« Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics at Harvard Law School | Main | Market Advice: Job Talks to Avoid »

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Hiring Process and "Cooking for a Job"

It's the time of year when law-blogs post advice for candidates who will be attending next week's "meat market."  Here's an excellent example from Daniel Solove at CoOp.  My view is that as welcome as such advice is, we really ought to be thinking about what advice we should be offering the interviewers as well.  To that end, and for both candidates and interviewers alike, let me again recommend Martha Nussbaum's article Cooking for a Job: The Law School Hiring Process.  I don't have a free link, but it can be found at 1 Green Bag (2d) 253 (1998).  Some of its advice is dated; among other things, most candidates have now written a lot more, although it is still an open question how carefully all schools read that material, and in what manner they evaluate it.  But the fundamental question Nussbaum poses -- is the hiring process "effective in identifying good scholars, as opposed to good rhetoricians?" -- is still entirely pertinent.  Like Nussbaum, I think the answer to this question is still arguably "no."

Nussbaum argues that in the law school hiring process, "a certain type of individual, who combines obsequiousness with glibness and aggressiveness, is disproportionately (and disgustingly) in evidence in the academic hiring process of the legal academy."  "On the other hand," she adds, "shy or contemplative people are underrepresented -- not necessarily, I think, because such people don't make outstanding legal scholars."  She adds, in a similar vein, that "[a]ggressiveness, a certain supple glibness, these are the things that get you through [the initial interview process], although of course you have to know something too. . . . Candidates seem to think that quickness, glibness, and aggressiveness are virtues, and that reflectiveness, quietness, and uncertainty are vices.  And so it frequently turns out." 

I think all these points are still both importantly true (though they're not the whole story, of course) and endemic to a broader range of activities in the legal academy, including scholarship.  (See also Dan Farber on the "play of brilliance" in constitutional scholarship.  See also, generally, law-blogging.)  And they do have effects: as I related in an earlier post recommending Nussbaum's article, every year I hear from hiring committees that invited back the "quickest," "brightest," and "best-credentialed" candidates rather than the ones who were hesitant, humble, or seemed to hide their light under a bushel, and were disappointed by a shallow job-talk.

Nussbaum's article, in my view, remains a must-read for both candidates and hiring committees.  For candidates, alas, it offers a perverse lesson in how to succeed at the game: be quick, bright, glib, and aggressive.  For hiring committees, it is a timely reminder to think about what you want from your would-be colleagues, and about what the nature of the legal academic enterprise should be, rather than asking yourself what the quick, bright, glib, aggressive hiring committees down the hall are doing.

If I may solicit comments: What other advice would you offer hiring committees?  What do you think hiring committees are generally looking for, and what should they be looking for?  What do they do well at the hiring conference, and what do they do poorly?  What would you ask them to remember before stepping into the interview room?  And am I right to say that hiring committees often search for jewels in Washington and find mere glass baubles when they bring them back for the job-talk?  Alas, it's too late to address what hiring committees might do differently in sifting through FAR forms. 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on October 16, 2007 at 10:22 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Hiring Process and "Cooking for a Job":


In terms of advice to hiring committee members, I would suggest reading the article(s) and note(s) written by a candidate being interviewed at the FRC, if at all possible. It has become a virtual requirement that job candidates publish something before being "credible" at most schools. It seems odd, then, that schools might make decisions about which candidates get "fly back" interviews based on a somewhat silly 20-25 minute interview. There is hard evidence out there on these candidates, in the form of their written work. Even where a piece is outside of a hiring committee member's area of expertise, I would think it possible to ascertain even from student work whether a candidate (1) knows how to ask interesting questions (2) knows how to anticipate and respond to counterarguments and (3) knows how to write a sentence and, more importantly, a paragraph.

Posted by: Geoff | Oct 16, 2007 2:29:51 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.