A few months ago, I got a question on our LSAT Forum that tackled a concept that I find comes up rather often in my conversations with students in our admissions consulting programs, namely: “Can I help my recommenders write my letters?” This student, however, took it a step further, and asked about the impact this kind of “open” letter would have on his application. Here’s exactly what he asked:
I have a question regarding a Virtual Module that Dave Killoran and Anne Chaconas did…While discussing letters of recommendations, Anne mentioned how it might be a good idea to help our recommenders write the letters and to read it after they have written it. Would an open letter generally lose its weight in the eyes of the admissions officer?
I thought this was both an insightful and interesting question–and I know that other law school applicants will definitely benefit from it. Therefore, I thought it useful to repost (and expand) on my answer to this student here on the blog.
Whether the letter is open (meaning you helped in some capacity with it, whether by reading, editing, or suggesting topics) or closed (meaning you were not involved with the writing or content of the letter at al) is not something that the schools to which you will apply will know, unless the recommender specifically addresses that in the letter (and I don’t see any reason for why they would; it just doesn’t seem like a topic that would logically come up in the actual content of the letter). It is also not something that is asked in the LOR Form provided by LSAC that should accompany the letter. Therefore, there will be no positive or adverse effect on your letter in the eyes of an admission officer, since all they will have is the letter itself without information on how it came to be written.
However, I should clarify a very important point: When I mention that students should attempt to provide writing and reading assistance to their recommenders, it is in a very limited capacity. The kind of writing assistance students provide should be limited to giving their recommender copies of their personal statement, any major paper written for their class, their résumé, and a conversation in which they detail the points that they would like if the recommender could address (all of these points, of course, being things that the applicant has actually done, and nothing fabricated. This should be obvious, but is always worth mentioning). The “reading” assistance, if the recommender accedes to it, should be limited to ensuring that the recommender has incorporated everything the applicant originally suggested be included.
Most recommenders will not want reading assistance, although many are thankful for any assistance they can receive in the form of writing samples and pre-writing discussions you can provide.
I should also make a it a point to say that when I mention that it can be useful to assist your recommenders in writing and editing your letters of recommendation, at no point do I mean that you should write the letters for them. Some recommenders may ask you to write the letter for them (and then just have them sign it), since they are too busy with other endeavors/letters to write the letters themselves. If that’s something that happens to you, I would suggest you find another recommender, since it’s obvious that this particular one doesn’t have the time or inclination to write you a truly personal, impactful letter. Writing the letter yourself is a huge misstep (and, as I’ve been told by many a law school dean, something that they can often easily identify).
So, to sum up:
- Unless the recommender specifically states in the letter that you assisted (in whatever capacity it may have been) in the writing of the letter, it won’t affect the effectiveness of said letter. AdComs have no way of knowing if you helped with the letter unless they are specifically told that you did.
- You should never, ever, write the letter yourself. If a recommender asks you do, thank them for their time and go find someone else who actually cares and has the time to write you a good letter.
- Don’t expect recommenders to jump at the chance to have your help in writing, editing, or reading the letter. Many want to have the freedom to say whatever they want (even if it’s all glowingly positive) in the letter without having to worry about what you might think of it.
- Despite point #3, still offer to help. And, at the very least, come prepared with your personal statement, any major papers you wrote for them, your résumé, and a list of schools where the letter might be going. This helps frame the letter for your recommender.
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