” From there, it can be helpful to provide guidance on why you asked them in particular to write on your behalf, and what experiences, projects, or accomplishments you believe they can speak to. Don’t be discouraged if your request is met with “Sorry, I don’t think I can fully speak to your capabilities” – you’ll be better served by getting a letter from someone who can!

Filed in: Inside the Black Box

Contact the J.D. Admissions Office

Website: hls.harvard.edu/jdadmissions

Email: jdadmiss@law.harvard.edu