Some General Notes
Letters of recommendation are incredibly important to your clerkship application. In addition, the individuals whom you ask to recommend you may also play a large role in following up with judges and making phone calls on your behalf. Here are some important things to keep in mind when asking for letters of recommendation:
- The best quality letter is going to come from an individual who knows and likes you. It is far better to choose a recommender who knows you well and can speak to your suitability as a clerk than one who has a bigger name.
- You should give your recommenders the materials they need to craft a terrific letter for you. At the outset, you should provide them with all of your materials, as well as your candidate information form.
- Let your professors know if you have any “issues” that they can help to explain in their letters. If you had an aberrant grade or a gap on your resume that can be easily explained, let them tackle the issue for you.
- Listen carefully to what your recommenders tell you. If a faculty member seems less than enthusiastic about writing for you, it is best to seek a different letter. Some faculty may be hesitant to say no outright, but will try to indicate to you gently that they do not feel they can write you a particularly strong letter.
Notes About Using Non-Faculty Recommenders
If you are planning to ask someone who is not a UVA faculty member (such as a summer employer, a judge, or even an adjunct faculty member who taught you in a class at UVA) to recommend you for a clerkship, here are the things you need to know:
1. Substance of the letter. Make sure that your recommender understands the importance of writing as substantive a letter as possible about you. Brief, one-paragraph letters providing little more than the grade that you received in a class taught by the recommender or confirming that you worked for the person over the summer probably do more harm than good. This is a potential risk that you run when using an outside recommender. Professors understand that they need to write multi-page letters about you and are practiced at doing so; practitioners are often pressed for time and will produce more generic, less detailed letters. Help your recommender compose as substantive a letter as possible by providing him or her with a copy of your resume and reminding him/her of projects that you worked on and the like.
2. OSCAR. Your recommender must upload your recommendation letter to OSCAR if you are applying to any OSCAR judges. You will need to provide information about your recommender to the OSCAR system, including the recommender’s e-mail address (very important as this is how the recommender will be contacted by the OSCAR administrators). You should find out if your recommender’s secretary will actually upload the letter; if so, you should provide that e-mail address to OSCAR as well. The OSCAR system will then automatically e-mail the recommender with a username and password that he or she will use to log into the system to upload your letter, as well as information on how to do so. If your recommender simply cannot handle the requirements of OSCAR, you can ask him or her if he would feel comfortable with the Office of Judicial Clerkships uploading the letter for him.
3. CARS. Your recommender will not have access to CARS, as this is an in-house system at UVA. However, you can use CARS to create a mail merge data file that you can send to the recommender, which will make it easier for him to create personalized letters to the judges to whom you wish to apply. There are instructions about how to do this in the CARS handbook (accessed through the button in the top left corner of the CARS website). Alternately, your recommender may prepare a single “Dear Judge” letter which can be copied and included with your applications