Picture this: You’re applying to law school and you need a recommendation letter. You reach out to your professor or employer for one, only to be told to write your own and just have them sign off on it. Having a recommendation letter where you have total control may seem tempting, but you probably want to think twice before taking that route.
Misconduct and Irregularities Guidelines
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) has a strict policy against the “submission of an altered, non-authentic, or unauthorized letter of recommendation,” according to their guidelines on misconduct and irregularities.
If caught with such a recommendation, LSAC immediately sends a report of the determination to all law schools where you’ve applied. If that isn’t enough to deter you, LSAC also notates a misconduct or irregularity report on file on LSAT and Credential Assembly Service reports, which are sent to law schools. Even worse, all reports remain on file indefinitely.
Providing a Framework for Your Recommender
Daniel Waldman, a contributor at U.S. News & World Report, recently discussed how law school applicants can avoid falling into this mistake. Waldman suggests applicants give their recommender a framework for what a letter should include. So, what should your recommender know about what to include?
“The recommender should know that he or she needs to provide detailed impressions of you and your work based on your joint experiences, and your guidelines should specify that,” Waldman writes. “Additionally, your recommender should know that part of the exercise is to compare the applicant with his or her classmates or peers, something that the recipient of the recommendation couldn’t do – at least not objectively.”
Discussing Strengths and Qualities
It’s also helpful to discuss certain qualities you’d like highlighted in your letter with your recommender. Often times, this helps refresh a professor’s memory of you, Waldman says.
“It’s possible that the recommender simply doesn’t remember enough about you to discuss any specifics,” Waldman writes. “After all, college professors often deal with hundreds or even thousands of students every year.”
Along with highlighting your qualities as an applicant, it’s just as important to select a recommender who can speak to your qualities and convey them strongly in a written letter.
Lynda Cevallos is a pre-law coordinator for the nonprofit Council on Legal Education Opportunity. In an interview with U.S. News, Cevallos advises applicants to select references who can write about specific qualities.
“What matters is the substance of the letter,” she tells U.S. News. “The ones that really made a difference were the ones that were specific and gave examples to support their opinion of the applicant.”