Five Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Law School Re

Published: Jul 01, 2010

 Education       Grad School       

Since time immemorial, asking for a recommendation has been awkward. The cavemen found it uncomfortable. So did the crusaders and the Trotskyites, the Ming Dynasty and the Victorians. There's just no way around it; between worrying about the possibility that your recommender-to-be (RTB) thinks you're moronic, horribly incompetent or, worst of all, boring, there's bound to be some floundering and self-doubt thrown into the mix. Yet, there are some productive questions you can ask yourself when picking your RTB. (Hint: "Does he hate me? OMG, he totally hates me!" doesn't count.) Take a gander at the five below, and maybe the process won't be quite so agonizing.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Law School Recommender

No. 1: Does my RTB have a perfectly good, objective reason to think I'm a total idiot?

If you've lived past the age of 18, there's someone out there who has reason to believe you're not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Everyone does stupid things and, more often than not, someone else is there to bear witness. And while that someone may be a big name in the field or the nicest person ever, he is probably not the ideal person to recommend you. The same logic goes for parents, who are objectionable as RTB's for other reasons as well. This question could also be phrased: "Did I do well in this person's class?" Or, if your RTB isn't a professor, "Did I perform the tasks this person assigned to me well?" If you didn't get an A or a shining performance review, it's time to consider plan B.

Student asking a professor for a law school recommendation

No. 2: What does my RTB look like on paper?

You want admissions officers to believe your RTB when he says how wonderful you are. In other words, don't ask Bernie Madoff to vouch for your honesty and character.

No. 3: Will my RTB be able to write a full page (or two) about me?

It's a simple question, but applicants so often forget how important it is. Your RTB has to know your work and have real examples. Period. He has to have a story or two that speak to your intelligence, your curiosity, your drive. Without that, there is no recommendation (see No. 2).

No. 4: When was the last time you and your RTB had a one-on-one conversation that lasted longer than 10 minutes?

If the answer is "never," that's a big, fat no. "Five years ago"? Same problem.

No. 5: Did your RTB teach that Studio Art course you took sophomore year as an easy class to help you survive your hard-core politics course load?

Unless that course engendered within you a deep, undying love for painting and the Fine Arts (in which case, maybe you should reconsider applying to law school), that professor will have little to say relevant to what would make you a good law student. The equation, of course, changes if the course involved a lot of reading, writing and reasoning. Just ask yourself, what makes a good law student? Did I illustrate those traits in the presence of my RTB? If yes, you're golden. If you demonstrated an excellent sense of composition or color, maybe not.

--Written by Madison Priest