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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"Meat Market" Advice

One of the many valuable things about Prawfsblawg has been the on-and-off discussion about the law-faculty-hiring process, particularly the so-called "Meat Market."  (For example, Bernie Meyler recently posted some helpful advice about staying well-snacked during interview days).   I'd like to impose on my fellow bloggers for some more such advice:  I'm serving this year on Notre Dame's appointments committee, so I'll be on "the other side" of the game in Washington.  I wonder if any bloggers or readers who've recently endured the process have any thoughts about questions that the committee members should have asked?  Having gone through the interviews, are there particular questions, or lines of questioning, that were effective in inviting you to reflect, and talk about, your scholarly goals and your hopes for teaching?


Posted by Rick Garnett on July 27, 2005 at 12:24 PM | Permalink


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I found that the best discussions I had at the AALS arose out of questions that were based upon my own work but drew upon scholarly interests of the interviewer. This mode of questioning not only assists the appointments committee in figuring out whether the candidate would fit with its faculty interests and be a good colleague but also indicates to the interviewee that he or she would find the particular law school intellectually stimulating.

Posted by: Bernie | Aug 2, 2005 10:52:52 AM

I believe the best questions are those designed to determine
whether the candidate has given serious thought to how he or she will perform as a member of the legal academy. Thus, questions about research agendae and "how do you anticipate teaching such-and-such a course" are important and fair because the best answers will show that the candidate has thought enough about this career decision that he or she will likely have the _drive_ to be a valuable scholar/teacher. I like "Brooks's" ideas for specific questions about scholarship.

One question that really irritated me was "Why are you interested in our school?" For most entry-level candidates, the answer is obvious but cannot be stated: "I want to teach, and you are the school that offered me an interview." The benefit of the question (making sure the candidate has done some research about the school) can be achieved more directly, and without prompting a semi-dishonest response: "How do you think you would fit in with the programs we offer at XYZ Law School?"

My concerns may not be as important with Notre Dame, as candidates often would have reasons for affirmatively choosing that school, but they are important for interviews with schools that are not national names.

In contrast to the entry-level market, I think the "Why do you want to come here" question is much more legitimately asked of a lateral candidate. Some will interview with any school ranked higher than their present one, but I think most candidates in the lateral market use somewhat different or additional criteria based on their initial experiences.

Posted by: MD | Jul 29, 2005 2:16:11 PM

My point was that it is hard being an interviewee. You aren't a colleague yet when you are interviewing. Accordingly, most don't feel especially comfortable being dismissive in return (even when that is just what is called for). Even if this is what, say, the University of Chicago is looking for in its new crop, perfectly confrontational people that they might very well want to recruit may be a little more humble on the interview, so it will be hard to "evaluate" for that disposition no matter what. There are ways to joust effectively: Northwestern had 7 people popping hard questions at me for the entire time; they very much put me on the spot--but did it respectfully, I thought. And if you really want to know if the interviewee is confrontational, ask his/her recommenders, who presumably could address this very important aspect of a candidate's evaluation.

I don't know where "lawprof" teaches, but there were many very good schools with perfect gentlemen and ladies who were actively interested in having a real conversation about ideas, not just a high school debate.

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Jul 27, 2005 3:08:49 PM

I really appreciated these questions during a couple of interviews I had: If you were to write a follow-up piece to article X, what would you discuss or argue, and why? And, if you could write article X over again, what views or arguments would you revise or change, and why and how? Much more than “tell us about article X,” these questions really challenged me to demonstrate a mastery of my own subject matter, that I actually have a scholarly agenda and not just a list of disconnected work for the sake of having it, and that I think critically about my own work. Now, whether I personally met that challenge is another story ...

Posted by: Brooks | Jul 27, 2005 2:52:55 PM

Ethan writes: "law professors like to be dismissive and know-it-alls".

Well, that's for sure. But given that, isn't being a dismissive know-it-all the best way to figure out if the candidate will get along well with other colleagues? If you're on the appointments committee and you act nice, you can't tell if the person knows how to handle himself in a reacl academic envirobment. Ethan's advice is right if the goal is to impress the candidate, but not necessarily if the goal is to evaluate the candidate.

Posted by: lawprof | Jul 27, 2005 2:43:55 PM

How can I say this nicely? Don't be jerks. Respectful treatment of people's ideas even if they seem outlandish to you is absolutely necessary. You would think that this goes without saying. But law professors like to be dismissive and know-it-alls--and it is very difficult for interviewees, who themselves can't really be aggressive in return. Jousting about ideas is really the best kind of interview to have. But it has to be done with respect. The least impressive interviewers were the ones that were trying to impress me and thought they had something to prove.

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Jul 27, 2005 1:52:10 PM

If a candidate has published already, please don’t ask “tell us about your article on _____.” The ability to describe a law review article in 30 seconds may be a useful task, but if you want to know about the article, read it. Instead, ask more general questions about writing plans or areas of research interest, which tend to lead to a more interesting discussion.

Posted by: Ben Barros | Jul 27, 2005 1:31:21 PM

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