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Friday, July 11, 2008

Selling Partners on the Job Market

A query from a job candidate reader:

When you go on the market, what is the best way to raise the issue of a partner who'll need to find a university-related job outside of the law school?  Suppose the partner is a sociologist, an investment analyst, or a radiologist. What is the best way to ask whether the law school can help with finding a spot in the sociology department, the university investments office, or the affiliated hospital?

The only advice we could call to mind was on timing: "Don't bring this up until after you have an offer."  Is that advice right?  Doesn't the school feel sandbagged if you say, only after receiving an offer, "Great news!  I love your school and the town it's in.  But I have hitherto neglected to mention that my partner is a philosopher, and unless he can get a position in your philosophy department there is no way I can accept your offer.  He'll contact the department right away, but can you put in a word on his behalf please"?

Another wrinkle involves contacting schools independent of the FAR distribution.  With the partner-needs-a-job issue out there, is there any good way to contact schools that you're interested in but that are outside of your current geographical area?  Consider this example: You grew up in the South and would love to move back there for good. However, your CV screams northeast – college in Ithaca, law school in Boston, clerkship in New Haven, and a now working as an AUSA in New York City.  For all anyone knows from reading your CV, you've never been south of Battery Park.  You are not limiting your search geographically because it is possible for you to move anywhere so long as your partner can find a job there.

You want to notify schools in the South know that you are really excited about the prospect of teaching there and have roots in that region.  At the same time, you know that at some of the Southern schools you're interested in the only way you can take an offer is if the university investments office hires your stock analyst partner (or Econ department hires your economist partner, hospital hires your surgeon partner, etc.).  Is it improper or misleading to send a letter to schools in the region explaining your interest?  When and how do you bring up the importance of a position for the partner, if you ever bring it up?

My instinct here is that many schools will prejudge your geographical preferences through your resume (though the best schools -- and some but not all mediocre schools in big cities -- will assume that you will be willing to move for them), so it can help to explain to Southern schools (in the example) that you are into the idea of coming south. 

I suppose I do think that it is premature to try to negotiate for a partner pre-offer -- and it may even hurt your chances of getting an offer in the first place.  But if the sociology dept or investment shop is public about a search that your partner is a good match for, then it might be worth making your move pre-offer.  For a variety of reasons, this sort of strategy can actually improve both of your chances, I'd guess.  But fishing for a sociology appointment for your partner when the sociology dept isn't independently conducting a search is likely to get you nowhere fast -- and might hurt your chances.

Just my two cents, which I would revise accordingly if someone asked me a non-hypothetical question.  For example, some schools affirmatively like doing these things and see it as a good investment because they can then keep you longer.  Indeed, some smaller schools try to create community in just this way and wouldn't be put off at all by the early request to have your partner get in touch with job prospects.  So my comments are to be taken as "on average" ones, with an admitted bias for larger top-50ish schools.

Posted by Ethan Leib on July 11, 2008 at 12:11 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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They'll assume anyone would be interested in teaching there, but there's still no harm (and perhaps a benefit) to sending a package to them. The possible benefit: It gets your name and CV in front of them another time, and perhaps with another person.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jul 14, 2008 2:35:29 AM

Orin, what about sending packages like that to "top" or near-"top" schools? For example, say I'm from Los Angeles, but my entire professional life has been spent on the east coast. Is it worth sending packets to UCLA and USC, or are they likely to assume anyone would be interested in teaching there?

Posted by: Robert | Jul 13, 2008 3:32:49 PM

I wonder if the first hypothetical doesn't posit a particular implicit assumption that bears on the ethics here. It presumes that the partner must have a job at the same institution. I'm sure there are law schools in which that is the case. If one were interviewing at UNLV or North Dakota or Montana, is there another school that provides an alternative? Compare that to interviewing in a metropolitan area, like New York or Boston or Cleveland or Philadelphia or Detroit in which there is the realistic possibility of an alternative.

I think the former case is a close question, as Orin points out, but in the latter case, I don't see an ethical obligation to disclose until far later in the process, nor do I see any reason to hurt one's chances by inserting the issue too early. There are still a lot of choices to be made depending on the attractiveness of the offer and the intensity of one's desire to be a law professor. People make accommodations in how they live - the Detroit area is accessible from Toledo, KC is accessible from Lawrence, you can live in between Winston-Salem and the Research Triangle and be accessible to both. And there's the full-fledged commuter relationship (something I did for the better part of two years while a visiting prof, and once for nine months when I took a corporate job).

What I'm saying is that the ethical obligation to disclose would only arise if you had made the irrevocable decision that you could not possibly take the job unless there were a partner offer in another department of the same institution going along with it.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jul 12, 2008 2:44:21 PM

The first issue is really tricky. My sense is that some schools really bend over backwards to set up this sort of thing, while other schools generally will not offer much help at all. If your acceptance of any offer is really contingent on the school arranging something like that, I think you probably need to get a sense of what that school's usual policy is before knowing how to answer this question. (If the school categorically does not provide such assistance, and you will not take the offer without it, don't both sides need to know about the conflict sooner rather than later?) That's my sense, at least. I'm curious what others think.

In terms of geographic interest, you should definitely send packages with a cover letter, cv, etc. to schools that otherwise won't realize you are interested in them. The cover letter should state why you're interested in them, why you love that town, local connections, and the like. This tells them that pursuing you would not be a waste of their time, which they may otherwise conclude from looking at your cv. That's my 2 cents, at least.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jul 11, 2008 12:30:48 AM

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