There is one difference between the American law schools and the French law schools that creates two completely opposite systems.
In France, every student who passed the A-level –the baccalauréat– can enter in the law school attached to the high school where the student studied. There is no selection based on grades. The selection is done during the first three years of law school and then for the year of specialization – the master 2– which corresponds to a fifth year of studies. Thus, in the University where I studied, the passing rate of the first year students was 33%.
In the United States, there is no selection: the student works for himself. The grades are important because they are one of the criteria that the American employers use in the hiring process, however they do not matter for the law school in itself. However, the selection process is done before entering a law school. The law schools are ranked and each student will decide which are the law schools he can pretend to apply.
The process of selection is very complete in the US because it is based on the grades of the student, which major he took as an undergraduate, which college he went to and the letters of recommendation of at least two persons, some law schools even ask three letters from which one of them must be a previous employer.
As a French student, you never had to ask for a recommendation letter because they are not needed in the selection process. You might think that they are not that important. However, as a graduate L.LM and a teaching assistant in an American law school, I can tell you that the recommendation letters matter at least as much as the grades, sometimes even more.
1/ A good recommendation letter is a letter made by someone who knows you well, which means that it is someone who is going to put specific adjectives about you, and not someone who will just copy paste the first example of recommendation letter they can find on the internet.
For example, in my case, I asked one of my teaching assistants to write my recommendation letter and I asked for the Professor in charge to sign it as well.
2/ Secondly, the letter must be perfectly written in English. Thus, some applicants asked one of their teachers to write a recommendation letter in French, which was then translated by a qualified translator. Even if entering an L.LM program is less difficult than entering a J.D program, you cannot afford to have a recommendation letter that is written in an approximate English.
3/ Thirdly, one of your recommendation letters must be written by a Professor, no matter that the instruction on how to apply explains that it is only “preferable”. An L.LM is a master of law in an American law school, it is a degree where you will be a student, and it is an academic achievement, which means that you need a Professor to support your application.
4/ Lastly, you can ask the person who is going to recommend you to write the same letter for every law school you applied to, however make sure that each recommendation letter is specifically addressed to the specific law school each time.
In conclusion, to answer the title of my article: recommendation letter make a difference do not over look it!
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To see an other article of Katalin Zakhar about her LL.M. feedback of Fordham University, please follow this link.
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