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August 14, 2011

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anon for this one

I agree- though I'd suggest that chairs remember that these things are going to dozens of places, and mistakes are bound to be made, and not get too full of themselves either. Also, it goes both ways. I've already received a response email that called me a completely different name, despite the fact that my name is in my email address and was in the email. So, everyone should try to not make mistakes, but also not let their egos get hurt when there are indications that perhaps they are not the only person or place being considered.

Alfred Brophy

I agree with anon for this one. Can we just all try to focus on substance, rather than whether people who're dealing with lots and lots of incoming and outgoing email are spelling everyone's name/title, etc., perfectly?

David Schraub

Some of these are forgivable (abbreviating Saint Louis as St. Louis, or substituting "and" for "&"). But I would love to meet the guy who applied to teach at the Perry Mason school of law.

TJ

I would add a counter-point to (3). You should address letters to "Professor Smith". But you should call them "John" in face-to-face conversation. Candidates never believe this (they assume that professors all have fragile egos), but a candidate who calls me "professor" to my face comes off as an overeager law student and not as a future colleague.

anon2

Two questions for the committee members:

(1) How much do you value the cover letters and application submissions outside of the AALS FAR forms? I've heard opinions ranging from "we don't really look at them" to "yes, definitely we look at them and it's a great way to be seen."

(2) What is the most important thing (or perhaps the top 3 things) a candidate can convey to you in a cover letter?

On behalf of myself and fellow candidates, I just wanted to note that some of the schools have been identified in different ways. For example, William & Mary uses the ampersand on its website, but the AALS Job Bulletin uses "and". I sure hope that this particular distinction isn't the deciding factor about whether we are called for interviews.

anon3

TJ, the problem is that there are some (many?) professors who will take offense if you don't call them Professor X. So, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Mary Dudziak

To anon2:

Schools vary a lot in whether they pay attention to letters, but absent a faux pas in a letter, they won't hurt you, so it's a good thing to do for schools you have a particular interest in.

It's been a while now, but my first school was the Univ. of Iowa. Schools like Iowa that are outside of major metro areas worry about how serious candidates will be about relocating there. Reaching out directly to the school is the best way to show that you're serious. When I was at Iowa, if a candidate sent a letter, a file was created. So this put the candidate in a separate category than everyone else in the FAR, and ensured they'd get some level of consideration.

As to what should (or should not) go in the letter:
-- don't make it overly long. It should introduce you, and get the committee interested in looking seriously at the rest of your file. So don't recap your full resume in the letter.
-- if you have some personal connection with the school's geographic area, especially if the school is outside of a major metro area, mention that. But don't make things up. If you have no previous connections in the state, the fact that you reached out to the law school and expressed an interest is enough.
-- say something about what you bring to the table -- your most important credentials, whether it's your law school record and clerkship, recent publications, a Ph.D., years of practice and/or special expertise.

Best of luck!

anon2

Mary, thanks.

John William Nelson

To play the Zinnecker advocate to the Brophy point, I am sure law schools get quite a few letters from aspiring law professors. While focusing on substance would be nice, the honest reality is that weeding out folks who don't take the time to polish up their cover letters is a quick way to sort through wheat from the chafe. After doing so, I imagine many schools will stand have a number of quality candidates.

Of course, there is always the question of what it means to be a quality candidate in the eyes of the school.

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