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Monday, July 09, 2007

The Other Side of Appointments

In trying to give advice about going into law teaching, it is hard not to give advice that someone else has already given, and perhaps given better.  (See, for example, just this one excellent post.)

One thing that I thought might help is to give folks a sense of perspective from the other side of the appointments process.  There are just some things you can't control and one of them is the what is going on with any particular school at any particular moment.

First:  Most schools hire based on curricular need.  No matter how stellar a candidate you are, if a school is deep in your area your chances go down.  (Indeed, because the committee members can search the FAR forms based on listed teaching interests, many members will never see your form if it doesn't fit their curricular search.)  Moreover, even when a school is looking for "best athletes," it is likely the school may care about your intellectual bent -- historian, philosopher, economist, crit--one question will be how you will mesh with the intellectual perspectives at the school.  (And, I still think that some curricular choices will help or hurt you....) 

More below the fold...

What can you do about this?  Very little.  Let me second Larry Solum's advice to be honest.  This job is a wonderful job when you write and teach what you love.  And, when your school was excited to hire you to teach and write about what you love, it can be a tremendously supportive atmosphere.  On the other hand, I can't imagine what it would be like to try to write in an area just to get this job.  What is the point??

Second, appointments committees have to sort through hundreds of FAR forms.  How they do this can no doubt vary, but what it generally will mean is that more than one person on the committee will have to pick your form out as "worthy" of an interview.

What can you do about this?  Well, it isn't just a matter of focusing on the "do's" but also focusing on the "don'ts."  With so many qualified candidates to choose from, committee members must look for reasons to cut as much as reasons to include.  While I'll post more on the FAR forms themselves later, here are a few quick thoughts:  no typos, capitalize where appropriate, no offensive geographical restrictions (e.g., "no Southern states"), and by all means, no COMMENTS (except more pubs, or addl references).

Third, keep in mind that even if you get that interview, the support you have going in may vary.  That is, you may not be a "strong" curricular need.  OR two committee members want a law and econ person but two others don't.  When I was on the market, one school didn't hear me knock on the door b/c the members were yelling at each other so loudly about the previous candidate.

What can you do about this?  Nothing.  But recognize that when you get a callback from a mediocre interview, but not from a stellar one, the difference wasn't you -- it was the school.  All you can do is put your best foot forward, and hope that the school meets you halfway.

Posted by Kim Ferzan on July 9, 2007 at 09:47 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink

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Kim, this is wise advice. I can't speak from the inside of an appointments committee, but as I have written, the process has too many inputs to be capable of intelligent predictive analysis once you have gone beyond two or three nodes in the decision tree. Moreover, I think it's the nature of most of us to err on the side of the self-critical (or conversely to think we are all that matters!) and forget that there are a million reasons for "stuff happens" that are not us. Persevere!

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jul 9, 2007 1:13:36 PM

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