Law schools generally require applicants to include two letters of recommendation with their applications, though most schools will accept three to four letters. The most informative recommendation letters detail the academic performance of students, with particular emphasis on their performance in courses requiring extensive research, reading, and writing skills. A faculty recommendation letter based on student performance in a seminar course, for example, would be an excellent source of information about their potential to succeed in law school; many Core Curriculum and lecture courses would also be suitable. The Office of Preprofessional Advising encourages applicants to solicit their first two letters from people who can speak to their academic performance.
A suitable third letter might come from an individual who has the capacity to speak objectively about the applicant's character and activities outside of the classroom. This recommender should have experience supervising the applicant in some sort of organized activity. Politicians, prestigious neighbors, spiritual leaders, and family friends are not recommended sources, unless the applicants have actually worked or volunteered for them. A third recommendation is particularly important for applicants who have spent a year or more outside of college at the time of application.
Review the Guidelines for Obtaining Letters of Reference before asking a faculty member to write a recommendation letter. Applicants may also want to give their referees a copy of “Guidelines for Letter Writers” as the document outlines for referees what type of information law school admissions officers are looking for in recommendation letters. Advisors in the Office of Preprofessional Advising are available to talk with applicants about who might be the best individuals for them to approach for letters of recommendation.
Targeted recommendation letters to each law school is unnecessary. However, Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia Law Schools like targeted letters. Recommenders can send a targeted letter with the school's recommendation form completed, to LSAC to be forwarded to the specific school. Preprofessional Columbia applicants have been admitted without submitting target recommendation letters to these schools.
Many schools prefer that the applicants use the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS) to forward recommendations. Therefore, the Office of Preprofessional Advising is requiring applicants to use LSDAS' Recommendation Service. LSDAS will accept a total of four generic letters and an unlimited number of targeted letters on the behalf of applicants. Applicants will also be able to specify on-line which letters they want the individual schools to receive. The cost of using LSDAS' recommendation service is covered in the registration fee and applicants can track the receipt of recommendation letters on-line at LSAC.
Applicants who have recommendation letter(s) in their Columbia permanent file or on file with the Office of Preprofessional Advising will need to complete the top half of the LSDAS "Letter of Recommendation Form" and submit it to the Office of Preprofessional Advising along with a stamped (2 stamps) blank envelope so that the letter(s) can be forwarded to LSDAS. A form is required for each recommendation letter. The form is available online from LSAC.
The general feeling is the recommender will be more candid if it is a closed letter. The choice of whether to waive the right to see the letter is the applicant's decision.