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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

To write or not to write

Hi folks.  Back again with more advice.

First, let me just note that Brian Leiter has a terrific post -- it's not just for UT grads!  Much of the advice I might give has already be given by Leiter.  (His view on the comments section is dead on!!)

Okay, so one question you will begin to ask yourself, (if you haven't already) is whether to write to hiring chairs directly.

My advice:  Don't do this except in exceptional circumstances.   Nowadays, hiring chairs get the AALS books with the hundreds of resumes; the letters from candidates, the letters from references, and the books from the law schools that put together a book of their school's candidates.  Too many trees are dying in the name of legal jobs.

When to write:

-You are NOT going to the AALS FRC.  -- Why wouldn't you go?  Usually b/c you are very geographically limited -- spouse has a great but nonmovable job.

-You are going to the AALS but you have a particular interest in a school b/c of its geographic location AND it would not be obvious from your resume that you would want to move there.  You have a California resume, but your spouse just got a job in NYC.  No one would know your NE bias.  Okay, write the schools.

When you write:

Write.  Don't email.  That, at least, is my view.  Emails can easily be forgotten about in an in box.  The physical presence of a letter requires the recipient to touch it, and this presence makes it more likely to be read.

Know your stuff.  (Especially if you ignore me and send letters out to everyone.)  A cut and paste job is sometimes very, very obvious.  I can't get into the letter I received last year, but I have to say, it did make me laugh.

Include a resume and at least one of your writings.

Clearly indicate in your letter whether you will be attending the FRC.

Finally, write early.  If you get that letter in before the resumes are distributed (aim for early August), then the hiring committee has nothing to do but admire that resume of yours. 

Posted by Kim Ferzan on July 18, 2007 at 01:50 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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I'm with Brian Leiter on this one. Whether it makes any difference depends on the school, its practices, and a candidate's connections, all of which vary pretty widely. But for the typical candidate who is looking for any advantage she can find -- and who doesn't have references already contacting appointments committees and lobbying for them -- I think it's a good idea.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jul 19, 2007 8:30:02 PM

Commentators have articulated many reasons to directly write and email hiring committees. Kim writes that one reason to write is "You are NOT going to the AALS FRC." Kim then writes, "Why wouldn't you go?"

One reason not to go to the FRC and thus write directly (and I realize that this thread of blog posts is directly to entry level hiring) is because the applicant is seeking to make a lateral move. While lateral candidates would not primarily rely on direct mail, would the above advice be the same for lateral candidates? That is, just as entry level candidates supplement their FAR with direct mail, lateral candidates supplement their signals (friends, pubs..) with direct mail.

Posted by: Lateral Hopeful | Jul 19, 2007 10:47:07 AM

If I include a published article in a direct application packet should it be an offprint or 8.5x11 page proofs? The former looks nice but the latter is easier to photocopy.

Posted by: Hopeful Prof 2 | Jul 19, 2007 5:36:51 AM


I disagree (strongly) because the FAR form is so circumscribed in the way it presents information about a candidate. It's a helpful data point, but I think that more data points can offer a more complete picture of what the candidate has to offer. For example, even beyond the issue of geographic constraints, a letter and accompanying packet can flesh out the candidate's teaching package and research agenda in ways that are more comprehensive than what the FAR form offers. Of course, if a candidate is from Yale, has a Supreme Court clerkship, and multiple publications, the FAR form may be perfectly adequate (and even enticing) for most committees. However, if a candidate might be on the margins, it's hard to see why more information, rather than less, would not be useful.

I agree that these mailings can be costly, but you've already shelled out $300+ just to be included in the AALS roster, you'll spend at least $400 at the Marriott, and you've already invested heavily in pursuing this line of work. Why not go all the way and splash out on postage too?

Posted by: Anon | Jul 19, 2007 2:31:56 AM

To those who advise sending packets, how detailed would you recommend being in your research/teaching interests in the letter? Would a short 1 page letter be best, or should it be more like a research agenda in letter form?

Posted by: Hopeful Prof | Jul 18, 2007 7:15:32 PM

I'm with Brian on this one. I sent packages that included a targeted cover letter, CV, and a reprint of a published article in a top specialty journal to 10 schools in which I was particularly interested. I was eventually hired by a top-35 law school that was among the 10 -- and the chair of the committee told me directly that they almost certainly would not have interviewed me in DC if I hadn't written to them (I was a bit outside what they were looking for in terms of teaching). My guess is that, as Brian says, having something of mine to read made the difference.

Posted by: Anon 2 | Jul 18, 2007 6:47:00 PM

I urge UT grads to send packets of material (at least covering letter, plus CV, writing sample(s) and/or publicaion(s)) to (1) any schools in which they have a particular interest, (2) especially schools in which the candidate is interested that are outside the elite ranks, since for many such schools it is useful to know of a candidate's interest, and (3) for schools that advertise through the AALS in the candidate's areas (and, of course, only if the candidate is also interested in that school). This should be done in mid-August. The yield from this is usually small, but I have enough evidence now to be convinced that there is some yield, that I would think it a significant mistake for candidates not to do this. The one-page FAR forms provide almost no meaningful information, just various signalling devices. But if the signals are picked up, it is helpful, indeed, if the appointments committee has in hand a writing sample from that very candidate.

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Jul 18, 2007 3:53:52 PM

Not that I would necessarily disagree with the advice to review and proofread the materials you send the appointments chair for typos and whatnot, but my experience on the market was that while a million schools rejected me, the one whose hiring chair's name I misspelled in a personal letter hired me. So there's that.

Posted by: Jay Wexler | Jul 18, 2007 3:49:40 PM

Anon.-- I did suggest that if you have strong geographic ties that aren't obvious, then you should write to the schools. So how is it that you so strongly disagree? Is it that your geographic interest was obvious on the AALS form and you still wrote?

Look, as UN pushed me, it isn't that I think these things can hurt you, but I do wonder how much they help. When I was chair last year, I read everything I got carefully. I saw resumes two or three or even four times -- FAR, then the candidate, then an advisor, then the Yale book. I just think that because so many candidates write letters, and so many advisors write letters, and so many candidates email, and so many advisors email, and a handful of schools send resume books, that the paper has gotten to be overwhelming. And so, once all this paper is as difficult to get through as the FAR forms themselves, the ability to stand out in the crowd by doing any of this is significantly diminished. On a simple cost-benefit analysis, I just wonder whether this is the best way to spend your time.

But once again, having a geographic interest in one area is the reason to write. Put it in the letter and explain why.

And, if other former committee members disagree with me, by all means, chime in.

Posted by: Kim Ferzan | Jul 18, 2007 3:38:30 PM


I doubt the letter will hurt you with the school, but it will waste time that you might want to spend working on your scholarship or practicing for interviews. And, if you send an entire packet via snail mail, it isn't cheap either.


Posted by: Kim Ferzan | Jul 18, 2007 3:22:48 PM

I disagree strongly with this advice.

I sent out packets to all of the schools in the geographic area in which I was most interested. Not only does the packet give you an opportunity to send your CV and a cover letter explaining your teaching and research interests in more depth than can be communicated in the FAR form, you can also send reprints and copies of past work and works in progress. If you have strong geographic ties to a particular area, you can also communicate this in a letter.

You may be killing trees by sending a packet -- and I don't mean to trivialize this concern -- but many schools will simply view the FAR forms online, making it useful to have some sort of paper record to enhance your online profile. Also, as was my situation, the electronic version of your CV may not download easily from the AALS website, so schools may be happy to receive a hard copy.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 18, 2007 3:21:05 PM

I'll offer two different thoughts and one hearty concurrence.

I would encourage candidates attending the AALS conference to submit a c.v. directly to known hiring chairs at schools of interest, particularly before the committees begin reviewing FAR forms in the fall (mailouts after mid-September may be too late). The c.v. just might put you on the radar, giving you a possible advantage over the (700+) candidates relying solely on the FAR form. I don't think letters of recommendation or copies of scholarship are necessary, though, unless requested.

I see no harm in e-mail transmissions and actually favor them, particularly because it allows me to circulate materials to other members of the committee without finding a photocopy machine and interoffice envelopes.

I agree that candidates should review, review again, and yet review again, any materials to be transmitted. Also ask a friend to review the materials. Typos, misspelled names of the recipient or the recipient's law school, other errors resulting from failure to tailor the "form letter" to the intended recipient (one year I was delighted to learn that I was a law professor at Duke!), etc., can bring a chuckle or two, but often are the kiss of death.

Posted by: tim zinnecker | Jul 18, 2007 3:19:17 PM

Besides for saying something stupid in the letter, and the aforementioned environmental concerns (not to minimize them). Is there an actual downside you see to sending out packets? Can it hurt a candidate in some way you are thinking of, or is it just that you think it is not much of a net positive?

Posted by: UN Owen | Jul 18, 2007 2:08:03 PM

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