Thursday, March 04, 2010
Advice for Foreigners in the U.S. Law School Market: Part II
As a foreigner on the market, what sort of challenges might you expect?
Your credentials are a mystery. While many American law schools are familiar with foreign universities, some aren't, and the value of your degrees will not necessarily be immediately apparent to people reading your CV or your FAR form. Some graduate degrees are not the exact equivalents of U.S. graduate programs, and some translation will be required. If your country offers a doctoral degree (a PhD in law, or something of that ilk), some prospective employers will perceive it as a JSD equivalent, or even a JD equivalent.
Your prospective employers are valuing the "wrong" credentials. So, you wrote a fantastic, 600-page doctoral thesis about Heidegger and Derrida. Nevertheless, the year you spent doing your LL.M. in the U.S. and produced a thirty-page paper seems to carry more weight. You may feel that the more important and demanding aspects of your career are devalued compared to lesser achievements.
What are your publications worth? Many U.S. law schools are struggling with the relative weight of law-review and peer-reviewed publications in terms of tenure requirements. The journals and edited books you've published in are unfamiliar to many of your potential colleagues. Are they peer-reviewed? Student-reviewed? What is the quality control? The value of published books changes from setting to setting; Scandinavian colleagues in social sciences, for example, tell me that everyone is expected to publish their dissertation as a book, whereas here in the U.S. it's a respectable choice, in some fields, to publish your diss as a series of articles.
Your references and resume underclaim. This problem does not apply across the board to all foreigners, but the superlative inflation that characterizes American reference-writing is less common elsewhere in the world. A subtle reference from your advisor abroad, which to you may seem as high praise, might come off as lackluster to American readers used to overclaiming and abundant adjectives. You and your references might want to keep these differences in mind.
Can you teach American Law? Your potential future colleagues are concerned that you're simply not familiar with American black-letter-law to a degree that would allow you to comfortably and knowledgeably convey it to students. You may feel that your scholarship speaks for itself, and that a smart, hardworking scholar can pick up and learn anything, certainly an easy and accessible casebook. But since your colleagues are surrounded by practicing lawyers who can jump in and teach, say, contracts as adjuncts with less of a learning curve, this is certainly something you'll be expected to explain and overcome.
Can you teach in an American law school environment? Some professional publications, like the Journal of Legal Education, have exposed American academics to the different pedagogical philosophies (or lack thereof) in other countries. You may have been educated in a system that consists of lectures to hundreds of students in huge lecture halls. You may not be familiar with the discussion style that characterizes American law schools, and the Socratic method and cold-calling might be completely unfamiliar to you. You may not have been exposed to clinical education, moot court, and the like. American students' expectations and demands may be respected more than foreign students, and that might require serious adjustments in your teaching style (there is, of course, a chance that others may learn some new teaching methods from you, but at this point you're the one seeking the job.)
How much hassle is involved in bringing you over? Flying you in for an interview is costly and time-consuming. You might be jetlagged during the interview. Your relocation is more expensive than that of a local hire. Your visa/green card/citizenship issues require attention and, sometimes, legal expertise.
Part III provides some ideas on what to do to overcome the "foreigner barrier".
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