« The Doctrine Formerly Known as "Statutory Standing" | Main | Welcoming Back Jennifer Bard, and a Note »

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Clearinghouse for Questions, 2014-2015

In this comment thread to this post, you can ask questions about the law teaching market, and prawfs or others can weigh in.

Both questions and answers can be anonymous, but I will delete pure nastiness, irrelevance, and misinformation. If you see something that you know to be wrong, please feel free to let me know via email, slawsky*at*law*dot*uci*dot*edu.

We have a different thread in which candidates or prawfs can report callbacks, offers, and acceptances. That thread should be used only for information relevant to hiring, not for questions or comments on the process. This is the thread for questions.

You may want to take a look at the many questions and answers in the threads from 2012-2013 and 2013-2014

Here is a link to the last page of comments.

First posted 8/28/14.

Posted by Sarah Lawsky on August 28, 2014 at 09:00 AM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market | Permalink

Comments

Two tenure track positions (University of Houston-Clear Lake and University of Wisconsin – La Crosse) and one full-time instructor position (Bentley University) were recently posted for legal studies professors in business schools. https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/business_law/2014/08/legal-studies-positions-in-business-schools.html

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Feb 25, 2015 8:43:07 AM

Could be that there are two sets in conversation here; one set of folks hoping to get such jobs and the set of folks that got those jobs. Perhaps the path to obtaining tenure track positions is a rigorous path, and while not impossible otherwise, might be easiest with the financial support of a spouse and a lack of parental duties. So, not necessarily surprising that Anon Jan 30 sees a different perspective...

Posted by: Anon | Feb 8, 2015 3:53:46 AM

"The market now consists of people mostly in their mid-30s, many of them with families, who are mostly doing VAPs or fellowships full-time and who have made enormous sacrifices to pursue this goal. Their lives are essentially on hold until it is over. The sooner they know, the sooner they can look for alternatives. It is not merely a matter of it being nice to know."

Is this statistically the case? Many of the people I know (or know of) who have gotten appointed to tenure track positions were just about 30 or a little more, usually married, but not usually with kids.

Posted by: anon | Jan 30, 2015 12:07:21 AM

I can't speak generally, but one reason is the visitor deadline, which is in March. Because requests for visits must be made by March, lateral hiring decisions (or decisions not to hire anyone) are usually targeted before March. And since lateral decisions must be finalized before then, entry level decisions often tag along before then.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Jan 27, 2015 7:55:13 AM

I wonder whether some of the arbitrariness (even when the market is good) might be addressed by moving the hiring season to the spring semester. By then, schools seem to have a clearer and more certain picture of their curricular needs and available funding. It would certainly save time, energy, and heartbreak to eliminate all the interviews for lines that end up getting cancelled because of shifting priorities. There might be other advantages, too. E.g., one-year fellowships would be easier, because candidates could use the fall to write their job talk paper and then focus on the market in the spring.

Are there reasons, aside from inertia, for keeping the market in the fall?

Posted by: anon | Jan 26, 2015 10:17:40 AM

Anon -

That's probably between you and your new dean. You might ask if they plan to make an announcement, if they mind if you let people know in a public forum, etc.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Jan 18, 2015 12:25:24 PM

Reposting a question from the hirings post:
When does one go public with one's acceptance of a position? Does one wait for the school to announce, does one wait a month, what are the traditional guidelines?

Posted by: Anon | Jan 18, 2015 1:01:45 AM

BDG: I agree with everything you said, but...in this market knowing the system and playing the system--not to mention having good word of mouth buzz--only go so far. It's necessary, but not sufficient. And some of us who know the system and play the system, even those who look really good on paper, are experiencing what hmmm mentioned.

Posted by: anon | Jan 17, 2015 6:59:25 PM

I don't think it is quite accurate to say that there is nothing candidates can do to reduce the randomness of "personality"-type preferences that some committees may have. Get out there and meet current academics, talk to them, and observe how they interact in formal and informal settings. There are norms of professionalism, expectations for how people will think about teaching and writing, and so on. If you can show you meet these, it helps. We have all kinds of data at this point about how humans use these kinds of informal cues to make judgments, often without knowing it. I've seen candidates who were not so impressive on paper but quite good in these other ways---they talk the talk well---get good jobs. Also, knowing people who can offer good word of mouth helps. Often the folks with these advantages are VAPs from programs that are good at training VAPs. Does that make the VAP worthwhile? Not necessarily, but it is a value added. Is this a lousy system, in which unconscious comfort with a candidate's style of presentation shapes judgments about their skills? Yes, and that's something for us on the hiring side to work on. Meanwhile, know the system, play the system.

Posted by: BDG | Jan 16, 2015 5:18:18 PM

Thanks all, for your input.

My take on the arbitrariness point: Sure, personality matters, as do the tangible and less tangible things that account for "fit." But in this year's market, so much seems to turn on things like schools changing their minds about prioritizing between different areas or even about whether to hire at all. A friend of mine who has a C.V. that's similar to mine in many respects got a single offer from a tier 1 school after that school's first-ranked candidate declined. I am looking to go back into practice after ending up as the runner-up at one school and the favorite candidate at another school that ultimately canceled the line. The difference in outcome is huge, and yet it is so easy to imagine that things would have gone differently for both of us.

I am sure that this kind of arbitrariness has always existed. But my impression is that until recently, for many serious candidates the arbitrariness was more about ending up at a school outside the top 100 after getting close to receiving an offer at a top 30 school.

Of course, whether any of us would have gotten job offers a few years ago is moot, and whether most folks who got hired at that time would have made the cut this year is also irrelevant. It simply is what it is.

Posted by: hmmm | Jan 16, 2015 4:52:52 PM

Anonymous, I agree with your comment as well, it appears to have posted while I was writing mine.

Posted by: jolly good fellow | Jan 16, 2015 1:52:48 PM

I agree with all these comments - AnonProf (the comment from this morning at 7:52), anon 1:22, Reality Check, A Hiring Chair, and Vapplicant. In many ways, I think some of these commenters have made my point better than I have. I'll just clarify a few things.

1) I didn't mean to imply that there is a rank order of candidates, according to credentials. Above a certain bar, there are simply far more candidates than spots. One way to resolve this is to hire those with the best credentials. I observed that in fact this is NOT what is happening. The lesson from that, to my mind, is just what Vapplicant says - the unsuccessful candidate can't simply improve his chances by writing more etc., because it's NOT the case that the fanciest-credentialed, best-published candidates are the only ones getting jobs.

2) There is so little hiring now that, at system level, it is difficult for the candidate who clears the credentials and personality bars to assess how well she will do. It's nice for schools that this allows them to more finely tune what they want in a candidate, but from a candidate perspective, it seems arbitrary. If you find that word inappropriate for some reason, substitute "idiosyncratic." My point is, there's little a candidate can do to change it. Again, this is about the SYSTEM level. (I'm not talking about a candidate persuading an individual committee that what they really want is priorities ABC instead of XYZ.)

3) The point Reality Check and others allude to about schools not wanting to privilege general excellence over personality fit for fear of winding up with a very accomplished but rude colleague is clearly correct. Again, my point addresses only the candidate's perspective, which is that in a world where only a handful of schools hire, the idiosyncrasies of the system can no longer be expected to "just work out." It's like rolling a die once and hoping for a six as opposed to rolling it four or five times with the same objective.

The clerkship analogy is apt. Beyond brilliance, judges want pleasant people in chambers who are a good fit for their (often unique) personalities. But there are, what, a thousand or more federal judges? And many hire more than one clerk, and there's no apprenticing process like being a fellow that you have to undergo to apply. In fact, for many clerkships, you are most marketable from law practice. So the opportunity cost of becoming a competitive candidate for clerkships is much lower, and the fact that there is so much more hiring smoothes out the idiosyncrasies of the process. It works better. And saying so doesn't require you to take a stand against those idiosyncrasies. It just requires acknowledging that you need a lot of idiosyncratic hiring for the market to work for candidates.

Posted by: jolly good fellow | Jan 16, 2015 11:07:08 AM

Well said Hiring Chair, AnonProf and Michael Risch from before and during the holidays. It's a good service of those in the academy to offer some insights from inside. (Especially Risch who bravely offered some frank perspectives under his name and took some flak for offering valuable perspective).

Posted by: Reality check | Jan 16, 2015 10:45:44 AM

"Of course a SCOTUS clerk from Yale Law is going to be considered a better candidate than a state court clerk from GW Law at most schools."

This sentence sums up one major flaw this process: To the extent that there are articulable criteria, they relate to prestige and are at best proxies for quality of scholarship and teaching ability - and they are applied not just as substitutes but as overrides. In this example the GW grad might have 5 terrific publications and rave reviews on his teaching evaluations, and the Yale grad might have one thin publication and no teaching experience, but "of course" the Yale grad is the better candidate.

Posted by: Anonymous | Jan 16, 2015 10:40:38 AM

I find it helpful to think about the arbitrariness argument prospectively, from the viewpoint of an aspiring law professor. If a candidate goes on the market and is not hired, what can she do to improve her chances next year?

If we treat all candidates with some minimum set of qualifications as "on a fairly even playing field," as AnonProf has suggested, it is not clear what guidance we should give to the failed candidate other than to try again next year. Suggestions along the lines of "write more" or "get more practice experience" would imply that those factors correlate linearly to hiring decisions (hence the notion of candidate rankings, which AnonProf objected to). If those things don't correlate with hiring decisions, then the process begins to feel like a lottery: do x, y, and z to be minimally eligible, then hope for the best.

Such a process is in stark contrast to the rather orderly set of decisions that most lawyers have experienced throughout their lives. School admissions are a fairly predictable outcome of specific inputs, most notably GPA and standardized test scores. Clerkship and law firm hiring are less predictable at the level of individual openings, but there are a sufficient number of equivalent opportunities that candidates with the necessary qualifications can be assured of ending up somewhere. Because of the limited number of academic openings in the current market, by contrast, I'm not sure we can predict ex ante whether a given candidate will end up with a great position or with no position at all.

Even then, I'm not sure I would object to the sense of arbitrariness just described (I place great weight on the value of community and would want a faculty to have the latitude to make idiosyncratic hiring decisions) were it not for the fact that a VAP or fellowship is increasingly a necessary credential. These positions involve considerable risk for candidates, who can no longer be confident that they will come out the other end with an academic job (and taking the position in the first place likely hinders the candidates' chances of getting a good non-academic job).

Posted by: Vapplicant | Jan 16, 2015 10:34:06 AM

Both JGF and AnonProf are right. Schools are more likely to end up with their first choice of candidates than in previous years. This makes the individual fit between schools and candidates more important: some faculties are cheery and others are intense, some emphasize breadth and others emphasize depth, some value humility and others value ambition, and so on. The balance between specific fit and general excellence has titled more toward the former. The system is not arbitrary in the sense that it is producing bad results for the schools and the people they hire.The matches are good, better even. But it is arbitrary from the perspective of candidates who don't get offers, because it's harder to identify the factors involved. It's no longer a matter of a few issues (you didn't publish enough; your research agenda isn't novel) but of as many different issues as there are law schools (school X is trying to hire in criminal law rather than in criminal procedure; school Y thought you were nice but wouldn't hold your own in its no-holds-barred workshop culture, school Z wants more classroom experience, etc.). JGF's advice to others is good: now is not a time for would-be faculty to take risks on breaking into the academy. But it doesn't mean that schools are rolling dice. They're actually doing a better job than before in finding the right new hires for their specific needs.

Posted by: A Hiring Chair | Jan 16, 2015 10:21:34 AM

Thanks AnonProf. Needed to be said - and you were very gentle. Frankly personality fit in a community is important. Someone who complains bitterly about being "abused" by not getting what she or he wants (ie a job, email updates) and vociferously keeps complaining about being wronged by a system that clearly must be flawed because it did not recognize his or her greatness - even superiority - is that someone who would be good for students and the law school?

Posted by: Reality check | Jan 16, 2015 9:22:21 AM

I apologize if I offended. I did not mean to be insensitive, but I think it is worth mentioning that some of the difference in results may be due to interpersonal factors - even at the system level. I do not know JGF, and, from his writing, he seems like a nice...even jolly, good...guy. But I have seen otherwise qualified candidates, fail to get offers, from any school, due to personality issues.

Further, especially this year, I saw a number of what I will call "tweener" candidates. These candidates, in past years, would have been good enough to "land somewhere" as JGF mentioned, but they weren't quite as good as those candidates who landed jobs at prestige focused schools this year. But, as mentioned, not all of the low ranked school are as interested in prestige and many of the tweener candidates do not have things these schools are looking for, like a decent amount of work experience and ties to the local community.

These tweener candidates may look much better on paper, according to the traditional formula, than some others who landed at third and fourth tier schools this year. The fact that the tweener did not get any offers and someone with a "lesser" resume did, might seem arbitrary, but there are usually good reasons. In the past, because most schools are looking for a traditional candidate, the tweener would have found a home somewhere (maybe in a top 50-100 school), because they were otherwise very qualified. But there are just so few openings now that the schools can often get exactly what they are looking for in a candidate and some of the "nearly perfects" fall through the cracks. Someone who, in another market, would have placed in the top-20, has fallen to the top 50-100, so some otherwise excellent candidates are squeezed out.

Again, sorry if that is insensitive. Just trying to explain.

Posted by: AnonProf | Jan 16, 2015 7:52:59 AM

AnonProf: I think you're completely missing jolly good fellow's point. JGF is talking about arbitrariness at the system level, after already factoring in all of the idiosyncracies at the school level that you mention. And you don’t need to assume a clear ranking among candidates in order to reach JGF’s conclusion. Beyond a “certain level of prestige”, yes, let’s assume it is an even playing field, even at the system level, so that there’s no ranking at this stage. JGF is saying that in previous hiring cycles within recent memory, those candidates beyond your “certain level of prestige” (and therefore unrankable) had a decent shot at getting an offer within the SYSTEM, even after factoring in all of the varying preferences at the school level. Today, those candidates beyond your certain threshold of prestige face significantly more unpredictable outcomes at the systemic level.

I’ll admit that JGF’s insight may have some difficult nuances, so I can understand your missing the point. But I think in misunderstanding, you allowed yourself to go too far. In JGF’s posts, I see a disappointed candidate venting, understandably, but in a measured and insightful way. At a time of clearly conveyed emotional angst, I’m not sure that your stereotypes (e.g., “snobby”) are a particularly appropriate response. Better, I think, to try and understand before casting blame with words that come across as thinly veiled insults. But, to be clear, I’m not saying that you intended to offend any particular person.

Posted by: anon | Jan 16, 2015 1:22:44 AM

JGF, another professor once tole me that every faculty member wants to hire a version of herself, so that may explain some of the issues you complain about.

You seem to be assuming that there is a clear ranking among candidates, but that the schools, individually and collectively, are not respecting that ranking.

If you are saying that, and please feel free to correct me, I think you are wrong. Yes, there are some candidates who are clearly better than others, but at a certain level of prestige the candidates are on a fairly even playing field as to CV and personality and fit plays a big role.

Of course a SCOTUS clerk from Yale Law is going to be considered a better candidate than a state court clerk from GW Law at most schools. But there are a lot of factors that are important to law schools, and those factors vary.

At some lower ranked law schools, there is often push back against the uber academic candidates. Many lower ranked schools care deeply about work experience, teaching ability, humility, interest in their particular school (not simply looking at it as a stepping stone), etc. And perhaps there is some insecurity among the professors as well.

Perhaps that is what you are seeing as arbitrary? My lower ranked school has rejected the HYS, circuit clerk, 2 years of experience, VAP, and three articles type of candidate for a top-30ish law school grad and 5-8 years of solid work experience, great presence, and ties to the local community. Most would think the first set are "better" candidates, but the second set is "better for our mission" (and make better colleagues than the snobby candidates who think they are better than us and are using us to make a move to a higher ranked schools. We have had a few of those).

Most schools I know of are not "arbitrary". You just may not be considering all of the important factors. It is not just law school, law review, clerkship, fellowship, and articles. It is also teaching area (tax, commercial, and corporate are in much higher demand than other areas), presentation ability, work experiences, ties to the local community, racial/gender diversity, international experience, etc.

Finally, at the callback stage, I think personality matters a great deal. Everyone who gets a callback, especially in this market, is qualified and could probably make a fine professor. While it would probably be hard to get consensus on the definition of a "good personality," some people are clearly off-putting and some are clearly good with people.

Posted by: AnonProf | Jan 15, 2015 9:52:13 PM

Anonandoff: I think anon 8:43 has it right. Let me try to elaborate a little.

We can think about idiosyncratic hiring as being an issue at the committee or market level. I think about it at the market level, i.e., in the aggregate, because that is what the rational candidate thinks about - getting his foot in the door somewhere, not getting a particular job at a particular school, which will always be a crapshoot. At this level, I would say the black boxes that are hiring committees produce results that are more or less arbitrary, rather than merely opaque.

To the candidate, the market is a series of opaque decisions made by groups of life-tenured individuals who have very disparate preferences - crucially, on the subject of what a good entry-level colleague should look like, as Anonymous noted, and perhaps even on what a law school should be. Basically, you're trying to get hired by committees of cats.

This has always been true! (as many are quick to note). However, it's an order of magnitude more severe today, because of the severe economic constraints law schools are under.

As a group, the rough fairness once afforded by having a hundred committees make random, arbitrary decisions no longer obtains. There are simply not enough committees hiring anymore to afford this protection. For even an excellent candidate, the upshot is that she can no longer expect to have a halfway decent shot at finding one of these idiosyncratic groups to click with, no matter how far down the desirability chain she is willing to go. (Based on my experience on committees, I have no doubt that some individual committees quickly agree on a ranking of candidates. How the process works at the committee level strikes me as a separate question.)

In sum, the market has not merely become more selective. It has become more selective in a way that supercharges the idiosyncratic element of the process. And in the calls I get every month or so from law school classmates and others inquiring about fellowships, I now tell them they would be leaving their job in practice for a process that is fundamentally arbitrary.

Posted by: jolly good fellow | Jan 15, 2015 1:22:10 PM

The way I read the posts, "arbitrary" is used in the sense of "lack of consensus" (about criteria) among law faculties. Arbitrary does not there refer to "lacking criteria", but rather that what criteria are at least nominally applied may be opaque, highly variable, and subjective. The result is an unpredictable outcome.

Posted by: anon | Jan 14, 2015 8:43:55 PM

I agree that the process is difficult, certainly, and frustrating, definitely. And having gone through it more than once recently I agree that the lack of information and lack of transparency makes it seem like a black box. But I am not sure how you mean that it is "arbitrary." I take "arbitrary" to mean that the selection is not based on criteria and therefore "random". Is that what you mean by arbitrary?

If so, having seen a few rounds of interviews, I can't really say that it is "arbitrary" in that sense. My colleagues and I generally agree on who the best candidates and worst candidates are, both in DC and in the job talks. Sometimes you get a close vote, but generally there is a clear hierarchy.

From the outside, it may be unclear why school X gave you a callback, and why school Y (ranked much lower) didn't. Remember though, you don't get to see the competition, and so while you may have given a great talk at one place, and a terrible talk at another, you still are selected against people you don't see, so you never know how you did in a relative fashion.

If that isn't what is meant by "arbitrary", please forgive me. I speak under correction as always. Can you say more about why you find the process "arbitrary" in addition to just non transparent?

Posted by: anonandoff | Jan 14, 2015 5:36:47 PM

Anonymous, you put it very well. I agree.

Posted by: jolly good fellow | Jan 14, 2015 3:26:55 PM

Agreed on the discrepancy in arbitrariness. I suspect that a big part of it is that people who work at law firms have more of a shared vision of what being a good associate means, as compared to the apparent lack of consensus among law faculties as to what being a good law professor means - and similarly, a greater shared vision of what a law firm is and is for as compared to views about what a law school is and is for.

Posted by: Anonymous | Jan 14, 2015 2:53:17 PM

"Perhaps the market used to be good enough that folks could be confident that they would get hired _somewhere_, even if it were arbitrary, but that's obviously not the case currently, unfortunately."

Exactly. It's the shift from uphill battle with some unfairness to something bordering on hocus pocus. A change in magnitude. And although any responsible academic mentor would warn about the whimsy of the meat market (mine certainly have), most I speak to now are generally shocked at just how arbitrary it has become. As you allude to, this seems linked to the overall deterioration of the market. So I think "it's always been hard!," while directionally correct, doesn't capture the change.

"I'm also not convinced that the seeming arbitrariness goes away in law practice."

In my experience on both sides of hiring at law firms, it was nowhere near as arbitrary. I don't think the two are comparable (and have never seen them compared until your post). Hiring for practice jobs is far from perfect, and is very prestige-focused. It's not perfect. But to simply say practice hiring, like academic hiring, is somewhat arbitrary is a straw man. It is much less so.

Posted by: jolly good fellow | Jan 14, 2015 2:29:59 PM

jolly good fellow -

You are totally right about the seeming arbitrariness of it all. But it has always been that way, though the weaker market certainly magnifies it. I'm just wondering who gave advice that led you to believe otherwise. It's not like this is a new phenomenon. Take, for example, this advice from nearly 20 years ago: https://osaka.law.miami.edu/~froomkin/wannabe.htm

Perhaps the market used to be good enough that folks could be confident that they would get hired _somewhere_, even if it were arbitrary, but that's obviously not the case currently, unfortunately. Having been involved in non-academic hiring and attempting to get my own students hired at law firms, I'm also not convinced that the seeming arbitrariness goes away in law practice--it's just different reasons for selection that are unknown and unknowable. That doesn't make it stink any less.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Jan 14, 2015 9:04:57 AM

I'm repeating this question from the other hiring thread, in the hope that it can find some traction here: Now that faculty are back on campus after the break, what should we expect in terms of "B Team" callbacks - are they likely to happen, and if so, when?

Posted by: Anonymous | Jan 13, 2015 6:36:47 PM

I appreciate the words of support from AnonProf and others.

I would feel better overall about the process if it had felt more fair. Not actually, fundamentally fair (a high bar!), but more fair, more of a connection between performance and results.

Instead, it is intensely subjective and personal, to a degree that is unprofessional and counterproductive. Once a candidate clears a certain merit bar, the reasons they are hired or not are mostly arbitrary. Thus, the articulated reasons are often pretextual, and the "advice" you get along the way, the feedback you receive - the bulk of it is not helpful or even relevant.

People on the inside seem to think these things are virtues, or unfortunate but necessary, and pour on rationalizations like water. A word to those considering going down this road: use your own judgment.

On the plus side, if you don't get a job in legal academia, you don't have to spend the rest of your life surrounded by people who choose their colleagues this way.

Posted by: jolly good fellow | Jan 13, 2015 1:23:55 PM

This was a very kind and an important message to those fellows and VAPs out there struggling. I also want to stress that we aren't only losing promising scholars, but also are in jeopardy of losing promising scholars that increase needed levels of representation of certain minority groups in the academy (especially race and LGBT representation). I know of several exceptional candidates who add these elements of diversity and bring those different perspectives to their research, and are struggling this year with no offers. It's not good for the academy and it's definitely not good for law students.

Posted by: anon | Jan 12, 2015 11:32:47 PM

jolly good fellow and all the other candidates,

I'm sorry to hear this hiring year is going so terribly. I know several exceptional candidates who would have done very well in years past but all are struggling this year with no offers. It's a very bad situation.

The loss is not only the candidates', but also the academy's because we will loose promising scholars. But with dropping number of LSAT applicants to law schools, hiring new faculty is not possible for most faculties.

Posted by: AnonProf | Jan 12, 2015 10:59:30 PM

Like many fellows and VAPs I know, I have begun looking for a non-academic job.

Posted by: jolly good fellow | Jan 12, 2015 2:30:09 PM

Did it ever start?

Posted by: anon | Jan 2, 2015 9:57:00 AM

So, is the season over?

Posted by: GreenWave | Dec 31, 2014 1:18:19 PM

Michael Risch's comment on the game theory of it all strikes me as dead on. If you're in limbo with a school, what's the best case scenario? You are their top choice and they were about to call you. Second best? You are their second choice and they think that first choice is about to decline. Third best? There really aren't any. It may be that you're the first choice but hiring decisions are being delayed. It may be that there are offers out and it's unclear what will happen (of course, in this market, it's hard to imagine too many offers being turned down).

In the first two scenarios, someone will make your Christmas [or other winter holiday] but they would have reached out to you shortly anyway. Any other answer is going to be non-committal or a rejection. But at this point, you should be expecting a rejection anyway.

If you NEED that rejection now (for whatever reason), then ask. I did. And I was glad to get the rejections because holding out a thread of hope was worse for me than knowing I was rejected. But to me, that's the choice. Because the first two scenarios are unlikely at this point, you need to ask yourself: Do I prefer to hope or do I prefer to know?

Posted by: in support of Michael | Dec 18, 2014 9:25:27 PM

"I would have preferred if instead you had used your position of authority and your willingness to stand up and be named to join some of your tenured and tenure-track colleagues in urging schools to be less callous with VAPs and candidates."

Fair enough. Unfortunately, you vastly overestimate my authority and sway. I haven't been on appointments in my 5 years at Villanova and we didn't hire at all this year, though West Virginia was pretty good about updating (I think - chairs differ).

I am willing to post it publicly here, as I just did.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Dec 18, 2014 3:06:35 PM

This gnawed at me a bit today, and I want to add one thing. Please don't confuse "advice" that may appear cold, unfeeling, and strategic with how I may feel about the process and law school hiring. As I note above, hiring chairs should be more forthcoming. I would have appreciated it, and candidates now may need it more than ever.

So, anon is slightly off in saying that I have not reconsidered my views. My views need little reconsideration - I don't think radio silence should be the norm. I merely comment based on the fact that it is the norm.

But anon is right that I have not reconsidered my advice. It may be that any advice I've posted here is really bad, or that words I've said have been taken out of context (as anon does in part); I've always used my own name and people can judge it for what it is. But other than people thinking that I don't understand how tough the market is or how hard it might be to go back to practice, I haven't heard a good reason why anything I've written is more wrong now than it would have been 2, 3, or 5 years ago. I would be happy to hear why it is wrong, so I can rethink what I write and say.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Dec 18, 2014 3:00:13 PM

Michael, I'm really glad you are talking about these issues and attaching your name to your comments. One gets the sense from your comments (on both threads) that candidates facing a hiring process that is fundamentally unfair should simply buck up, because schools are irretrievably irresponsible. I quoted just a few phrases from your extensive comments that reflect this view. Indeed, this is the common thread that unites your comments on the two posts.

I would have preferred if instead you had used your position of authority and your willingness to stand up and be named to join some of your tenured and tenure-track colleagues in urging schools to be less callous with VAPs and candidates. Cultures can change, can become more humane.

Even as I disagree on the substance and sentiment of your posts, it's refreshing to have this dialogue in a more or less open fashion. Thank you.

Posted by: anon | Dec 16, 2014 6:00:43 PM | Dec 18, 2014 2:44:53 PM

Well, this is what you get for actually owning up to your comments - having them repeated back to you. This is not the first time, and I have reread those comments many times. But I stand by them in the main with one key revision: to the extent it appears that I overestimate how easy it is to go into practice, that's wrong. I have no idea in today's market. I could do it, but I still have ties with my old firm. I don't know about others. I am crystal clear in my comments that this is a brutal market and that people are taking huge risks.

But let's not forget where those comments started. The "suck it up, be a mensch" was NOT general advice about toughing it out on the market. It was a specific response to a specific statement: "The thing is, many of us are good at what we do. Better, in several cases, than the faculty members who considered and voted on us as candidates." And my response was that if this is your attitude, it will be noticed and it will hurt you. I stand by that statement then. I stand by that statement now. This market sucks. Schools have all the power. Attitude, as hard it is to maintain, matters more than ever.

Finally, this has nothing to do with my comments on this thread, which are about when it's best to ask. The other comments were basically, when you do ask, ask nicely.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Dec 18, 2014 8:25:03 AM

I want to applaud "anon | Dec 16, 2014 6:00:43 PM | Dec 17, 2014 3:25:00 PM" for raising important issues which are so often ignored by those with decisionmaking authority within the academy. There is indeed a lack of empathy for VAPs and junior faculty which manifests itself in various ways and which ultimately makes the academy a more unpleasant place than it ought to be. By the way, a lack of empathy is not to be confused with a lack of standards -- it is certainly possible to have both. And it is interesting that the so-called "Advice" is often honored only in the breach by some of its most avid propounders.

Posted by: newlytenured | Dec 17, 2014 7:11:24 PM

Ask. Especially if you're facing a high-stakes and potentially irreversible alternative decision, ask. A good chair will be as forthright with you as possible. A weak chair may be prodded into giving you some useful information. And even a bad chair is not likely to retaliate. First, in my experience, I haven't seen a school entrust its appointments process to someone so thin-skinned they'd retaliate for asking a perfectly reasonable question. Second, a chair can't do much to you unilaterally: they have a committee, a faculty, and a dean looking over their shoulder.

Basically, you should treat the hiring chair as a reasonable and well-intentioned person, you deserve to be treated the same way, and the risk of asking nicely is small.

Posted by: A committee chair | Dec 17, 2014 4:37:21 PM

Looking at that VAP Trap thread anew, I see that Michael has given a lot of thought to some of these questions. (Although I disagree with him, I don't mean to single him out, as he is simply saying publicly what many committee members seem to be thinking.) Many of the eight comments Michael posted there suggest a lack of empathy for those on the market, which, again, is not a condition unique to him. In fact, some of these "suck it up" comments are so commonplace in legal academia that I will depersonalize and refer to them wherever possible simply as "The Advice."

The Advice includes things like "it's not like this was an easy market before" (February 21, 2013 at 10:44 AM) and "suck it up and be a mensch" (February 22, 2013 at 08:29 AM ). The Advice is also quick to assume it is fairly straightforward for VAPs to go back to practice, and uses straw-man arguments to minimize the very real concerns of VAPs. For example, Michael says: "I hear you that there are risks and concerns, but I have to think you are going to get hired before our [Villanova] graduates" (February 21, 2013 at 02:22 PM). This point is both irrelevant - no one thinks that is the apt comparison - and uninformed by experience (Michael does not seem to have much experience trying to go back to practice in this crappy legal market).

To tell from his comments, Michael's experience hardened his views. He recounts his own difficulty in finding a TT job (he had to go on the market twice, with a family, and says "I should have had more meat market and callback interviews and offers than I did" (February 22, 2013 at 08:29 AM), which I think many candidates feel, even if they don't say so). The chief take-away - to "suck it up" - is of course part of what one must do, but is not really responsive to the points on this thread or that one. It doesn't excuse bad behavior by schools - in this case, committees withholding information from candidates, or in that thread schools leading candidates on when hiring them as VAPs.

Candidates should be grateful to Michael for engaging publicly on these issues. However, I am disappointed to see that the two market cycles since his February 2013 posts (each of which was the worst in history) have not caused him to reconsider his views. I am even more disappointed (if not surprised) that they do not appear to have changed how schools operate. Michael is right that schools have all the power right now - indeed, this is the reason for most of The Advice. That means hiring will be selective, but it doesn't mean schools are justified in mistreating candidates in the many ways that they are (for starters, by keeping them in the dark unnecessarily and by leading them on about hiring). The other main point of Michael's comments was to "be a mensch," and I think schools could benefit from that advice as well.

Posted by: anon | Dec 16, 2014 6:00:43 PM | Dec 17, 2014 3:25:00 PM

I cannot endorse Haskell's comments in strong enough terms. He describes the moving parts just right.

A candidate who is unsuccessful on the tenure-track market must *begin* to search for a job back in practice ASAP, but when/if she finds a practice job, she will likely need to accept it on a very short timeline. Time - notice - is therefore critical. In most cases the candidate will be reorienting the focus of her career, conducting a major new job search, and uprooting herself and two or three family members. Several commenters to the Faculty Lounge thread "The VAP Trap" (pretty well known among those on the market) made this point: https://www.thefacultylounge.org/2013/02/are-we-sustaining-a-vap-trap.html

These are basically universal concerns for anyone on the market, especially those in a VAP or fellowship or who have a family. Most of those invited for callbacks in this market fall under one or both of those rubrics. Hopefully people in authority are beginning to listen, and maybe one day it will be considered rude or unprofessional not to share information with candidates.

Dean Gershon's brief comments were excellent, and he, Michael, Haskell, and other tenure-track folks are to be lauded for engaging publicly on these issues. Candidates can't really say these things publicly (or in some cases to the schools themselves, because of the risk they run, expressed above, of irking somebody).

Posted by: anon | Dec 16, 2014 6:00:43 PM | Dec 17, 2014 2:15:53 PM

Michael, thanks for engaging in discussion with those on this thread. I think even more of us who have landed full-time positions should be engaged in this discussion.

I think part of the problem is that the academic and the law firm markets operate at very different speeds.

Law firms often get back to candidates within a week after the callbacks and sometimes even make offers on the spot. If a professor candidate starts exploring law firm options now, they may be put in a tough position quickly.

If the candidate gets a law firm offer, the candidate could call the school, but the downside of this approach is that the professor candidate may be forcing the school’s hand prematurely.

If, however, the professor candidate waits for a rejection letter from the schools, then there may not be enough time to properly explore law firm and other options. While law firms do tend to act quickly, finding an open position and actually getting an offer may be challenging in this market, especially for someone who has stepped out of practice to do a VAP.

The problem could be solved by(1) schools acting more quickly, and/or (2) hiring committees giving candidates a better idea of where they stand. I do understand why each of these would be difficult in an academic setting.

In any case, hopefully we all agree that schools should promptly reject candidates that are no longer being seriously considered.

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Dec 17, 2014 12:05:44 PM

Anon - what you say is completely compatible with my view. If folks need to line up alternatives or get back to practice, then they fit into my "need to move on" category and should ask. None of this, by the way, is a justification for committees not keeping folks up to date - I think they should at least stay in contact.

But that said, my general view is that if you haven't heard by now, then the assumption should be you are on the B team (or there is not going to be a position at all), and that you should start lining up alternatives in any event. After all, the best you are going to hear is noncommittal, and that just prolongs the uncertainty.

Indeed, candidates sending an email to a committee chair may be better positioned by saying: "I have a couple of opportunities in the works and would like to get status" rather than "I would like to get status so I can see if there are any other opportunities out there." The first is a much stronger position.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Dec 17, 2014 8:55:30 AM

With respect, Michael, I think candidates generally need to know. Market realities make this closer to a "need" than a "want," perhaps now more in the past.

The market now consists of people mostly in their mid-30s, many of them with families, who are mostly doing VAPs or fellowships full-time and who have made enormous sacrifices to pursue this goal. Their lives are essentially on hold until it is over. The sooner they know, the sooner they can look for alternatives. It is not merely a matter of it being nice to know.

Because pursuing an academic job now requires total dedication for 2-3 years, the alternatives candidates may need to pursue will tend to require significant regrouping and therefore significant time. Maybe they will try to extend their VAP or fellowship, apply to other VAP/fellowship programs (often in a different city), go back to practice, or something else. And as they think about these things - each of which (apart from continuing in the same job) requires a lot of research, interviews, and time to pursue - they often have their spouses' and children's interests to consider as well.

Waiting until the spring (if ever) to tell candidates who have done callbacks that it's not going to work out causes unnecessary disruption to their lives, and quite obviously so. Placing the onus on the candidate to ask seems like a dodge, particularly given how weak a position she is in (so much so that other posters have suggested candidates can harm themselves merely by asking). How hard is it to just give the candidate a sense of things within a month or two of the callback? If the situation is still unclear, then say so, and share any other relevant non-confidential information (e.g., what the school has done in previous cycles). Simply ignoring the candidate is a method that is comfortable for committees, but terrible for candidates.

Posted by: anon | Dec 16, 2014 6:00:43 PM

Dean Richard Gershon (Ole Miss) is getting the message out: https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/law_deans/2014/12/how-soon-should-we-communicate-with-faculty-candidates.html

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Dec 16, 2014 9:41:40 AM

I've been on both sides of this. I prefer that committees tell people where they stand (and I preferred that as a candidate). That said, I look at the game theory of it all. You are are going to get one of two answers: a) noncommittal or b) no. And you really need a no only if a) you need to move on or b) you have another offer.

Sure, it would be nice to know it's not a no yet (for your emotional well-being, as Jessica Litman notes), but what do you really NEED the information for? If you haven't heard yet, you know it's not a yes, and the best you will do is noncommittal.

Thus, my suggestion is ask if you need to move on or you have another offer. Otherwise, hope that it's noncommittal and you still have a chance, because that's the best information you are going to get.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Dec 16, 2014 8:22:01 AM

When I was on the market, I asked for updates in late November and, generally, received them. Perhaps I offended someone by asking (no one said as much), but it's hard to tell. In any case, I agree with Jessica Litman that the odds of ruining your chances by contacting the hiring chairs seems small.

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Dec 15, 2014 8:43:49 PM

I would advise you to go ahead and ask. I think that under the circumstances, the potential benefits to your emotional wellbeing of knowing what there is to know about your prospects at a given school outweigh the small possibility that you will undermine your chances by saying something that makes you seem like a jerk when you email or call. At this point in December, most hiring committees go into hibernate mode until the middle of January, so its pretty unlikely that anything will happen in the next few weeks. There are all sorts of reasons why the hiring committee chair may not be able to tell you anything useful: it could be that the colleagues asked to read your work haven't yet done so, or the funding of the slot depends on enrollment's reaching a defined target, or that the school is making its first hiring priority a subject matter you don't teach. The thing to keep in mind is that the hiring chair may not know when the committee will be in a position to give you a firm answer. At some schools (including mine) the process drags on into April and infrequently beyond.

Posted by: Jessica Litman | Dec 15, 2014 1:26:40 PM

The posts by AnonProf and JuniorProf are, I think, a good explanation of what is going on. As someone who went on the market twice, I particularly appreciated reading the play-by-play that AnonProf sketched, which ended (as it often does) in a whole lot of nothing for the candidate.

The question is what do we do with the fact that, as JuniorProf put it, "law schools do not have to try very hard to recruit excellent professors." The committees being exhorted here to behave with a modicum of professionalism consist of tenured (or at least tenure-track) professors who are fundamentally quite comfortable with the status quo (much as they regret various budget cuts etc.). Indeed, what is the choke on entry-level hiring if not a defense of the status quo?

Where the market is flooded with talented candidates and few schools are hiring, the only thing compelling profs to provide even a minimal amount of information to candidates is their own sense of professionalism or empathy. Those apparently don't go very far.

AnonProf's post on how nothing ends up being communicated to candidates illustrates the need for someone to take responsibility during a complex project like faculty hiring and inform the candidate, at a general level if necessary, that no action is forthcoming in the immediate future. That this is not already considered a professional norm does not speak well of the academy.

I am still waiting for my rejections following callbacks during a cycle a few years back. And no, I was not successful that cycle, so the committees did not later learn I was hired and simply think it churlish to provide an update.

Posted by: ProfessionalismPlease | Dec 15, 2014 1:15:27 PM

I remember being on the "meat market" like it was yesterday. I empathize. I have not served on a hiring committee yet, but I posted my thoughts on hiring committees a few months ago (from the candidate perspective) and plan to be as transparent as possible when I do serve on a hiring committee. https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/business_law/2014/09/some-thoughts-on-hiring-committees.html

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Dec 15, 2014 9:47:54 AM

Honestly, the lack of communication on the end of hiring committees has been an incredibly frustrating part of this process. I realize that committees can be indecisive, that law schools and universities are bureaucracies, and that people are busy. But in many cases, committees leave candidates in the dark even after things have become pretty clear.

Here's my suggestion: if you are a hiring chair and haven't yet provided an update to meat market interviewees whose chances at a call-back are exceedingly slim at this point, DO IT NOW. Just tell them that while things may change, you don't think they will be considered further, and wish them a happy holiday season and the best of luck.

If you haven't been in touch with candidates who have come back for a callback and whose fate is genuinely uncertain, now is the time to tell them they're still under consideration, that you are sorry you can't give them more clarity yet, but that you will do so as soon as you can (if possible, give a sense of timing -- even a vague one would be nice).

It may take an hour or even two to reach out to these folks, and you may feel a bit sheepish about not having any real news to provide. But it's not THAT hard, and you need to take breaks from grading anyway. I assure you that it will make everybody feel better.

Posted by: givenup | Dec 14, 2014 2:35:53 PM

AnonProf, I understand that and have seen that lack of consensus at my school as well. That said, I don't understand why a school cannot say, "we will get back to you on December 1 with an update." You might not have an answer for them at that time, but you can update them on the process and set a second date to check back in. Likewise, for those not getting an initial callback, just cut those who were a consensus "no" and let the others know where they stand. I am sure the vast majority of candidates will appreciate that approach more than the radio silence approach.

Posted by: JuniorProf | Dec 14, 2014 12:49:00 PM

I can't speak for everyone, but I can tell you of my anecdotal experience the one time I was on the hiring committee. This, I hope will help to explain why sometimes committees don't call, even with a modicum of information. The circumstance, granted, is different than the precise ones asked by Dec 11, 2014 4:27:30 PM and Dec 13, 2014 1:45:40 PM.

We made an offer in early December. We had two other people in our pool of candidates who had come for a callback. When we found out in late December that the first candidate turned us down, we turned to the second (the third had already accepted a position elsewhere). Throughout this time we were discussing what to do next. Everyone on the committee agreed that if we were to continue with the process we would need to dip into the pool of candidates we interviewed at the Hiring Meeting, whom we hadn't yet brought for callbacks.

When in early January the second candidate decided to take a job in the state where grew up, we might have called more people in. But we were paralyzed by indecision (don't get me wrong, we all got along, were cordial, and authentically friendly, but we didn't agree what to do next). Some people wanted to end the process for the year and others wanted to contact more candidates for callbacks. But of the people who wanted to contact more people for callbacks there was no agreement about what one, two, or three people should be next. The Chair did email three people. Two were still available (and wound up getting exceptional jobs in the end) and one was taken. So, the committee met--both formally in conference rooms and informally in offices--but we could not come to a consensus. And by the end of January, or perhaps it was early February--we were done.

This is all to say that sometimes the committee doesn't contact candidates because it doesn't know what its next move will be. During the internal debates the Chair cannot contact the candidate, and therefore there is often radio silence.

Finally, this sucks from the candidates end. And I remember well how the year I was on the market almost every minute of the day my mind was on the hiring process. No matter what I did my mind returned to it. Sometimes indeed the committee Chairs are lazy, and that is rude and unprofessional, at other times, though, they themselves don't know what to do next so they don't contact candidates.

Posted by: AnonProf | Dec 14, 2014 11:02:54 AM

Having been on the other side of the table for just a couple of years now, I have not gotten a good answer to why so many schools go silent. To be honest, I think it is a combination of being busy, academic bureaucracy, and the supply of willing candidates far exceeding demand. In most cases, especially over the past few years, law schools do not have to try very hard to recruit excellent professors. I do not think their behavior is excusable, but I think those are some of the reasons.

I have never heard of a candidate who helped his/her chances by checking in and I have heard of some who hurt their chances. Now, if you have another offer, I would definitely check in and, in that case, you might be able to get the other schools to move more quickly, if you are a top choice for them.

Posted by: JuniorProf | Dec 13, 2014 4:24:03 PM

I'm in the same boat and second the plea for insight. I also don't have a sense about whether it's kosher to ASK where things stand, particularly with several weeks of winter break looming.

Posted by: anon | Dec 13, 2014 2:11:20 PM

Anon, the silence is terrible, especially after a callback. I don't understand why schools don't keep candidates in the loop. It is unbelievable. It cannot be a time thing. The time required is minimal, especially when you only have three or four callback candidates. Perhaps they don't want to tell the second and third choices until they have finished negotiating with the first choice. But I think most would like to hear where they stand, even if it is second or third in line. Any professors, especially those on hiring committees, want to weigh in?

Posted by: Anon2 | Dec 13, 2014 1:45:40 PM

A plea to committees/chairs/deans: please keep those of us who have done callbacks updated when there have been decisions made. I realize that a general lack of communication is often the norm in this process, but I wonder if that's appropriate after someone has already been called back, travelled to your school, met the faculty, etc.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 11, 2014 4:27:30 PM

Much worse than last year. I'd be surprised if there are 50 hires. Seriously.

Posted by: anon | Dec 11, 2014 12:58:46 PM

Post a comment