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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Some Thoughts on Lateral Hiring (Getting Noticed)

There’s been a lot of discussion, on this blog and elsewhere, about lateral hiring in law schools.  A number of folks have asked about my views on the matter, so here are a few of my thoughts.  My perspective is informed by my own experience, as I have made a lateral move.  I began teaching at Seton Hall Law School in 2000.  I visited GW in the fall semester of 2003 and moved there permanently in 2004. 

The big question is what one has to do in order to make a lateral move.  Moving laterally is very difficult.  The amount of movement in the legal academy is very small.  My first piece of advice is to be sure to accept jobs at schools that you really like, because you lack a lot of control over the lateral process.  That said, there are things you can do if you have lateral dreams.  The two most important things to do, in my opinion, are: (1) write good stuff (and write frequently); (2) get to know professors at other schools. Regarding scholarship, quality counts much more than quantity, but quantity can improve your chances of getting noticed.  Regarding the second suggestion, meeting people is key to increasing your chances at making a lateral move.  Often, deans or committees decide who to bring in for visits or lateral appointments.  You might be lucky if your paper happens to be on the desk of the right person at the right time, but the best way is for somebody on the faculty to recommend you.  This goes a long way, because getting noticed is a large part of the battle. 

How do you get to know other professors?  Go to conferences and introduce yourself to other professors.  Read widely so you know about other professors’ work.  Send your drafts to professors in your field for comments.  Provide comments to other professors on their work, such as papers posted on SSRN.  Meeting others can take a lot of time, effort, and travel, but it is worth it.  It is valuable in and of itself, but it also will help you in the lateral process. 

Posted by Daniel Solove on May 5, 2005 at 07:30 PM in Daniel Solove, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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can anyone please tell me of a web site or source that lists job postings for visiting professors, even podium-fillers? thanks

Posted by: newbie | Jan 26, 2006 4:48:43 PM

A very good question. I don't think we entirely know. I could tell you what *I* like, and I could also tell you a bit about what kind of stuff the elite legal academy seems most likely to value. Sometimes those two categories overlap, sometimes they don't. But all that is a whole 'nother issue. Blog hosters, how about a separate thread on that?

Posted by: arandom | May 12, 2005 11:13:29 AM

As the troublemaking outsider (story of my life), this discussion is all very interesting, but color me curious (and perhaps color me scheming up an X year plan to stroll academy-ward myself)...

What is "good legal scholarship?" What are its defining and distinguishing features?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | May 12, 2005 11:01:29 AM

Again, I think my critics do misunderstand. I am genuinely sorry if I have offended by careless wording(really, no kidding). But to rephrase my point, I am certainly not claiming that only those at top-ten schools can recognize (or produce, God forbid) good scholarship. I *am* claiming that assessments of who is "hot" and "underplaced" are garbage. We're *all" underplaced in some sense, and we're probably all "overplaced" in some other sense. I got my job not because I am smarter and more productive than anyone else out there, but the stars aligned the right way for me the year I was on the market, and I had some backers willing to go the extra mile for me. Plenty of fabulous people don't have that luck.

But here is the point: if you're concerned about the kind of arrogance that skews the market in legal academia, isn't it rather arrogant for a bunch of junior people, new to legal academia, to start playing games in which they announce that they know who's hot and underplaced? I would never have imagined, when I started teaching, that I was a good judge of that. I don't even think I am a particularly good judge now, and I've been kicking around for a good while.

That said, at risk of further offending my critic(s), there is a learning curve. I've now been in law teaching for eight years, and have taught at two top-tier institutions. During that time, I have watched probably eighty or so entry-level job talks, thirty or more lateral job-talk workshops, and at least a hundred "regular" workshops. I've served several times on appointments committees, listened to countless hours of discussion and argument about why faculty mmbers at top schools consider some scholarship to be good or bad, sat in tenure meetings, read numerous peer review letters, and, of course, for my own research read many more law review articles than I ever wanted to.

Result of all that: On the one hand, I don't think there is great consensus on what good legal scholarship is. As noted in my previous post, I wish there was more discussion of what it is we think we are looking for in good legal scholarship. On the other hand, there is some consensus on what's good, and after years in the field you begin to get a feel for it. As a new law teacher I had very little ability to distinguish between good scholarship, mediocre scholarship, and bad scholarship. (Maybe you all are just much, much smarter?) After eight years, I have honed my own sense of what I value, and I also have developed an increasingly keen awareness of the kind of work valued by the elite legal academy (which is at times rather different than what I value, but there it is).

I hope this soothes any ruffled feathers out there. As I have tried to say, perhaps clumsily, I'm always interested in anyone's views of what makes good scholarship good, and examples are warmly welcomed. But I suspect I speak for many others when I sat that I'm not much interested in who you think is hot or underplaced. It's an inherently obnoxious game.

Posted by: arandom | May 12, 2005 10:47:48 AM

Agreed, Dan, on both counts.

Posted by: Kaimi | May 11, 2005 6:46:35 PM

I would just add to Kaimi's point the banal observation that the placement of articles in good journals is evidence of but not irrefutable proof of a person's "stardom." For all the familiar reasons. And with no denigration to Avi's work specificially, b/c that which i've read I do think is excellent, I would note more generally that it is possible/probable that when you get lucky once early (by having a good article and winning a placement lottery), it gets easier to get luckier later with article placements.

Posted by: Dan Markel | May 11, 2005 6:40:07 PM

Random, Anon, Kayser family, etc.

Lots of valid points all around. Let's see.

We could divide assertions of underplacement into two categories. First would be objective underplacement assessments. "Professor Z has just published in Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Yale and Chicago. She teaches at Podunk State U. She is underplaced."

Second, of course, is a subjective assessment. "Professor Z has some really good ideas and is likely to be a future star."

Most forward-looking statements are likely to be subjective. You can only be objective by looking backwards at scholarship.

Of course, there's a mix of these two that goes on. I say "Professor Z is underplaced" and I may be basing that on both her published track record (objective), and my own views about her likely trajectory (subjective).

A major problem is that subjective underplacement is hard to guage and potentially subject to abuse. I may not really think that Professor Z is likely to be a future star, but say so because she's my friend. And it's a non-falsifiable statement.

I suspect that concerns about the validity of judgments (such as those voiced by arandom) reflect that concern.

On the other hand, comments by Kayser's Sister and others reflect that idea that a significant portion of a valid assessment may be based on objective measures.

(And I'll note that we _do_ discuss these objective measures around here. One commenter suggested Avi Bell as an underplaced person -- I agree, and I'll note that, a few weeks ago, we were discussing Bell & Parchomovsky's new article in Cornell). (Side note -- I think that with a half dozen top-10-journal articles to his credit in the past five years, Bell _has_ to be considered objectively underplaced at Fordham/Bar-Ilan.).

So -- yes, determination of underplacement is possible to at least some degree, based on objective measures.

And yes, we should be careful about such assessments and recognize their potential deficiencies.

Posted by: Kaimi | May 11, 2005 6:19:27 PM

I'm not so sure there was a misunderstanding of your earlier comment. You wrote: "For one thing, with respect, most of the posters here seem to be very junior scholars who are not themselves at top schools (yet). So... how exactly would any of you know who is "underplaced"?"
That permissibly (if not compellingly) conveys to the average reader of this blawg that you (or your colleagues at a top ten school) know something about identifying scholarship that others (not in the top 10) don't. What you wrote afterwards (about the difficulty of consensus on good scholarship) does not elaborate your claim, as you suggest in your reply; it merely contradicts it--in which case you shouldn't have made the first comment. The two points are in tension.

Moreover, your reply is just as insulting and dismissive by claiming that no one can know ("not a bunch of random junior level profs") what good scholarship is. That's arrant tripe and smacks of the same haughtiness of which you were initially accused. If you were willing to stand by the position you articulate, and not embarrassed by it, you wouldn't post it anonymously either.

No doubt you mean well and your ultimate point is a fair one. But you do have both feet in your mouth. And that's hardly attractive or evidence of anyone else's misunderstanding. I'm sure an apology would be accepted. I've met some of these (im)posters, and they are forgiving souls.

Posted by: Kayser's Sister | May 11, 2005 4:51:43 PM

You misunderstand my comment. Read the sentence immediately following the ones you selectively quoted. Precisely because there is so much competition and arbitrariness, *no one* (not me, not you, and not a bunch of random junior level profs) really knows who "ought" to be "higher up" or "lower down." Rather than pretending that we know who is "hot" or a "rising star" or "underplaced," we would do a lot better to say, "X wrote an article that is interesting and worthwhile for the following reasons...."

In my view, the legal academy has zero consensus on just what makes a "good" article" "good," or on how we can distinguish between the mediocre, the good and the great when it comes to scholarship. The relentless gossip mill, focusing on "star" quality, rewards self-promoters and further retards the development of any meaningful discussion of what it is that makes good legal scholarship good.

Posted by: arandom | May 11, 2005 1:16:28 PM

arandom writes:

"I teach at a top-ten law school and have a pretty negative reaction to the gossip game. For one thing, with respect, most of the posters here seem to be very junior scholars who are not themselves at top schools (yet). So... how exactly would any of you know who is "underplaced"?"

Ah, the arrogance of the top 10. It's always remarkable to see it out in the open. As if you needed to be teaching at a top school to understand who is a top scholar.

Posted by: top 20 law prof | May 10, 2005 9:26:47 PM

It is confusing. In SSRN-speak, I think you indicate it when you choose which "journals" should include your article. But you can also email SSRN and they will do it for you (though it often takes a few weeks),

Re the debate about naming "hot" or at least "underplaced" young faculty, I agree with Brad and Dan Solove that this is a pointless, and possibly counter-productive, enterprise. I teach at a top-ten law school and have a pretty negative reaction to the gossip game. For one thing, with respect, most of the posters here seem to be very junior scholars who are not themselves at top schools (yet). So... how exactly would any of you know who is "underplaced"? And what on earth does that mean in a system with so much competition and arbitrariness? If you throw out names, I assume they're just your pals and I ignore it. On the other hand, when you discuss interesting articles, even though I may still assume they're by your pals, I am far, far more likely to take it seriously, since the discussion forces you to articulate just *why* something is different or interesting. I may even go read the articles.... and mention the author to our search committee. Substance, please!

Posted by: arandom | May 10, 2005 10:47:58 AM

How do you get your work listed in the SSRN young scholars abstract series? SSRN is maddeningly vague about how one would get on such a list. Thanks.

Posted by: newprof | May 9, 2005 10:33:00 PM

Those who are interested in getting more visibility for their work to enhance the prospects of a lateral move should take advantage of the SSRN abstracts series for working papers and accepted papers by "Young Scholars" (those in teaching less than seven years). http://www.ssrn.com/update/lsn/lsn_young-scholars.html This is the only SSRN series driven by author demographics.

As the description reflects,"It is hoped that Young Scholars Law Abstracts will provide a mechanism for senior scholars and appointments committees considering lateral candidates in a particular area to identify young/untenured scholars in those areas, and for young/untenured scholars writing in a particular area to more readily identify one another."

Robin Wilson and I are the co-editors of the Abstracts Series, and we are trying to fill the market niche so that young scholars need not resort to rumor-mongering. Coincidentally, we have both made recent lateral moves -- Robin moved from South Carolina to Maryland, and I moved from Maryland to Illinois.

Posted by: David Hyman | May 9, 2005 8:26:36 PM

Just to be clear, I was offering an explanation, not a recommendation of any sort. For one thing, there's nothing anyone can do to make himself or herself hot -- it just happens. But more importantly, I agree with the comment that, while academics are subject to herding and path-dependent evaluations just like anyone else, we should be aware of this and try to counteract it by focusing on the content of people's work.

Posted by: Brad Wendel | May 9, 2005 2:29:32 PM

I very much agree with the last comment of avoiding playing the "who's hot" game. It is not the right way to get noticed.

Posted by: Daniel Solove | May 9, 2005 11:01:24 AM

NO NO NO....

Please, everyone, do NOT start rumor-mongoring about who is "hot." It is disgusting enough that so much lateral hiring works that way. We're supposed to be the next generation, more progressive, committed to changing and reforming the legal academy, right? Let's not play that game. If we do, the game will be just that, a game in which people start puffing up their friends in a nice little "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Dan started a nice "article spotlight.
" If you think someone has written a terrific article, by all means post it, discuss it, circualte, explain why it is interesting... but please let's not get into this content-free "who's hot" game.

Posted by: don'tdoit | May 9, 2005 10:51:32 AM

An issue that has come up before: it's generally tougher for women to become "hot." Not to reopen the prior debates: but women [IN GENERAL, not always, I know!!!!] are often less able to do look-see visits, less able to pick up and move... less able to go to a ton of conferences than male colleagues, if they have small kids... all the more reason for appointments to resist the lure of "buzz" and try just reading some scholarship instead. Harder but more accurate way to find good people.

Posted by: metoo | May 6, 2005 4:32:46 PM

A lot of it is about creating "buzz." I am at a top-tier law school and see it all the time. It's about mediated desire. None of us are self-confident enough to figure out for ourselves who is good... so we keep trying to figure out who other people think are good. Resist it.

Posted by: alsoanon | May 6, 2005 4:30:01 PM

All the above is right (including when it's contradictory. Sorry.) On blogging, though, let me issue a word of warning: blogging can definitely get you noticed, but esp. at top schools blogging is often viewed a bit contemptuously. I don't think this means "don't blog," but I do think it means, "be careful." If you come across as arrogant or ill-informed, people will hold it against you. (And we all know how easy it is to write an email that comes across as more obnoxious than it was meant. Same goes for blogs.)

Posted by: anony2 | May 6, 2005 4:25:41 PM

I suppose I should throw out a few pieces of meat. Preferably the people should be drawn from schools below the top 20 or so.
Kerr at GW is one. Ed Cheng at Brooklyn. David Hoffman at Temple. Abraham Bell (Bar-Ilan/Fordham).

Posted by: Anon | May 6, 2005 4:17:26 PM

Well, Brad, and others, let's start some rampant rumor-mongering. Who do you think should be the subject of raids?? Since this is the kind of gossip that is good for people, don't hold back...
Imagine this is a game of moneyball, and you're trying to pick your 9 best athletes (not shortstops), but they are misplaced. Who would they be? I suspect the powers that be here will allow this game to be anonymous in the comments, but there's not much reason to not divulge your picks too.

Posted by: Anon | May 6, 2005 4:02:50 PM

I don't think the dearth of information is due to people being scared, or not wanting to prejudice themselves with their school. Rather, it's because the whole process is so flukey that it's impossible to rationalize. I moved laterally (pre-tenure, I might add) and participated in lateral searches at my old school, and I honestly haven't the foggiest idea how it *really* works. The comments accurately characterize the goal as "becoming known as an up-and-coming scholar." And obviously writing good stuff and developing a professional network are necessary conditions. But they're not sufficient conditions, and I think the silence on blogs is a reflection of the utter ineffability of the sufficient conditions. For some reason, some people just get hot while others, who "objectively" should have gotten hot, have been ignored. Once someone is in play, there are cascade effects and other schools start competing for that person. As for getting into play in the first place, that seems to be a function of being in the right place at the right time and that, further, is a function of . . . uh . . . sheer blind luck, I think.

Posted by: Brad Wendel | May 6, 2005 3:23:25 PM

Thanks. That's helpful stuff. Perhaps you can get some others that you know (who have moved up or down the chain) to weigh in too. Orin himself must be ripe for a move too!

I suppose I should note for the record that I'm needling you not because I am especially interested in lateral moves (I am very pleased with my placement), but because this is one of the more mystifying areas of the legal academy and there is very little real information about it available. Even when Leiter opened a thread, people were too scared or too ignorant to write in with much of use. And Solum hasn't touched it, despite being asked many times to cover the subject. I appreciate that everyone is, in some ways, covering themselves and their own prospects for further advancement. But I still thought it would be useful to try to get an open conversation about this going on.

Posted by: Ethan Leib | May 6, 2005 1:29:20 PM


Here's my best stab at responding to your questions.

1. Getting noticed often happens through friends. At GW, it was Orin Kerr who first recommended me to visit to fill in for some of his courses while he was on leave to clerk on the Supreme Court. I got to know Orin because we were panelists at several conferences. As you go to more conferences, you start making more friendships in the academy. You don't need to know somebody on the appointments committee, as people readily recommend folks to the committee. They key is to get yourself out there and meet people.

Writing stuff will also get you noticed, as I did get calls from several other law schools about lateral interest. But often, when the appointments committee meets to think about laterals, it's a very daunting task to identify the up-and-coming potential lateral candidates, and so having somebody say to a committee member, "Hey, consider Prof. X, he/she is a rising star" goes a long way. When I read the work of young professors, I often know little about their situation. Are they moveable? How long have they been teaching? And so on. But if I know them personally, I know this information, and it helps if I can say to a committee member, "Hey, consider Prof. X, he/she is a rising star and he/she is very interested in moving, very interested in this school/city, and is a really engaging and interesting person."

2. I'm not sure about the effects of blogging. I do think it helps to get you noticed. But it also saps a lot of time from scholarship. It is very hard to tell how beneficial blogging can be; perhaps those blogging for a few years can better answer this question. My speculation is that blogging will generally be helpful, although how much I'm not sure.

3. Moving is hard no matter what, but I think that moving up is probably harder.

4. I'm not sure if I have enough data to say anything very accurate on when one starts to get lateral nibbles. I've rarely seen it happen after just a year unless a person has made an enormous splash in the academy at that point. Typically, it will happen after a few years, once a professor has established himself/herself in the field a bit. Hiring a person just one year into the profession is not much different than an entry-level hire. I think that the lateral market has two hot periods -- one right before tenure (3-5 years of teaching) and one a few years after tenure (7-10 years of teaching). But the lateral process works in strange ways, so there are few rules or even strong trends. Somebody teaching for 15 or more years may suddenly get "hot" and be widely noticed.

As for whether it is more likely to lateral pre- rather than post-tenure, I really don't know. Here's my speculation, which may be completely false, so take it with a grain of salt. The top 10 or 20 law schools probably (although not always) won't hire a lateral until they are very sure that the lateral is great. They don't like to gamble. They won't waste their time with a lateral they're not 100 percent certain about. This typically means that many lateral candidates are either tenured or very close to tenure, since they have a developed record. Below the top 10 or 20 schools, I think that schools are more willing to roll the dice a bit. When I say roll the dice, I mean that the relevant gamble isn't whether a prof will be tenured but whether he/she will become a superstar. Lateral hires are generally not big gambles for tenure purposes (as I will explain below). They are gambles for whether the person will become a superstar.

One thing to note is that denying tenure is very costly to a school. It takes an unbelievable toll on the community; it can tear faculties apart; it can really change the atmosphere of a place; and it makes all junior faculty very nervous and uneasy. So most schools deciding on hiring a lateral candidate are not likely to think: "Ok, we'll try the person out for a year or two, and if they don't work out, then we can just deny them tenure." Laterals are hired just a year or two before tenure, and by that point, there should rarely be much of a question about tenure, and I doubt profs with serious tenure issues would be hired laterally (or so I hope, as I was hired by GW without tenure)!

5. I'm not really aware of this happening. I doubt any respectable school would game the system of hiring to avoid giving a light teaching load.

Posted by: Daniel Solove | May 6, 2005 1:13:49 PM

I'll second Ethan's questions.

(And I'll also note that I've heard an answer to one of them -- I've been told by one mentor that it's substantially easier to lateral pre-tenure than it is to move post-tenure. Presumably this is because the new institution still has a filter to exclude you if it turns out that you're a flake).

Posted by: Kaimi | May 6, 2005 12:28:27 PM

Here are some follow up questions:

1. How often do you think "getting noticed" happens through friends from law school/college who find themselves on appointments committees? Obviously, you write a ton. But did you have someone on the inside?

2. Do you think blogging helps in getting noticed?

3. Do you think it is substantially easier to move down the chain? Say you were at GW to start and decided you wanted to move to New York. Would it have been a substantially easier matter for you to have gotten Seton Hall interested in you?

4. When is movement most likely to happen? Some people seem to move after a single year; others move closer to tenure. Is there a pattern?

5. Do schools ever try to grab last year's stars who were "underemployed" on the theory that they do not have to give them their light courseload year that they would otherwise have to give to an entry-level hire?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by: Ethan Leib | May 6, 2005 12:23:16 PM


Your advice is great, but it sounds like a lot of work!

Posted by: Jack Chin | May 6, 2005 11:56:33 AM


In response to your question, I think it is not essential that you teach torts. It is enough if you establish yourself as a torts scholar. When schools look to fill a curricular need, they'll look for folks who are writing in the area. Eventually, they'll discover that you've never taught the course, but nobody will doubt your ability or desire to teach it if you've written a lot in the area.

Also, if you've written a lot in torts, you can keep pressuring Podunk U. to let you teach torts. Eventually, if you write enough, they will be shamed into letting you teach it. If you've got Guido Calabresi on your faculty and don't let him teach torts, something's seriously wrong! Another option is that if there's an evening division at your school, offer to teach the evening torts section.

Be sure to make your teaching desires known to the associate dean. Let him or her know you really want to teach torts and keep pushing.

Another option: Try to teach an advanced seminar in torts or a torts-related course.

But the bottom line, at least from my perspective, is that schools will care more about your expertise as defined by your scholarship and your interest in teaching a particular course than on whether or not you've taught the course before. After all, schools routinely hire entry-levels who've never taught any course before at all.

Posted by: Daniel Solove | May 6, 2005 10:38:45 AM


Let me ask a related question -- what do you do when you want to lateral in fields as well? i.e., right now I'm teaching Mongolian water law at Podunk U. I'd like out of Podunk U; I'd also like to be teaching torts, not Mongolian water law.

Is it enough if I'm publishing in torts? Or will lateral schools expect me to be teaching torts as well?

Posted by: Anon for this one | May 6, 2005 10:20:49 AM

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