What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

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What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Apr 09, 2015 8:19 am

A partner from my 1L firm asked me to write a draft of my clerkship recommendation letter. Can any current or former clerks provide some traits judges like to see (besides the obvious works hard, very smart, pleasure to work with, great analytical skills)?

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Re: What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Apr 09, 2015 10:12 am

writing ability, research skills, intellectual curiosity.

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bruinfan10
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Re: What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby bruinfan10 » Thu Apr 09, 2015 10:32 am

from profs, they often want a comparison among other students--not just "this kid got an A," but "this kid wrote the best exam I've seen in five years." i'm not totally sure what they look for from an employer, but it wouldn't hurt if the partner said you were the best SA in your class or that he's worked with in recent memory. other than that, yeah, the standard stuff you said.

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Re: What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby CanadianWolf » Thu Apr 09, 2015 11:16 am

An honest & thorough evaluation from one who has worked closely with the applicant.

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rpupkin
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Re: What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby rpupkin » Thu Apr 09, 2015 7:06 pm

CanadianWolf wrote:An honest & thorough evaluation from one who has worked closely with the applicant.

Yeah. Something personalized and genuine can really help.

Frankly, if the partner wants you to draft the letter yourself, you probably should find another recommender. A formulaic "works hard/writes well/pleasure to work with" letter is basically useless.

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Re: What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Apr 09, 2015 8:10 pm

rpupkin wrote:
CanadianWolf wrote:An honest & thorough evaluation from one who has worked closely with the applicant.

Yeah. Something personalized and genuine can really help.

Frankly, if the partner wants you to draft the letter yourself, you probably should find another recommender. A formulaic "works hard/writes well/pleasure to work with" letter is basically useless.


This.

I'm a d.ct. clerk and I've been on the hiring side of 2 clerks. It is incredible how 90% of LORs are generic "This person is smart, works hard, and works well with others" without any substance or specifics. IMO, they are totally neutral LORs--they don't hurt or help an applicant's package, unless they are all like that. Then I wonder if this person has truly worked with someone on a non-superficial level.

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ph14
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Re: What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby ph14 » Thu Apr 09, 2015 9:05 pm

bruinfan10 wrote:from profs, they often want a comparison among other students--not just "this kid got an A," but "this kid wrote the best exam I've seen in five years." i'm not totally sure what they look for from an employer, but it wouldn't hurt if the partner said you were the best SA in your class or that he's worked with in recent memory. other than that, yeah, the standard stuff you said.


This is big in our chambers.

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Re: What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby rpupkin » Fri Apr 10, 2015 3:51 am

ph14 wrote:
bruinfan10 wrote:from profs, they often want a comparison among other students--not just "this kid got an A," but "this kid wrote the best exam I've seen in five years." i'm not totally sure what they look for from an employer, but it wouldn't hurt if the partner said you were the best SA in your class or that he's worked with in recent memory. other than that, yeah, the standard stuff you said.

This is big in our chambers.

This sort of letter used to impress my judge, but he noticed that quite a bit of "rec letter inflation" has occurred over the past few years. He said the following about one well-known law professor: "Every year I get letters from him recommending two or three students, and each student is apparently the best he's seen in ten years."

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Re: What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Apr 10, 2015 12:15 pm

rpupkin wrote:
ph14 wrote:
bruinfan10 wrote:from profs, they often want a comparison among other students--not just "this kid got an A," but "this kid wrote the best exam I've seen in five years." i'm not totally sure what they look for from an employer, but it wouldn't hurt if the partner said you were the best SA in your class or that he's worked with in recent memory. other than that, yeah, the standard stuff you said.

This is big in our chambers.

This sort of letter used to impress my judge, but he noticed that quite a bit of "rec letter inflation" has occurred over the past few years. He said the following about one well-known law professor: "Every year I get letters from him recommending two or three students, and each student is apparently the best he's seen in ten years."


Ditto in our chambers. Letters of rec. are probably the least important factor we have in hiring unless the professor/employer personally knows our judge and the judge trusts that person's opinion. Still, it doesn't hurt to include that kind of language - we just don't necessarily take it at face value.

They can, however, hurt an applicant if the letter is excessively generic or if it damns with faint praise.

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Re: What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby bruinfan10 » Fri Apr 10, 2015 12:23 pm

rpupkin wrote:
ph14 wrote:
bruinfan10 wrote:from profs, they often want a comparison among other students--not just "this kid got an A," but "this kid wrote the best exam I've seen in five years." i'm not totally sure what they look for from an employer, but it wouldn't hurt if the partner said you were the best SA in your class or that he's worked with in recent memory. other than that, yeah, the standard stuff you said.

This is big in our chambers.

This sort of letter used to impress my judge, but he noticed that quite a bit of "rec letter inflation" has occurred over the past few years. He said the following about one well-known law professor: "Every year I get letters from him recommending two or three students, and each student is apparently the best he's seen in ten years."

Yeah, we easily weeded those out too. The letters are all on file as you know. So I guess I should have included the caveat that bullshit comparison letters will not help. I doubt a law partner has that kind of track record in chambers though. And re: the overall weight of letters, that varies chambers to chambers a ton, but OP specifically asked about rec letters.

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Re: What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby rpupkin » Fri Apr 10, 2015 6:23 pm

bruinfan10 wrote:
rpupkin wrote:
ph14 wrote:
bruinfan10 wrote:from profs, they often want a comparison among other students--not just "this kid got an A," but "this kid wrote the best exam I've seen in five years." i'm not totally sure what they look for from an employer, but it wouldn't hurt if the partner said you were the best SA in your class or that he's worked with in recent memory. other than that, yeah, the standard stuff you said.

This is big in our chambers.

This sort of letter used to impress my judge, but he noticed that quite a bit of "rec letter inflation" has occurred over the past few years. He said the following about one well-known law professor: "Every year I get letters from him recommending two or three students, and each student is apparently the best he's seen in ten years."

Yeah, we easily weeded those out too. The letters are all on file as you know. So I guess I should have included the caveat that bullshit comparison letters will not help. I doubt a law partner has that kind of track record in chambers though. And re: the overall weight of letters, that varies chambers to chambers a ton, but OP specifically asked about rec letters.

To be clear, I wasn't disagreeing with you or ph14. I was just sharing an anecdote. And it certainly doesn't hurt to have a professor or partner say you're the greatest ever; it just might not pack as much punch as the applicant would hope.

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Re: What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Apr 10, 2015 9:52 pm

Read some letters myself. I like comparison. In the past 5 summers, this was a top 3 SA out of 50.

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Re: What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby CourCour » Sat Apr 11, 2015 6:30 pm

When I wrote letters, I tried to give specific examples that matched the quality I was saying my employee/ intern had. For example, X is a creative thinker. I gave him Y assignment. He not only completed the assignment but came up with this creative way to make it even better. In addition to coming up with the idea he did this, that, and the other thing to make the idea a reality.

Think of ways you went above and beyond this summer and attributes they line up with. From what commenters have said about overinflated apps, I think having specific examples of how you have great attributes would help.

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Re: What Judges Look for in a Recommendation Letter

Postby bruinfan10 » Wed Apr 15, 2015 3:46 pm

rpupkin wrote:To be clear, I wasn't disagreeing with you or ph14. I was just sharing an anecdote. And it certainly doesn't hurt to have a professor or partner say you're the greatest ever; it just might not pack as much punch as the applicant would hope.

I get you. Your point about insincere appraisals was well-taken and I'm sure it happens not infrequently.




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