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Monday, November 09, 2015

The Job Market Didn't Work Out This Year. What Now?

On the Clearinghouse for Questions thread, someone posted: "here is a request: a blog post discussing what to do after you have struck out on the market. What do you do next? Especially if you're committed to legal academia? After all, most of candidates will be facing this question."

Please share your thoughts about this question in the comments to this post.

Originally posted November 9, 2015.

Posted by Sarah Lawsky on November 9, 2015 at 10:25 AM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market | Permalink

Comments

1) Publish more
2) Aim for publications in top 50 journals
3) Get law teaching experience -- try to adjunct somewhere or get a VAP
4) Pick a subject area for which law schools frequently hire and build a resume (with teaching, publications, etc) that supports your stated interest in that area

Posted by: AnonHiringChair | Nov 9, 2015 11:20:03 AM

The above advice is great if you are married or otherwise have a sugar daddy (or mommy) and don't need to earn an income to clothe, house or feed yourself.

For the rest:

Consider clerking. Some judges kill to hire clerks with a good bit of practice experience and some publications (the former shows you at least hypothetically know what you're doing, the latter shows you can write).

In this legal job market, cold applying for jobs in private practice will be pointless. NO ONE will hire someone blind that spent time out of practice. That said, if you call people who you worked with (or against), you may have more luck. I'd recommend just being straight up -- you wanted to try to go into academia, it was a long shot that didn't pan out, now you're excited to get back into practice. (This is how I got my job after striking out on the market.)

Government jobs are great, but they're very hard to get, and you'll probably run into the same problem of not making it through the initial screening process because you haven't practiced for a while. Ditto in house jobs. The route to both of those is probably going to be to get a firm or clerkship job and then applying a year-plus down the line.

Another VAP is great, but it's going to be difficult to get, and you need to accept that you're likely going to be moving across the country, working for low pay, etc., all just to postpone the inevitable for another year or two.

Posted by: Geez | Nov 9, 2015 12:40:52 PM

It is possible to go back on the market multiple times. I went on the market three times over the course of six years. Obviously the first two times I did not get an academic job. It was demoralizing and extremely frustrating, but I did not give up. I decided to go on the market without going through a VAP and I kept the fact that I was on the market very quiet. So I was able to keep my private practice job. As one poster suggested above, the most important thing (I think) is to continue to publish. Nothing shows your commitment more than that.

After three tries and six years of frustration, I did eventually get a tenure track law teaching job. So it is possible, although I am not sure how many people stick with it that long. Indeed, things did seem to get worse the more times I went on the market. The number of interviews I received decreased each time which I attribute to both the fact that some institutions probably recognized that I had been on the market already and wrote me off for that reason and the fact that I ended up being a bit older than the norm for entering academia (indeed, interviewers from one school actually told me during the meat market interview in DC that I was "too old" to be entering academia).

Posted by: anon09 | Nov 9, 2015 1:09:30 PM

All good advice so far. I struck out on the market a couple times as a VAP and ultimately went back to practice. I won't offer advice for how to go back on the market from practice, as I haven't yet attempted that, but I do know something about going back to practice from academia. Unless your old firm or other employer will take you back and you want to go back, it is very hard.

For those facing the dual prospect of striking out on their dreams and being unemployed when their academic position ends, the time to start the process of looking for a new job is, genuinely, ASAP. The experience of "Geez" resonates in a big way and alludes to the difficulty of the search. As soon as any callbacks wrap up, you should turn your focus to thinking about your post-VAP game plan.

Like most VAPs, I had top credentials, a solid clerkship, and no trouble landing law firm job offers, whether as a law student or when I looked at lateral opportunities before making the leap to academia.

In short, I did well by all practice measurements before entering academia but after being out practice for a few years, I was only just barely able to transition back. The process was painful and difficult and required intense effort, focus, and good fortune, not unlike going on the market, but with the added wrinkle that all that energy is directed to something that is clearly a Plan B. (You know this and employers know this, so the above advice is right that there's no sense in hiding it.) This was my experience as well as that of a few others I know who returned to practice. One was able to return to his firm, the others and I were not or did not want to, for various reasons (the partners they worked with had moved on, the department they had been in was slow, etc.).

In my case, it took about six months of active searching, applying, and interviewing before I landed something. That was on top of an additional month or two of thinking hard about what sort of practice job I would want and doing a lot of informational interviewing. I had conversations with about 75 people in my network, from friends and former colleagues to strangers I emailed after learning about their practice and everywhere in between. This led to interviews and, after many close calls and much trial and error, a couple offers. It was exciting, fleetingly - such possibility! - but deeply unpleasant overall. On top of the hit to my dreams and my pride, for a while I was facing the prospect of certain unemployment, compounded by having spent the preceding years spending savings and accumulating additional debt as a VAP (which is a subject for another day).

So my practical advice is this. If you're not sure you'll get a job on the market and your current academic job ends next summer, it's time to start brainstorming, taking a spin through your LinkedIn contacts to see where your old colleagues are, etc. Once you start talking to people, you'll need to signal strongly that you expect to take a hit on seniority and that you're serious about practicing, and with the help of your contacts and the substantive excellence that got you this far you'll get some interviews. Many will go nowhere since you're not a conventional candidate anymore; you'll soon be reminded of how rigid our profession is.

Ignore the advice of those (including many academics and those outside the law) who say that surely some firms must value well-rounded, thoughtful people who come from outside of practice. In my experience, this is both true and essentially irrelevant. Some lawyers with hiring authority do in fact value these qualities, but invariably someone important to hiring will be very focused on practicality and will say that the firm (or government agency, etc.) has not had good experiences on the whole with hiring as lawyers people who left the practice of law and they don't want or need to take a chance on you, wonderful though you are.

Think strategically about places to approach. What practice areas are you a plausible candidate for that are hot right now? I found recruiters to be very helpful in figuring this out as well as in retooling my resume for practice. They were a mixed bag in terms of actually getting interviews - they arranged some, but I subsequently found out that their submissions tanked my candidacy elsewhere because of the fee attached. (Side note: only use recruiters who agree, up front, to waive the fee in the event you don't hear back from a firm within a given period of time, say a month or two. In your search you'll discover how many people you know at various firms and who can therefore advance or revive your candidacy, but you won't be able to figure that out definitively before you start applying (too time-consuming) so you need the flexibility to do it as you go.)

I could go on, but this is already too long. The basic point is that returning to practice and the non-academic world in general can be a very long and frustrating process. I ended up in a job I'm reasonably happy in. I was even able to pivot to a practice area I prefer to what I was doing pre-academia, but I hesitate to even mention that because it was so challenging; do not expect that outcome. I also feel grateful that I did not end up unemployed after my VAP. The only thing worse than interviewing for jobs in practice as a current VAP is interviewing as an unemployed ex-VAP. Avoiding that is your goal. Chin up, stay strong, you'll be OK. But you have to get organized.

Posted by: ex-VAP | Nov 9, 2015 2:12:26 PM

If the goal is to continue to seek an academic job, I think it's important to debrief with trusted advisors. What were the strengths and weaknesses of your candidacy? Be open to honest, constructive criticism, and be honest with yourself about whether you were really fully open to it before. Are there specific holes that you were hoping wouldn't be insuperable obstacles, but then it turned out they were?

It also is worth asking folks who were on the other side of the table for their feedback. This can be awkward, but also potentially really informative. I got a very frank "you say you're a tax person, but that's not what your resume says" answer from one committee I followed up with. One tax LL.M. later, here I am with a job. Obviously don't be pushy, but a "Appreciated your time, any thoughts you can share about how I could improve my candidacy?" is unlikely to be ill received. And apologies to anyone who's asked me this without getting a good response -- I don't always have one!

Posted by: BDG | Nov 9, 2015 8:06:28 PM

I agree with the previous poster. I'm happy to give frank and honest feedback to anyone we interviewed about how their candidacy was perceived and what deficiencies we identified.

Posted by: AnonHiringChair | Nov 9, 2015 9:08:10 PM

I agree with everything BDG and ex-VAP said.

But AnonHiringChair's advice is way too pat. On items (1)-(3), many great candidates who have struck out multiple times in recent years had these in spades. If you have double-digit publications, mostly in the top 25, great teaching experience, and aren't a jerk, there's not much to add. As for picking a new subject area, for repeat candidates that's a bit tough (and can be very disingenuous) without appearing to be a dilettante; hiring needs also change year to year (with the tax exception).

Posted by: anon | Nov 10, 2015 10:07:56 AM

I went on the market three times. The first two times were from a 2-year VAP. The third time was from a visiting professorship. I'm now in a TT position. If it's your dream and you can afford to do it, keep pursuing it.

Posted by: 3 time candidate | Nov 10, 2015 10:51:19 AM

I didn't say my advice would get you a job. I merely said that's the best steps to maximizing your chances. If you've already done those things in spades (as you say), then it might be time to think this might not work out for you. I know that sounds harsh, but in this market, the truth is that many amazing people just aren't going to get jobs. I will say, however, that being on the market multiple times isn't a bad thing. We invited back a few people this year that I know have been on the market before and struck out. Far from being a negative, we realize that's just the nature of the process these days.

One last piece of advice, get someone to give you some honest feedback on how you interview. I am continually amazed at the number of candidates who are phenomenal on paper but who come across so very poorly in person.

Posted by: AnonHiringChair | Nov 10, 2015 11:04:57 AM

If your goal is to work with law students, think about whether you're open to anything other than doctrinal tenure-track positions. There are some really interesting and wonderful opportunities out there at law schools, some of which involve classroom teaching or otherwise working closely with law students (e.g. legal writing; career services/externship programs; running new programs in a more administrative role), and they're definitely worth considering. Many enable you to write, attend conferences, and stay tapped in to the legal community, and they can be a foot in the door for the eventual TT job if that remains your goal.

As for continuing to write while working 24/7 in biglaw, I had good luck writing an essay-length piece over Christmastime one year when work was finally quiet, and it remains my highest placement. Just one anecdote but it took maybe 20% the length of time it would have taken me to research and write a traditional article.

Posted by: asstprof | Nov 12, 2015 9:24:58 AM

asstprof - thank you for sharing your advice and especially your experience. Was the essay your job talk paper? I'm curious if an essay, where you have other LR article publications (which I am assuming you did), can be the basis of a job talk.

Posted by: anon | Nov 12, 2015 11:05:56 AM

No, I had a traditional law review article in progress as my job talk paper when I went on the market. I think the essay & its placement may have helped me get a VAP, though, and the VAP gave me time to get serious writing done.

Posted by: asstprof | Nov 12, 2015 11:27:10 AM

Please stay on the topic of the thread. I have deleted not on topic comments and will continue to do so.

Posted by: Sarah Lawsky | Nov 25, 2015 1:27:42 PM

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