The other day, I was half-listening to an NPR interview with U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe about the financial challenges the Postal Service is facing. I tuned in fully at the end of the interview, when host Steve Inskeep announced an intention to ask a “trick question”: “When was the last time you mailed a letter?”Somebody wants to do a cross-examination, I think. Presumably, Inskeep expected Donohoe’s answer to be a shamefaced, “Four years ago.” But of course (because that question wasn’t all that tricky, really), in fact, he said, “Yesterday.”
Well, I can go that one better. Between September and, oh, mid-December or so, I generate a lot of mail: letters, sending along hard copies of our viewbook to candidates identified as likely potential prospects (how impressed are you that I could use three hedging words in a row that way? Our letters are not contracts! I am a lawyer!) through the Law School Admissions Council’s Candidate Referral Service (CRS). People often suggest I should save some coin and send emails, but I decline. You’re quite welcome, General Donohoe.
Why not just send email? Letters allow me to get a sense of the potential applicant pool for the year—it is, for example, a complete kick for me when I note a particularly unusual name on a letter, and one month later, I see an application with that exact same unusual name. The list of addressees is like a preview of coming attractions. And I think actual letters keep me honest. If I sent emails, there would be no effort involved in the slightest; once you decide to send 50 letters, you might as well send 5,000. The letters may not be contracts, but they should certainly bear some connection to admissions reality.
And because I’m signing these letters, they do. I put pen to paper on every single one –with the result that my signature has evolved into complete gibberish over the past decade). In fact, I am not infrequently inspired to write personal notes on them. (Although that can get me into trouble. I sign these letters at night, and inevitably, there comes a point when I start nodding off. Sometimes, I’ll lose track of what letter I’m on and I’ll write a note intended for Person A on the letter of Person B. Mortifying.) One year, someone sent us an email after receiving a letter to ask if I had in fact signed it and written a note, or if the note and signature were just stamps. Such cynicism! Now, I am well aware that there are rubber stamps with signatures on them, but I had trouble imagining a system of stamps for faux- personalized notes. True, there is a limited universe of things I can write in notes to strangers, but even so, wouldn’t keeping track of the different stamps be far more challenging than just writing the note? If I were to use stamps, though, I would certainly ensure that the handwriting looked better.
So, doing it the old-fashioned way pretty much guarantees that I’m not going to overreach in my CRS ambitions. And doing it the old-fashioned way has allowed me to be on the lookout for several weeks now for one particular name in the queue of letters: the daughter of very old and dear friends intends to apply to law school this year. (This is a sign of aging, clearly. I vividly remember getting a call in my first semester of law school, telling me that her mom was pregnant with her.) Week after week, though, I would look at my list and see no sign of her. So finally I emailed her (General Donohoe would have preferred I write a letter, I know) and said, what the hell? Turns out she had been unaware of the Candidate Referral Service, which perhaps is not completely prominently displayed on the LSAC website. She promptly signed up, and this week, I sent her my letter—with, of course, a special note.
So, do your patriotic bit. If you want to get some law school mail and help keep the Postal Service afloat—not to mention the pen and paper industries—register for the CRS.