Writing Letters of Recommendation

Legal education and the legal profession emphasize some skills over others and the following comments may help recommenders who are not familiar with these distinctions.

Language is the lawyer’s working tool and the best law students are those who have the ability to write and speak with precision, fluency, and economy. Not only must the student be able to communicate his or her own thoughts clearly, but he or she must have the ability to read and listen carefully with an eye and ear for fine points and subtle distinctions.

Legal education demands well developed analytical skills and the ability to juggle multiple variables. The best students can think independently, can cut through to the essentials, and can distinguish the relevant from the extraneous. Contrary to what many believe about the law, few clear and distinct legal rules exist. A tolerance for ambiguity and the ability to recognize exceptions and qualifications which may modify general rules are characteristics of successful law students. In short, a recommender should consider whether an applicant is likely to be stimulated or frustrated by questions that have no “correct” answers.

The nature of legal education — large classes, competitive pressure, and substantial amounts of material to be mastered — may make some personality traits more important in law school than in other academic programs. Interaction among students is an important feature of legal education and those who enjoy engaging in discussion in and outside of class are more likely to flourish. The student who is intellectually alive and curious is more likely to sustain academic progress when receiving little reinforcement between examinations. Diligence and strong organizational skills will help a student handle the large volume of course materials. A well developed sense of humor and mature attitude are helpful in adjusting to the pressures which many students will experience in law school.

What a Helpful Recommendation Includes

Helpful letters of recommendation along with candidate interviews, often provide Admissions counselors with the best guidance in making final decisions among a group of candidates who appear to be equally promising. As such, letters of recommendation are a vital component of law school applications. Here is a list of helpful topic areas to include:

1. Background

  • Length of time acquainted with the applicant
  • Nature of your association with the applicant
  • Type of class
  • How students are evaluated (including types of exams)

2. Communication Skills

  • Ease in informal and formal speaking
  • Adequacy of preparation
  • Articulation of ideas
  • Responsiveness to an audience


  • Research abilities
  • Organization of ideas
  • Stylistic consistency
  • Ability to write well on exams and papers

3. Leadership Skills

  • Willingness and ability to lead others\
  • Ability to delegate authority and motivate others
  • Ability to balance academic and extracurricular endeavors
  • Extent to which applicant takes control or structures a situation

4. Intelligence/Reasoning Ability

  • Analytical ability and insight
  • Common sense
  • Ability to deal with abstract or complex ideas
  • Independence of judgment and thought

5. Maturity/Personal Performance

  • Maintenance of grades
  • Attitude towards achievement
  • Level of motivation, determination, and persistence
  • Awareness of own strengths and weaknesses
  • Ability to set and meet goals

6. Class Performance

  • Attendance and quality of participation
  • Performance relative to other students: this year/all years

7. Potential for the study of law

  • Your prediction of the applicant’s probable performance in the study of law and class
    standing (i.e. would the applicant stand in the top quarter, near mid-class or simply make the grade in a rigorous program)
  • Your familiarity with the process of legal education that can help inform these opinions

8. Summary

  • Enthusiasm regarding the applicant’s abilities and potential
  • Comparison of the applicant to others you have evaluated?

 Additional Considerations

  • Consider the kind of genres you have seen the student produce. For example, did the student complete a number of papers? Did the student respond in class on a regular basis? How much informal contact was there outside of the class?
  • To the best extent you can, reference the quality of the overall academic rigor of the institution or the coursework the student has completed. This will help admissions counselors determine the value of a student’s academic record.
  • If applicable, create comparisons of the applicant with other Allegheny graduates attending the same institution.
  • It can be helpful to applicants to let them know what you can address so that they can find others who can focus on the remaining areas.




Information adapted from:
“A Dean’s Suggestions to Faculty for Reference Letters” 
LSAC Evaluation Service
LSAC Letters of Recommendation