You can begin deciding whom you'd like to write your recommendations as early as the spring of your junior year, and contacting the instructors as soon as you make your decision.
New for 2010: Evaluations
It's not always easy to get a good recommendation. What can a military officer, a nursing supervisor, or a basketball coach say about your likelihood to succeed in law school? LSAC has attempted to alleviate the problem by adding evaluations, in which a person familiar with your work ranks you in specific fields.
Whether you're asking for a recommendation, an evaluation, or both, you need to gather information -- about yourself, and about the work you did for that person.
Preparing your Presentation
Preparing a presentation for your recommenders is as important as is choosing the right people.
Providing the necessary information
To get the best possible recommendation, you must do more than choose the right people. You must also provide them with the information they need and arrange the time to discuss the recommendation with them.
You’ll also need to bring a waiver form (obtained from LSDAS). In order to do this, you must be registered with the LSDAS. Go to LSAC and register if you haven’t already done so; if you’ve registered for the LSAT online or applied in a previous year, you’re already registered.
Choosing your recommenders
In choosing your recommenders, sit down with a copy of your transcript; it may help jog your memory. Try to show that your work is valued in different areas, by getting recommendations from instructors in three different subject areas: one in your major, the other two in subjects as diverse as possible. (If you had a double major, try to get a recommendation for each major.) English, history and philosophy are the admissions officers' favorite subject areas, since they tend to require substantial amounts of reading, writing, and analyzing. These are the best subjects for recommendations. Look for instructors for whom you wrote papers, especially instructors who wrote notes on papers you saved, which you can show to refresh the instructor's memory.
What if I'm not in school now?
Anyone who has been working full-time for two or more years should try to get an employment reference. If you graduated college in the last two years, most schools will still want to see an academic reference. If you graduated college more than a year or two ago, an academic recommendation may be difficult to obtain. If you had a favorite professor, try to contact that person. If you had previously obtained a recommendation from a professor for a different reason, see if you, the professor, or the career planning office has a copy on file. The instructor may be willing to update or at least reissue the earlier recommendation.
If you have been out of school five or more years, your work record may well be more important than an academic recommendation. This is especially true if your work has been on a management or professional level. However, these recommendations can present special difficulties. In addition to the problem of getting the recommender to commit your good qualities to paper, you may not be ready to tell your employer that you're planning to leave the job. In that case, look around the workplace for someone whom you trust to be both discreet and objective. A coworker on the same or higher level, or (office politics being what they are) a supervisor from another department may be willing to recommend you. You can include a note explaining the absence of a recommendation from your direct supervisor, or you can ask the chosen recommender to discuss the difficulty.
Choosing the Right Recommender
Three of my clients are getting results way lower than they expected. Two of them KNOW the problem is weak recs, or a lack of academic recs. How do they know? In one case, the school said so in writing; they asked the person, "Can't you get any academic recs?" When he said no, so did they. In another instance, the admissions officer "thought out loud" for me while reviewing a file: "Hmm... the recommendations aren't so great." The third one is sure the recs are awesome, but I'm looking at the wait list and rejection letters, and I'm not so sure.
You still doubt? I interviewed Sarah Zearfoss from the U. of Michigan about recommendations last year. You can read the interview right here.
How Do I get the Recs to the Law Schools?
You send them to Law Services as part of the LSDAS service. See the instructions in Getting Rec Letters to the Law Schools. Follow the online instructions carefully. Remember that Law Services is the final arbiter, not me. If my instructions don't seem to work, use theirs. They change the system almost annually, so at least some of my instructions will be obsolete.