Monday, October 10, 2011
Ten AALS Interview Tips
I'm going to give some obvious advice below. I don't mind because (a) it is sometimes helpful to be reminded of the obvious; and (b) the advice below isn't necessarily obvious to everyone, especially to those who aren't fortunate enough to be coached about the conference by their law schools. So here are some tips for those of you interviewing at the AALS conference this week.
1. Spend some time researching the law school with whom you're interviewing before the conference. If you know the names of the Appointments Committee members, figure out what their areas of expertise are. Research about the school will enable you to show that you will "fit" there, and research about the committee will enable you to judge the types of questions committee members will ask or the range of answers they're soliciting.
2. Don't ramble unduly when answering questions. Interview time is precious, and you want to wring maximum value out of every moment. Your interviewers probably have four or five questions they ask every candidate, and you want to make sure you answer all of them. By the same token, you should have in mind two or three things you want to convey about yourself in every interview. Make sure you use your time wisely to convey them.
3. Don't assume every interviewer is an expert in your field. Make sure you can explain your research in a way a non-specialist can understand it.
4. Don't sprawl in the interview chair, but don't perch right on the edge, either. You want to look engaged rather than relaxed or anxious.
5. The interview team may offer you food or drink. Do not accept. Eating or drinking during the interview will be unduly awkward. You may, however, accept a bottle of water for later.
6. Be prepared to discuss in depth anything you've published. By the same token, be prepared to discuss your teaching philosophy, your ideal course package, your desire to live in a college town or urban area (as needed), and your future plans for research.
7. Don't be afraid to show some passion. I want to hire people who love research and teaching and who will commit their lives to improving the legal profession one student at a time and the law (even if only a small niche) one article at a time. It may sound hokey, but I prefer to hire people for whom being a law professor is a calling. [More selfishly on my part, I prefer candidates with passion because a twenty minute interview can seem like an eternity when the candidate has a flat affect or is low energy, and besides, I can't remember those candidates later.]
8. Don't tell the interviewers that you want to go into law teaching because you're tired of law practice or you think law teaching will be a lot easier than law practice.
9. Emphasize how your practice experience will benefit students and benefit your research. For bonus points, show that you understand how the practice of law has changed in the past few years, and that you've contemplated how law professors should respond to these changes.
10. Make sure you shake the hand of every interviewer at the outset and make eye contact. This feat can be difficult to pull off if the interview team is large, but it is important.
Bonus Tip: When the interview team asks if you have any questions, don't ask simply: how does your school support faculty research? You can ask the same thing in a (slightly) more creative way. For example, you can ask what opportunities the school gives untenured faculty members to workshop papers, and whether there are any formal mechanisms in place that encourage or assist untenured faculty members to present their papers at conferences outside the law school. If you know the school has an Associate Dean for Faculty Development/Research, you can ask about his/her role in supporting the research endeavors of untenured faculty members. You also might try asking: What makes your law school different than other schools? What is the biggest challenge facing your school? What (if anything) is special about your student body? Try to use the question not just to gather information but to show something important about yourself.
Best of luck!
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As a prospective prawf applicant, I wonder if you could elaborate on one aspect of #7 with some concrete examples. Which professors - or which articles - have improved the law as applied to real people's lives? How often does this occur? One of the things that has me standing on the sidelines rather than trotting off to AALS is uncertainty over whether - and how often - this is possible. From the outside, it seems as though most law review articles at most contribute that an academics-only dialogue about the law -- and that seems like a poor substitute for getting to improve real people's lives in practice. However, if I was able to write articles that tangibly moved the law forward in a practical sense, then pursing a legal academic career might be sensible.
Posted by: Prawf-in-waiting | Oct 10, 2011 10:54:58 PM
That should have been "most law review articles at most contribute TO an academics-only dialogue about the law."
Posted by: Prawf-in-waiting | Oct 10, 2011 10:55:47 PM
Prawf-in-waiting -- assuming you are asking the question in good faith, I think you are thinking about it in the wrong way. It is easy apply the same cynical view to legal practice: I would estimate that 99% of the general public thinks of lawyers as bloodsuckers who are engaged in a wasteful game of moving money between MegaCorp and BigCo. That is an unfair view of what lawyers do, because the cumulative effect of the rule of law is to produce orderly resolutions of disputes -- but the contribution a single lawyer or a single lawsuit will usually be a very small piece of that puzzle.
So too, the fact that individual articles seem to contribute to an academic-only dialogue should not obscure the bigger picture. Has legal scholarship overall influenced the law? It is hard to imagine any legal area (torts, contracts, property, etc.) where the answer can even plausibly be suggested to be "no." But that effect will be hard to trace to an individual article, just as the overall effect of the rule of law cannot be easily traced to a single lawyer or lawsuit.
Posted by: TJ | Oct 11, 2011 12:22:23 AM
Thanks, TJ. I asked in good faith, and your response is helpful. I suppose my quandary concerns the academy's evolution away from doctrinally oriented scholarship. As an appellate lawyer, I often consult the law reviews when we are considering bringing litigation on a question of first impression. On one recent occasion, I found a brilliant article published in a T14 primary law review by a professor who is nationally known in his field. It was everything I could have asked for - academically insightful AND practically useful - but it was written in 1994. There has been important superseding legislation passed in my field that limits the usefulness of the piece. Unfortunately, most of the more recent law review articles I've found have been forays into interdisciplinary "law and" research. While I may find some of them interesting to read in my free time, they are not of use to us attorneys and judges who are actively trying to develop the law in my field. (I confronted the same question as a federal circuit clerk a couple of years ago. In my chambers, we actively wished to see what the academy had to say about questions of first impression in our circuit that had already divided other circuits -- and too often, all that was available was student notes.)
So, my immediate reaction to your comment is to wonder whether legal scholarship is destined to have decreasing influence on the law, because legal academia as a whole is willfully opting out of participation in the practical (but still intellectually intense!) dialogue between appellate practitioners and judges. For me, the quandary is that if I became an academic, I would want to continue to participate in this exchange of ideas related to concrete issues pending before the courts -- and my impression is that doctrinally-focused writing would bode poorly for my chances of getting tenure.
Posted by: Prawf-in-waiting | Oct 11, 2011 1:21:10 AM
Prawf-in-waiting -- on the general topic of the usefulness or not of legal scholarship, I have already made my views known on this blog. On your more specific question, I think it is fair to saw that the type of issues that concern practicing lawyers on a day-to-day basis, even lawyers appearing in federal circuit courts, are not what law professors write about. Much of the work of lower courts is trying to parse conflicting Supreme Court and prior circuit precedents using wafer thin distinctions where the most honest explanation is simply that the Court's decisions are logically irreconcilable (e.g. does anyone really believe the distinction between legislative and executive action explains the difference between Flast and Hein?). Practicing lawyers must take such distinctions seriously; academics don't.
Now, saying that academics do not deal with narrow resolutions of circuit splits does not mean that you should jump to the conclusion that academics spend their time pondering the impact of Kant on 18th Century Bulgarian evidence law. There is a vast middle ground in between, and I would say that most academic work lies in that middle ground, and much more closely tethered to doctrine that normally believed. You seem to view "law and . . . " work as the opposite of practical/doctrinal scholarship. But how can one intelligently talk about modern tort or antitrust doctrine without referencing economics? An article that goes into the weeds of a circuit split will be poorly regarded in modern academia, but I would contest the assumption that only that kind of narrow article can be considered practical.
In the end, though, it sounds like you like doing what appellate lawyers do. And if so, there is no reason for you to change jobs. What law professors do is different, and so you will probably not like it as much. And the pay is much worse. Those of us who like the work think it is a good deal; but there is certainly no reason that everyone must share the same preferences.
Posted by: TJ | Oct 11, 2011 2:25:12 AM
As someone from the outside, I'd like to emphasize one point that TJ seems to be making: the impact of legal scholarship *shouldn't* just (or even primarily) be on practicing attorneys and judges. In terms of direct impact, influencing legislators and executives to think more deeply about law -- both in terms of philosophy and consequences -- is important. And, more indirectly but perhaps most importantly, academic work can influence the popular conception and understanding of what law is. Of course, an individual law review article won't be read by many (if any) lay people, but the fact that it influences that academic conversation means that it influences conversations between academics and journalists, and academics and politicians, and, in a significant way, can end up becoming a part of public discourse.
That's assuming, of course, that it's good, original, and interesting scholarship. :)
Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Oct 11, 2011 3:22:04 PM
"(e.g. does anyone really believe the distinction between legislative and executive action explains the difference between Flast and Hein?)"
Well, yes and no.
"Yes" in the sense that Flast has been limited to its facts (for a fun Westlaw search, try [Flast w/50 limit! w/50 fact!] in the Law Reviews database), so the fact that there is a factual distinction between the Article I, Section 8 expenditure in Flast and the executive appropriation in Hein does indeed "really" explain the difference in outcomes.
"No" in the sense that the facial explanation is really just shorthand for the proposition that Flast is no longer good law, at least on a prospective basis, except to the extent that a future case really does match it on all fours. But I don't think Alito really hides the ball on this issue in his opinion, nor does Kennedy in the recent Winn decision. Indeed, that's the whole point of Scalia's Winn dissent -- the whole "Flast is good law only insofar as we're dealing with an identical fact pattern" approach is silly. Either overrule it or not.
That's how this non-academic sees it, in any event. Though I'm only about halfway through my article tangentially addressing this issue, so maybe that view will change.
Posted by: Another appellate lawyer | Oct 11, 2011 3:46:30 PM
Another appellate lawyer, I would submit that you are not thinking about the issue deeply enough. In one sense, of course, you are right that the distinction between executive and legislative is what explains the difference, because that is what the Court says is the difference and its Word is Law, so lower courts have to apply this distinction in the future.
But in the theory of the judicial function (and here I use the word "theory" in an uncontroversial way, in a way that I'm sure even the most die-hard traditionalist would accept), the purpose of judicial opinions is not for the Court to give prospective Law from Mount Sinai. It is for the Court to give an accurate, honest, and complete account of why it reached a decision in the case it is deciding, using legal tools like logical deduction, text, and precedent.
By this standard, Justice Alito is totally "hiding the ball" and so is Justice Kennedy. Does anyone really think that they really got to the legislative-executive distinction by a logical deduction process from text and precedent? Or is it far more honest to say that they got to the result first ("lets narrow Flast") and worked backwards? The fact that they then write an opinion -- implicitly representing to the world that it represents a complete and accurate account of their reasoning process -- is hiding the ball.
What does this rant have to do with the topic of the thread? Well, it is basically why I find traditional doctrinal scholarship incomplete. Appellate lawyers in circuit courts must take the legislative-executive distinction seriously, as if it was the product of a process of logical deduction, and then figure out its further logical implications. But this is at most a highly incomplete account of how decisions are actually reached. And if you want a complete account, you are going to have to start looking at other things like politics, economics, psychology, etc. -- all the "law and . . ." topics that practicing lawyers disparage as useless.
Posted by: TJ | Oct 13, 2011 4:19:35 AM
Any advice on job talks/callbacks?
Posted by: Anon123 | Oct 18, 2011 9:26:01 AM
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