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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Advice for Foreigners on the U.S. Law School Market: Part I

A couple of months ago I got a phonecall from a European acquaintance of mine, who was about to embark on an LL.M. degree in the United States. She had a Ph.D. from a respectable foreign university, and had been teaching for several years as a faculty member in Europe, as well as publishing in various journals, mostly in English.

"Don't you already have multiple graduate degrees? Why would you want to pursue an LL.M.?" I asked.

"Because I want to teach in the United States", she replied.

That got me thinking. 

Foreigners face a unique set of considerations and challenges when applying for jobs in the United States. The advice I found online for these folks has not been as thorough and practical as one would hope, and some of it is rather dated. The only thing on point I found was Brad Wendel's advice to candidates for law school faculty positions, published in 2006, which includes the following paragraph:

Q:        I graduated #1 in my class from Freedonia University, am admitted to practice in Freedonia, and have an LL.M. from an American law school -- can I get a job in the U.S.?* H0 F; C# J' ?- P
A:        I get a fair amount of e-mail from foreign-trained lawyers reporting on the process of obtaining employment at American law schools, and the reports are almost uniformly negative.  Candidates who encounter the most difficulty are those with civil-law training, but even graduates of top law schools in English-speaking common-law countries like Canada and the U.K. have a hard time attracting the attention of appointments committees in the U.S.  One problem is that foreign-trained lawyers tend to specialize in comparative or public or private international law, and there are only so many positions in those fields open in a given year.  And because the curriculum at American schools is still predominantly based on U.S. law, many foreign-trained lawyers cannot do double-duty as teachers of core subjects such as contracts, corporations, or criminal procedure.  Even if the appointments committee is not fixated on curricular coverage, the associate dean is going to want to know whether a candidate can cover highly popular courses.  The LL.M. does not help that much, because at most a graduate student will have had a few courses in U.S. law, not a full three years of study, various summer jobs, and (usually) subsequent clerkships and practice experience.  Foreign-trained lawyers who are admitted in an American jurisdiction and have acquired substantial practice experience may be able to pitch themselves as competent teachers of U.S. law, but people whose primary practical experience is in another country are going to find themselves competing for fairly narrowly defined jobs, as specialists in a subject like European Union law, or the Chinese law on regulation of trade.  Given the number of American lawyers who can also teach these subjects (and who have secondary competence in core curricular areas), this is going to be an uphill battle.
An alert reader from Canada says the situation may be different for Canadian lawyers, many of whom have been hired by U.S. law firms and have substantial experience with U.S. law.  There are several Canadian-trained lawyers working as law professors in the States, so the odds may not be as long.  I don’t know about entry-level candidates from the U.K., although many American law schools have hired British scholars at a fairly senior level.    J$ g5 x$ f5 H

Wendel's imaginary Freedonian may not be the typical foreign academic looking for a job in the United States. I come across a fair number of foreigners--Europeans, Brits and Israelis for the most part--who are looking for jobs in U.S. law schools. Virtually all of them hold multiple graduate degrees, the vast majority of which are PhDs, DPhils, or JSDs. For these folks, the J.D.--the traditional credential for law professors and lawyesr alike in the U.S.--is a graduate version of what they recognize as a bachelor's degree in law, and in their countries of origin, they wouldn't be seeking an academic position with such credentials; even less so in a foreign country. I thought this special population merited some online attention and a bit of advice, so here are my two cents for foreigners on the American job market.

Disclaimer: my observations and advice are based on anecdotes collected from friends and colleagues over the last few years, rather than on statistical calculations of "what works" in the application process. Also, while the personal is political (I'm a foreigner teaching in an American law school), I've been very fortunate in finding a workplace that values and respects foreign perspectives and was 100% supportive and helpful throughout the process of applying, interviewing, and settling in. That is not always the case everywhere else; so much of what I have to say here comes not just from my personal (and quite possibly atypical) experience, but from the trials and tribulations of others, who have encountered various challenges when applying for a U.S. job. For that reason, I don't have a lot of input on anyone's personal situation, but rather some general thoughts to offer on the subject.

The first thing to keep in mind is that American legal academia has had a huge impact on how law is taught and researched in other countries--in some more than in others. In a world-wide brain-drain economy, many are seeking to cover their bases and open up possibilities for employment in the U.S. Many aspiring academics abroad correctly assume that their local graduate degree will be devalued by American employers if and when they choose to seek a job in the U.S., and therefore decide to make the financial and personal investment involved in studying for an LL.M. or a S.J.D. at an American law school. Those whose CV consists entirely of foreign degrees often seek post-doc positions in the U.S.--a career move strongly supported by universities around the world. Foreign universities also encourage their faculty to publish in English as much as possible, preferably in American law reviews, and foreign academics learn to tailor their publications to the style and content preferred by U.S. law student editorial boards. The prominence of American academia also drives, to some extent, the proliferation of legal fields of expertise that are easily applicable across borders; in fact, Oren Gazal-Ayal has argued that there are strong incentives for Israelis to focus on law and economics.

Why this concentrated effort to cater to the U.S. market? A detailed analysis of global trends is beyond the scope of this post. But some foreigners are keenly aware of the fact that the U.S. academic market is biased against hiring foreigners, and try to compensate for their disadvantage by accumulating academic achievements and credentials that might help them cross the "foreigner barrier". Now, this is not to say that U.S. universities are categorically wrong in preferring Americans to foreigners for faculty positions; law is a local, national phenomenon, and American institutions are right to expect a certain degree of expertise of one who is supposed, among other job requirements, to acquaint their students with black-letter law and prepare them for a professional life in the United States. Nevertheless, the outcome of state of affairs, justifiable or not, is that foreigners are expected to jump through multiple hoops that are not required of American candidates.

Part II will feature some of the challenges facing foreign candidates on the U.S. law school market. Stay tuned!

Posted by Hadar Aviram on March 4, 2010 at 11:28 PM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market | Permalink

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