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Relative Merit of Letters of Recommendation: Which is best?

Posted: Wed May 15, 2019 12:01 pm
by Nyamekye514
I am currently an undergraduate student studying computer engineering with the intent to attend law school. I have run into a situation requiring me to choose between potential letters of recommendation.

I have a professor in the engineering department who is a patent attorney. I did well in one of his classes and plan to take another during the Fall 2019 semester. I am confident his recommendation would be good, but he does not write recommendations for students unless they work for him as a teaching assistant. I am on track to work for him, but it would require me to stay for the Spring 2020 semester. If I passed on this opportunity I could graduate in December 2019.

A second potential letter would come from a professor in the physics department with whom I have worked since 2016. I have not taken any classes from him, but I have performed well in an engineering capacity as a research assistant. I am confident he would give me a good recommendation.

Finally, I am considering pursuing a job as a patent engineer at a nearby law firm. I could potentially wait to do this until Fall 2020, but it would likely be advantageous to start work in January 2020 instead. That option would not allow me to work as a TA for my professor. However, I would imagine that a letter of recommendation from my potential employer would be helpful on a law school application.

Which letters of recommendation would be most effective on my law school application?

Re: Relative Merit of Letters of Recommendation: Which is best?

Posted: Wed May 15, 2019 12:10 pm
by cavalier1138
Most schools prefer letters from professors.

That said, do what you find most interesting, not what you think will lead to a better letter of recommendation down the line.

Re: Relative Merit of Letters of Recommendation: Which is best?

Posted: Wed May 15, 2019 2:38 pm
by albanach
At least one LOR should be from a professor. Beyond that, the value comes from getting LORs from people who know you well enough to write about you. I know at least one of mine was about three pages long. That's possibly too long, but it did have detail, substance and examples that made it clear the writer knew me and my work.

Your LORs absolutely do not have to come from a lawyer or anyone with a legal background. The school is more interested in your work and professional relationship.

Re: Relative Merit of Letters of Recommendation: Which is best?

Posted: Wed May 15, 2019 4:46 pm
by QContinuum
Nyamekye514 wrote:I am currently an undergraduate student studying computer engineering with the intent to attend law school. I have run into a situation requiring me to choose between potential letters of recommendation.

I have a professor in the engineering department who is a patent attorney. I did well in one of his classes and plan to take another during the Fall 2019 semester. I am confident his recommendation would be good, but he does not write recommendations for students unless they work for him as a teaching assistant. I am on track to work for him, but it would require me to stay for the Spring 2020 semester. If I passed on this opportunity I could graduate in December 2019.

A second potential letter would come from a professor in the physics department with whom I have worked since 2016. I have not taken any classes from him, but I have performed well in an engineering capacity as a research assistant. I am confident he would give me a good recommendation.

Finally, I am considering pursuing a job as a patent engineer at a nearby law firm. I could potentially wait to do this until Fall 2020, but it would likely be advantageous to start work in January 2020 instead. That option would not allow me to work as a TA for my professor. However, I would imagine that a letter of recommendation from my potential employer would be helpful on a law school application.

Which letters of recommendation would be most effective on my law school application?

If I were in your shoes, I'd graduate in December 2019 and pursue the patent engineer job. Having that work experience would be valuable in giving you a firsthand look at patent prosecution and law firm life, and - should you like it - would also give you a boost in applying for jobs down the line during 2L OCI. Financially, you'd also spend a semester making a decent salary instead of a semester taking on additional debt to pay tuition and living expenses. I don't think the TA gig is worth it.

There is no requirement that both LoRs need to be from professors. I used one letter from a professor and one from a non-academic. There is also no requirement that any letter be from an attorney. Nor is there a requirement that letters must be from professors you took a class from. (I didn't take any classes from either of my recommenders.) You should simply focus on getting the strongest letters possible from the folks who know you best (as long as that includes at least one professor). It's always going to be better to get a stronger letter from a relatively junior person who worked with you closely than a bland, generic (albeit positive) letter from a senior person with a fancy title who barely knows you from Adam.