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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Negotiating Your First Law Professor Job

With many would-be professors soon to be the fortunate recipients of tenure-track job offers, I thought I would share some suggestions about post-offer negotiations. I hope others will chime in to offer insight into things they wish they had asked for when they agreed to a job. There are some general tips on negotiating an academic job here, which are in large part not relevant to a law professor's job. I should also say that negotiating is always easier when one has the good fortune of a BATNA, namely, in this context, multiple job offers. If you have just one, it might be wise to tread somewhat lightly.

So, what should an offeree seek from a law school? Here are some thoughts:

1. Salary. Particularly at state schools, while starting salaries may be negotiable, they are likely negotiable only within a small range. That is, if a school wants to start you at a certain amount, you might be able to negotiate a few thousand dollars more, but even if you are a Supreme Court clerk with 15 Harvard Law Review articles, you probably can't get ten thousand dollars more. While some academic types, who usually aren't all that interested in money in the first place, may feel it unseemly to ask for more money, it's not. You're likely negotiating with a Dean who him- or herself negotiated their own salary package with a university president or provost, so, as long as you are polite, I would be surprised if you ruffled any feathers. Similarly, even if you end up getting a higher amount than junior faculty already "in the building," that should work in their interest (i.e., it will make it easier for them to ask for a raise), so don't worry about coming in at a salary higher than what "the last person came in at." Negotiating for a higher salary will likely be easier if one has (1) advanced degrees (Ph.D.s), (2) prior visiting experience, and (3) multiple offers. Keep in mind, though, that the cost-of-living will vary widely, and an $85,000 offer from a small town school may well mean more money in your pocket than a $105,000 offer from a big city school. So a small-town school may not feel compelled to match a big-city offer. Finally, when negotiating a salary, one might want to do one's research. State school salaries are often a matter of public record, and you might want to investigate what other state law schools in the state you're headed to pay in order to get a ballpark figure.

2. Teaching Package. Now that you've spent four months telling anyone who would listen about your ideal teaching load, you may feel inspired to negotiate hard for your preferred classes. My personal take on this is that flexibility is the better approach. For one, if you're an intellectually curious person, you should enjoy teaching almost any law school class. In addition, negotiating a teaching package for the "long term" may not be possible with law schools that have small faculties and varying teaching needs as time passes. You may start teaching Torts, or Securities Regulation, but some day find that you're passionate about Family Law. Since law school needs and your own interests may change, the value of a negotiated teaching package is questionable. To the extent that it's worth addressing, my general thought is that new teachers do better to avoid first-semester first-year courses, as well as upper level "seminars" without a casebook. First-year law students need a lot of guidance, and learning how to provide that takes time. It's also a lot easier to go astray teaching the "Law and Economics of Icelandic Blood Feuds" than it is teaching Corporations, Agency & Partnership. If possible, you might also try to "double up" on a course (that is, teach two sections of the same course). During your first semester, prepping one class is hard enough.

3. This summer. If there is anything I wish I had asked for but didn't, it was a summer research grant for the summer prior to beginning my teaching. Schools should be able to make this happen, and it can make all the difference. Trying to prep a class for the first time while teaching it (that is, staying just a few weeks ahead of the students) can be a dangerous activity. Since most candidates already have a work-in-progress or idea for further research, a school should be willing to give you a grant to take up residence in June or July and do research and writing; while working on your article, you can also get prepped up for your fall classes. Just picking a casebook is a time-consuming process (particularly if you think the casebook you used for the class is not appropriate for the context in which you'll be teaching), and trying to do it, and do it well, while practicing at the firm is a challenge. On a related note, if you're in a position you could easily leave (e.g., a visiting position, or a big firm where you might not be missed), you might consider asking the school if they would let you start in January. In a lot of cases, the line you will be filling is currently open, and a school could make that happen. There are, of course, downsides to starting your academic career five weeks from now, so it might be better to wait.

4. Equipment. Obviously, if there is any equipment you will need to do your job, you should ask for that up front. I'm not sure this is as important to a law professor as it likely is to a hard scientist, but for some, it might matter. For instance, if you're an ELS person going to a school without ELS people, you should probably find out if the school has a Stata license that will cover you. The likely answer is no, which means you'll at some point need to come up with $1000 to cover that software. While it's probably not necessary if you're heading to the right school to get that in writing (schools should be willing to support the research endeavors of their junior faculty to whatever extent possible), you might want to at least put the dean on notice that you're going to be asking and hope that won't eat into your faculty travel / conference budget.

5. Another visit. If you've done a lot of flyback interviews, they have probably started to bleed together by now. You shook hands with a lot of serious people, joked up some students, and gave the same talk numerous times. It might have been sunny that day in the upper midwest, and raining that day in southern California, and your impressions of a place may have been incomplete and even inaccurate. Schools should be willing, if they've made you an offer, to bring you back out to take another look. If you have a partner or spouse, they should get to come (on the school's dime) as well. It's worth making these trips, because your second impression of a place and its people may alter your preferences.

6. The tenure clock. If you've got prior teaching experience, you may be able to negotiate for an accelerated tenure clock. While being untenured certainly has its disadvantages, it's also generally unwise to force an early tenure decision, since that may work against you. Most senior faculty will advise you to take as much time as you can before applying for tenure. At most, if this is an issue for you, ask for an "option" to apply for early tenure, that, at your discresion, you can choose not to exercise.

7. Investigate before you Associate. Again, if you are coming out of a VAP or some other prior non-tenure teaching position, you may have the option to come in as an "Associate Professor" rather than an "Assistant Professor." While I guess higher "rank" sounds more impressive (although outside of academia, I'm not sure who knows the difference), and may afford additional voting rights at faculty meetings (e.g., voting on renewal or hiring of other "Associate" Professors), there may be some downsides. At some schools, promotion from Assistant to Associate Professor (or from Associate to "full" Professor) can trigger an automatic salary bump (in addition to normal, annual raises). If you start as an Associate Professor, you may have just given up that bump.

Posted by Geoffrey Rapp on November 30, 2006 at 11:49 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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There's a lot of good advice here. Two additional thoughts.

First, see if others already on the faculty can give you pointers about what the Dean is likely to be able to do. If you know his/her practices, you have an advantage.

Second, definitely use other offers or possible offers to your advantage. When I was on the market, I decided I liked School A over more prestigious School B. When I got an offer from School A, I accepted that offer without using the negotiating chip of the continuing prospect of an offer at School B. The Dean at School A gave me some story about how he needed a decision really soon, which (I later realized) was complete baloney, but it made me feel pressured and made me feel like I couldn't wait to see if I would get an offer at B to use that as a negotiating chip. Looking back on it, that cost me; I probably could have gotten extra money by making it seem like I was sacrificing a great deal to give up my chances at B to accept at A.

Posted by: lawprofCharles | Nov 30, 2006 12:20:04 PM

Thanks for the helpful tips. Most of the public domain information about state schools covers the 10 or so best paid professors, any indication what the avg starting salary is at a state school, at a private school, and are there large variations? Some sense of high end, low end, and mean would be useful.

Also, I remember that last year there was a lot of talk of a few schools engaging in pre-AALS exploding offers, has that died down?

I wonder if anonymous posting on these sujects may be helpful to some aspiring law profs....

Posted by: U.N. Owen | Nov 30, 2006 3:09:25 PM

Another useful tip might be just how to ask for more, especially where the BATNA is just an opportunity, not an offer. Options:
1. "I want more money"
2. "I could be convinced to give up the other opportunity if ___"
3. "I need a minimum of ___ to live"
4. ...


Any input as to the best approach?

Posted by: Anon | Nov 30, 2006 3:45:39 PM

I'm curious about what's possible/acceptable to negotiate in terms of spousal opportunities. I've heard of people who were able to snag, say, a clinical position for their spouse. How often does that happen, and how do you bring it up?

Posted by: anon | Nov 30, 2006 5:31:15 PM

When I was on the market in 2004, I read a ton of posts and articles about the hiring process, including negotiations. I was fortunate enough to get a job offer and, following the advice, I asked for certain enhancements: a boost in the salary, money for a home computer or Internet service. The dean generally was not willing to change the offer.
Though I would have preferred to receive more money and benefits, of course, I was pleased that the negotiations were completely on the up-and-up. The dean offered me what the school was willing to pay me, and not a low-ball figure to be haggled.
In an environment like a faculty, where people are bound to talk about everything, it never made much sense to me to let salary depend on caprice or negotiating skills, though one's negotiating position must, I guess, play a role. There are plenty of stories of people like Charles who feel mistreated at the very outset of their careers and then hope to escape in a future year. (I concede that the stories may, reflect a low percentage of the negotiations, but I think the haggling process is reasonably common across schools.) I would think that more deans would want to develop a reputation for forthrightness by giving more-or-less take-it-or-leave-it offers.

Posted by: Mike Dimino | Nov 30, 2006 8:19:28 PM

Good thoughts!

Charles: You're definitely right that other faculty members may be the best source of insight into how negotiable the terms of an offer might be.

Owen: AALS has put out a statement about hiring practices that discouraged pre-conference exploding offers (and generally exploding offers with less than a week timeframe), in the hopes of reducing such practices. As for dollar amounts, I think it's too hard to generalize: from state to state, there is a considerable amount of variation, as well as the big city - small city variations I've previously noted.

Anon #1: Never lie in negotiations. That is, if you will accept an offer even if your requested "bump" is not met, don't say that you won't accept it. Being frank and forthright is key -- it might make sense to start by asking the person making the offer how they came up with the terms they are offering.

Anon #2: Although I have no first-hand insight into this, my guess is that if you have a "trailing spouse" you should put the school on notice of that early on. It takes a while to come up with other opportunities -- even clinical and adjunct appointments -- and asking a school to come up with one in the relatively short time frame in which you are considering an offer may be asking the impossible.

Mike: I think most offers -- especially the salary component -- are _largely_ take it or leave it. There may be a small room for a change in salary (and of course, even a small difference compounds over time as the value of a percentage raise is keyed to your starting base). I think that some of the other things I discussed, however (such as summer grants for next summer) are likely negotiable.

Posted by: Geoff | Dec 1, 2006 10:58:12 AM

I forgot to ask for moving expenses, when I accepted my offer. Wish I had remembered.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Dec 1, 2006 9:57:49 PM

Is it acceptable to negotiate including prior publications in the tenure process? i.e. if the school requires that you write three articles for tenure, could you negotiate that tenure consideration include article(s) that you wrote while an applicant?

Posted by: anonymous | Dec 13, 2006 6:59:06 PM

Anon #3:

While I'm sure one could negotiate for "credit" (either for articles, or "years" on the tenure clock), I'm not sure that's the best thing to do. As I suggested in my post, for the junior scholar, a longer tenure clock doesn't have a lot of downsides. My advice is take as much time as the school is interested in giving you (within reason), so that when you actually do go for tenure, you are best positioned for success.

The other thing to consider is that your "pre-appointment" publications may not be up to par, in the sense that they will not represent the kind of work you will do once you are immersed in legal academia. To have them "count" typically means they will be evaluated by outside or inside reviewers as part of the tenure process, and that may not present you in the best light.

Posted by: Geoff | Dec 14, 2006 9:29:00 AM

What types of compensation are typically included and excluded in the initial offer? Specifically, should one negotiate for:

Research assistants?
Attending Conferences?
A budget to host a conference?
Publication stipends?
Adoption and/or retirement benefits that aren't part of the standard HR contract?
What about negotiating that a non-faculty administrative position be considered for a move to a faculty position at the end of a contract?

Any other creative ideas that were negotiated for up front?

Posted by: Anonymous | Sep 21, 2007 2:58:13 PM

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