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There is no fixed number of recommenders that law teaching candidates ought to have. Most candidates have three to four recommenders; some have as many as six. The best references for academic candidates will be YLS faculty or faculty from other law schools who know you and your work well. The best references for clinical candidates will usually include both clinical and academic faculty from YLS, as well as supervisors or colleagues in practice; some clinical hiring committees may also want to speak to judges before whom you have frequently appeared. The recommendation of a high-status professor may carry more weight than that of a younger or less well-known faculty member, but recommenders should be chosen based on their ability to provide an informed (and positive!) assessment of you and your work, not because of their prestige. (If a well-known recommender has not read your work, supervised you in a clinic, or is not a strong supporter, the reference will not serve you well, and may even harm your candidacy. You should make sure your references are in fact comfortable with supporting your application for appointment.) For academic candidates, note that judges and other employers may be references, but the weight appointments committees give their recommendations varies (and may also vary with the type of position you are seeking). Where possible, academic candidates should have at least three recommenders who are law professors.
The key to using your references effectively is timely, accurate information. You should contact potential recommenders as soon as possible and inform them of your plans to go on the teaching market—ideally, by the beginning of the summer of the calendar year on which you are going on the market. Provide them with an up-to-date CV containing abstracts of your writings, and offer to forward a copy of your published works and a synopsis or draft of any works in progress. In this first contact, you should ask for your recommenders’ feedback on the tentative thesis of your job talk.
In your discussions with recommenders, be sure to solicit their candid advice, and be explicit about expectations. You should ask your recommender if he or she is willing to send letters or emails to the appointment chairs (or other faculty acquaintances in relevant fields) at schools you are contacting. Be prepared to prioritize schools for which you are seeking faculty outreach. Some YLS recommenders are only willing to respond to telephone calls. But many hiring schools now want written recommendations and you should prod your recommenders to draft a generic recommendation for that purpose. (Your Law Teaching Placement Committee will provide you with a database with names, email addresses and telephone numbers of the appointment chairs at the top 50 law schools that you can pass on to your recommenders early in the fall.)
Sometimes faculty recommenders will agree to help a candidate by mooting a job talk or mock AALS interview. Recommenders can do this in person or by telephone. Even if it is just in an informal telephone call, you should solicit your recommenders’ reaction to your job talk before you go to the AALS Conference.
You should keep your recommenders and the Law Teaching Placement Committee informed with periodic emails throughout the hiring process. Before the AALS Conference, you should send regular email updates of publication acceptances, contacts from schools, any pre-conference interviews, and a complete list of scheduled AALS Conference interviews. After the Conference, you should send updates about scheduled call-back interviews, offers and ultimately the school you accept.
In short, be sure you provide your recommenders with the information they need to be informed advocates for you. If you’ve gone more than a month in the fall without emailing them and the Law Teaching Placement Committee, you have gone too long.