What a good recommendation says
Law schools are very clear about what they want from a recommendation.
- It should explain in what context and for how long the writer has known you:
"I taught Ms. Zeigler in three different classes over a four year period;
one of these was a writing seminar in which she produced a paper which was
later published." Or, "I have been Mr. Davidson's supervisor for eighteen
months. I review his work on a daily basis, and periodically receive feedback
from other departments for whom he does projects."
- It should give the reader a benchmark for evaluating you compared to others
with whom the recommender has worked: "John is the best student I've had
this year." "In my twenty years as supervisor, I've had only a dozen employees
who showed such insight." "Last year I recommended James Abbott and Rachel
Schulman to your school; I would say that Kim Everett is of a higher caliber
- It should give details of the work you did for the recommender, with appropriate
comments: "John's paper on the effects of poverty on preschool development
was thoroughly researched, citing every major source on the subject. His
ability to integrate and critically challenge the major theories in this
area showed both an understanding of the concepts and the insight and courage
to support his own view."
- It should give a general evaluation of your skill at writing, organizing,
analyzing and integrating information, and understanding abstract concepts.
It may also mention other skills helpful to a lawyer, such as the ability
to understand and communicate with others, diligence, perseverance, and
determination. If the writer has a legal background, (s)he may offer an opinion
of your potential for success as a lawyer.
- It may, but need not, assess your character and personality on a more personal
level: "George is one of the kindest, gentlest people in the nation. His
presence in the class has been a point of light in a sea of darkness."