You’re at a bar and you have three options:
1) Go up to that cute guy/girl and tell them exactly how awesome you are.
2) Cry into your appletini because you’re too shy to approach a stranger (and if this applies to you, I assume you drink appletinis).
3) Send over a friend to talk you up.
No. 1 will result in you coming across as arrogant, and no. 2 will result in your appletini being watery and salty, neither of which will make it any better.
But if your friend is talented in the field of wingmanery (or homoalarology, if Latin or made-up words is your thing), method no. 3 might just land you some time with the guy/girl of your dreams (until they see your appletini, that is, so chug it and put the glass down before your approach).
What’s this have to do with law school? Other than needing to hone your dating skills before classes start, those who write you a law school letter of recommendation are like your wingmen, and you should choose them wisely. They’re going to be saying the nice things about you that you can’t, and while they most likely won’t land you
a date an acceptance letter themselves, they can certainly blow it for you.
First off, always pick professors who know you best. I don’t care if you took a class with 300 other people taught by the President of the United States – unless he knows you well, the letter won’t carry any weight (plus he’d probably just steal your thunder, anyway). Go for the professor of that 6-person seminar, or the TA whom you worked with extensively. As long as they were in a position to judge your work and scholastic ability, it won’t matter who they are.
Second, when in doubt, pick the English teacher. Or anyone with writing experience. If you send your friend who can barely string together a sentence, you’re not going to have much luck at the bar. You’re much better off sending Cyrano de Bergerac, the original wingman, to woo your crush (plus he ain’t stealing anyone’s thunder). Similarly, a law school letter of recommendation that’s written by someone who knows how to write well will be clearer, more concise, and actually pleasant to read. These will all have a positive impact on the reader.
Finally, ask right now. If you wait too long to get a wingman, the best ones will already be flying in pairs, Goose-and-Maverick style. Or they’ll be too drunk to be very effective at the art of magnanimous seduction. The best professors will also get bogged down with dozens of requests for letters, and they might take a while to get to yours or just flat out tell you they don’t have time. Ask now; be proactive. Hey, that’s even something positive they can say about you in the letter!