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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What happens on a callback? What should happen?

There's a lot of ways different schools conduct callback interview days. I thought I'd invite some discussion in the comments about "best practices," starting with an example of what we often (but not always) do at FSU.

Evening before talk:
5:55 p.m.: X arrives in Tallahassee. Y picks up X at airport and brings X to hotel.

7 p.m.: Dinner at ___ (X plus 3 faculty members, sometimes 4).

8:30 a.m.: Breakfast at Tallahasse Center & transportation to law school:

one faculty member plus X; sometimes 2

9:30 a.m.: Office interview

10:00 am: Same

10:30 am: Same

11:00 am: Same

11:30 am: Prepare for Talk 1/2 hour of downtime (Room 206)

NOON: Lunch

1230: Presentation to Faculty (15-20 minutes of shpiel by X followed by questions)

1:30 p.m.: Office Interview

2:00 p.m.: Meet with Dean

3:00 p.m.: Meet with Director of the Research Center/Library

4ish: Transportation to Airport or if there's time, a drive around neighborhoods and then drive X to airport.

As you can see, we don't do meetings with students like at other schools, nor do we do a second big dinner. How does your school do things? Candidates: what do you think schools should do that they're not doing? What shouldn't they do?

Posted by Administrators on November 18, 2008 at 06:19 PM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market | Permalink


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Dear anotheranon, some schools were very good about bathroom breaks and, at others, I made sure to ask when I needed to go but I must admit that it was a bit uncomfortable. I have a friend who is also on the meat market this year and he told me that when he asked, he was told to wait a little because they were far from a bathroom and they had to be on time to go to a particular professor's office. The message that has been sent to candidates about the process is that we have to be as agreeable as possible and that anything we do or say may be used against us. Are we too demanding in requesting bathroom breaks when we need them if it may be inconvenient to the host who is walking us around (distant bathroom), or when a bathroom break puts us behind schedule because they did not allow time for breaks in the itinerary? Or, if we ask for too many bathroom breaks, is there a health issue? Once you do ask, you feel as if you have to rush because your host is right outside the door waiting for you (the host gets breaks when we are interviewing). Enough of bathrooms, I posted the comment because, if the process can be better for other candidates, then I am glad to help. Perhaps faculty did not consider such an obvious, physiological issue as bathroom breaks (especially during stressful times), or perhaps they assumed, as you did, that candidates will just ask. Well, guess what? Some candidates may hesitate to ask so why not be nice and build a couple of bathroom breaks into the itinerary? After all, this will not cost the schools anything and it will make a fellow human being’s life a lot easier and comfortable. Thank you for your advice but asking sometimes does not work (as my friend’s story reveals), especially when the host may not be as thoughtful as you are!

Posted by: newcomer | Dec 10, 2008 9:35:13 AM

Newcomer: If you need to use the restroom or would like some water, why don't you just ask? Try it - it never fails!

Posted by: anotheranon | Dec 10, 2008 12:36:06 AM

I've been on three visits now and have one more to go. At two of the schools, I met with students and I greatly enjoyed it. Initially, they took their interviewing job very seriously but, once they felt comfortable, we ended up just talking and they even sought my advice about how to do well in law school and in choosing their jobs. Some schools are much more organized than others and I prefer the organized ones. It is much better if you can get the itinerary at least a couple of days before the visit with the names of your hosts. I also found that your hosts play an important role in making sure that you get to where you are supposed to be next on time. I think that the AALS should push for a rule requiring that candidates be given preparation time ALONE before the job talk in the room where the job talk will be presented, especially if the candidate will be using technology. The candidate should get at least an opportunity to test the technology with sufficient time to fix any problems with the IT person. I would have liked time in the actual presentation room (ALONE) before the presentation, to be able to decide where I wanted to stand, where to place my outline, and get a feel for where the faculty would be in relation to me. I like Stanford's time-scheduling format. I would prefer to fly in during the morning the day before, get an early dinner with the Dean and a couple of faculty members, and a good night's sleep. The dinner is good because you may be able to get information that will be helpful the next day during the interviews and job talk. But it should be an early dinner. I would prefer to be picked up no earlier than 8:30 a.m. from the hotel on the day of the job talk because I had to wake up at 5:30 a.m. during my job talk day (after late dinners) to get myself ready, rushing, pack my bags, and check out, to be ready and waiting at the front of the hotel by 7:00 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. with my luggage. At one of my visits, I was rushed from place to place and I never knew where I was going next because the professors were not where they were supposed to be so my itinerary was adjusted at the last minute during the entire day. One of the most important suggestions that I can make, to level the playing field, is that schools provide all candidates, well in advance to allow for preparation time, with the requirements for the job talk (the same document for all candidates). This has been the hardest part of the process, finding out what the faculty members expect from the job talk, the format, duration, published versus non-published material, etc. It is like pulling teeth and it all depends on how forthcoming the faculty member that you consult wants to be. I am convinced that the faculty hiring committee member who contacted me from one school to schedule my job talk may have led me astray. I did not want to go over her head and contact someone else because, apparently, this was her duty. She was very difficult to contact (she took forever to respond to e-mails and phone messages). When she finally returned my call, she was in a rush because she was traveling and told me not to worry too much and present whatever I wanted. Last but not least, the hosts play an important role and I cannot help but wonder whether they have their preference and act accordingly before and during the visit. I have enjoyed meeting future colleagues and students but the process could be a bit kinder for the candidates with slight adjustments. The AALS should play a role in requesting anonymous feedback from candidates – we need some basic accommodations, such as bathroom breaks and water. I have felt rushed with no breaks throughout the entire process. I also think that schools should invite candidates only if they are truly interested – I have heard that some schools may bring in diversity of candidates (gender, race, etc.) because they want to look like they interviewed diverse candidates but they already had a particular candidate selected. In my opinion, this borders on fraud and it creates unneeded stress and it is a waste of the candidate’s time and energy. At some points during the visits, I felt as if I was the entertainment for the faculty (with no compensation for all my preparation, time, and intellectual abilities). Of course, I may feel differently about this if I get offers. Overall, it has been a good learning experience that I hope will pay off and will not have to be repeated any time soon.

Posted by: newcomer | Dec 9, 2008 11:35:44 PM

Thank God I went through this process a million years ago.

I hope that "anon junior prof" is not one of my colleagues. It makes me sad to think that anyone in our business would characterize a conversation with students as an "exercise in bullshit." Students are actually pretty clever at figuring out who really wants to mentor them and who views them as an annoying distraction. And by the way, they pay our salaries.

I suppose I am equally depressed that anon junior enjoys a dinner where those in attendance "often would discuss my project and its extensions." How self-important of him/her and how tedious for all at the table. That, it strikes me, is more likely to be the real "exercise in bullshit." Here's a flash. No one will read "your project" but your students will remember you for their entire careers.

Posted by: anon senior prof | Dec 4, 2008 5:22:11 PM

I've done 8 callbacks with one more to go, so I'll offer my opinion on what I liked and disliked.

1. Meeting with the students - I found I learned a lot by asking them what they felt could be improved. It set off warning bells at one school that otherwise seemed fine.

2. Lunch with faculty after the job talk - I thought this was a nice way to unwind, and it prevented the problem of trying to shove down food while people introduce themselves before the talk, or trying to shove down food while people asked additional questions after the talk.

3. Dinners that were more laid-back - I liked the dinners where the point was more for me to ask questions about the school rather than ones where I had to do mini-job talks while eating.

4. Separate meeting with junior faculty

5. Brief tour of the city for places I'm not familiar with

1. Not getting my schedule until the night before, so I have to stay up late in my hotel room figuring out who everyone is on a really slow internet connection.

2. Schools that made me book my own airfare and seek reimbursement. Also, schools that made me call up a travel agent to arrange for my hotel room. It's really nice when there is someone to coordinate travel for you.

3. Dinners that were scheduled late (say, 7:30pm), with a 8am breakfast meeting the next morning.

Posted by: anon99 | Dec 3, 2008 8:42:06 PM

The SALT salary survey is a useful, if imperfect, way of getting a ballpark figure of whether a law professor salary will be livable. For many public universities, you can get salary info with a Google search.

Posted by: TJ | Nov 24, 2008 5:31:30 PM

As someone on an appointments committee, I know that the questions about where else you are looking are awkward, but I would strongly recommend answering them honestly (or as honestly as you can without shooting yourself in the foot). We ask the question because we have limited slots and we are trying to get a sense as to whether you might accept an offer if we made one. If you are looking at schools lower down the totem pool than us, we feel good about our chances. So I know candidates might be embarrassed about having to admit that we are their highest ranked school, but we often see it as a plus (not always, but often). And (this is important) this is your chance to tell us why you like us. Offers often come down to whether we think something likes us -- we just don't have enough offers to hand them out like candy. If you say, you are one of top choices, and here's why (insert geographical reasons, fit reasons, etc.), you will really impress us. So be honest and use this question as your opportunity to get in good with us.

Posted by: Prof | Nov 24, 2008 8:58:07 AM

Thanks to all of you on this blog for the great insights about what happens on campus call backs.

I just went through the meat market and immediately got 4 job talks. I just finished them. I have some questions and wondered if you would not mind assisting.

1. I was expecting that the schools (in particular the dean) would discuss salaries/working conditions but none did (all spent much time explaining their summer and research support for new faculty). Is this an indication of anything (like lack of interest), or should the candidates ask this if it is not brought up?

[I thought the interviews were going well but was uncomfortable asking the money question. My reasoning was that it would appear presumptuous since I am only doing a job talk and not discussing a concrete offer. Yet, it would be nice to know the livability of the law professor salary at those specific schools vis-à-vis the geographic locations of these schools, if for nothing but advance planning purposes should an offer materialize. Are there reliable sources one could consult for this info?]

2. Can you demystify a bit more what happens after the job talks are concluded, especially to uncover, if possible, the main approaches of U.S. law schools? How does this play out in terms of timings of the majority of candidate offers, and what if the school you are most interested in is not as early in making an offer as others you less interested in?

3. Finally, how does one handle questions (without burning bridges) about where else you are interviewing, especially when they come from the dean of the law school one is visiting?

Would be most grateful for your advice, and I suspect that similarly situated candidates would also benefit from your insights.

Thanks again,


Posted by: anon | Nov 24, 2008 6:04:30 AM

Having been on 4 callbacks now, I just wanted to endorse some practices that I really appreciated.

1. A tour of campus (with student, faculty or staff)

2. A short driving tour of the area (this works particularly well on the way to dinner).

3. Being given an office to sit in for my down time with a telephone and computer to check e-mail. When your 20-30 minute prep time for your talk is in the room the talk will be held, you just end up answering questions and chatting with people who arrive early -- which I did not mind, but it is not exactly "down time" or "prep time."

4. Library tours are fine, but more than 20 minutes and they start to get weird.

5. Water! Offer candidates bottles of water that they can carry with them throughout the day.

Mostly, I have found all the people wonderful and engaging. Callbacks are great opportunities to meet colleagues and get a feel for collegiality and attitude... now if only I didn't have that pesky law firm job getting in the way...

Posted by: anon candidate | Nov 21, 2008 1:56:48 PM

As an undergraduate, my school did involve majors in the selection process for new faculty, the student input was taken seriously, and generally, both faculty and students alike felt in hindsight that this helped produce better decision making.

Now, we never did any hiring in Festivus season, so we did miss out on a few elements of the complete hiring process.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Nov 20, 2008 5:29:00 PM

Who's Richard Epstien?

Posted by: loblaw | Nov 20, 2008 1:47:38 PM

I had an interview that involved teaching a mock class AND doing a job talk. The mock class was awful. The students were rude, and as I was passing out handouts, I tripped over someone's bag and cut my foot. Not one person asked if I was alright, and I could feel that my foot was bleeding. I finished the class and tended to my foot in the restroom. The following day, my host picked me up from my hotel ON FOOT (even though she was in the room during class the day before) and told me that I needed to get used to walking. I didn't get the job.

Posted by: anon too | Nov 20, 2008 11:36:53 AM

Who's Cass Sunstein?

Posted by: jobless | Nov 20, 2008 2:20:06 AM

For our callbacks, we take our candidates to a 5-star restaurant, feed them the most choice cuts of wagyu beef and blackfin tuna (often over $500 per ounce), regale them with entertainers, and then ask the following questions:

1. How would you simulate altitude in your living room?

2. If you were to form a government of philosophers, what selection process would you use?

3. How would you describe an apple?

4. If I could fold this menu an infinite number of times, how many times must I fold it to reach the moon?

5. What makes you think I am having thoughts?

6. Is the Bible a fictional work? Could it be called chick lit?

The person who refers to Cass Sunstein, Richard Epstein, and Bruce Ackerman the most times while replying gets the job.

Posted by: Decadenza | Nov 19, 2008 3:45:16 PM

One quick comment, sort of trivial, but with implications for how much the candidate enjoys his/her day at Loyola: we have a lunch for the candidate AFTER the job talk. It used to be open to any faculty member(though with an enrollment cap), and this year it's changed to just a lunch with the associate deans. The idea is to give the candidate a chance to come down from the job talk and relax a little during lunch. It strikes me as unrealistic to expect a candidate to enjoy -- or even eat -- lunch when the next item on the schedule is the all-important job talk.

Posted by: Bill Araiza | Nov 19, 2008 3:23:09 PM

Anyone heard anything about Tennessee?

Posted by: Anon | Nov 19, 2008 1:19:28 PM

Orin Kerr wrote: "At GW, we don't have strict slot hiring, so we don't usually have multiple candidates competing for a single job."

I have a call-back (not with GW) coming up, and I have a vague sense that I am the only person under consideration. But I am not sure. And while there is a particular area that the school would mostly be interested in my teaching, they are interested in me teaching outside that area. Furthermore, the school has indicated to me that they would like to make a decision, and, if they want to offer a position to me, then have me accept or reject, all before the holidays.

Anyway, the fact that they may not have other candidates gives me a fair amount of hope, but I guess I'm looking for input as to how common it is just to have one person come for a call-back, and then just make a decision as to him/her?

Posted by: anon | Nov 19, 2008 12:55:21 PM

A couple of elements of an on-campus visit that I haven't seen listed and think worthwhile: First, a driving tour of the city. When an offer was made at a school that had given me a tour, I appreciated having a sense of the neighborhoods where faculty tend to live, send their kids to school, etc., as I contemplated not just what a position would be like at the school in question, but also what my life would be like there.

Second, dinner at a faculty member's home is, to my mind, more pleasant than dinner at a restaurant -- more convivial and conducive to conversation.

Posted by: anon | Nov 19, 2008 8:42:41 AM

Two points:

1) At many schools, including mine, rather than two hours of office interviews (with 1-3 faculty in each), the candidate sits in one place (such as the faculty lounge) and faculty members shuffle through over the course of an hour/hour-and-a-half period, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Having gone through both types, I always have preferred the office-to-office. As a candidate, it is nice to be able to get up and move around.

2) As to Candidate's question on slot hiring: Every candidate who gets passed out of the Committee is presented to the faculty for an up-or-down vote, which requires a 2/3 supermajority. This often gets labeled an "acceptability" vote, although I think it is better understood as "Should this person be given an offer?" If there are more offers voted (or more "acceptable" candidates) than slots available, the faculty ranks those who received 2/3 approval, and the Dean is instructed to make offers in that order.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Nov 19, 2008 7:55:08 AM

I am aware of two diffeent processes for ranking candidates after they come through.

Most schools seem to have a strong committee system, in which the committee ranks and candidates and makes recommendations for an up-down vote to the faculty. The faculty considers candidates one-by-one, based on recommendations from the committee. Often, there is a strong sense of deference to the committee, but some faculty have an explicit independent judgement of the faculty standard and 4 hour faculty meetings on appointments are not uncommon at some law schools.

Some schools have a system where a "slate" of candidates is raised before the faculty and the faculty ranks them. Offers are then made according to the collective ranking, assuming each candidate received the requisite vote. This cattle call approach has many advantages, but it can lead to fairly long meetings if there are a lot of candidates in the mix.

It's typically the lesser ranked schools that do "slot" hiring. At some schools, there is the option of making multiple offers to folks in the same field. Also, some schools that are particularly aggressive with hiring will make multiple rounds of offers through the year, offering positions to candidates as they come through (assuming that they meet the bar) rather than waiting to consider everyone side-by-side at the end of the year. I see distinct advantages to the former approach in that it allows a law school to make more offers and, on average, should allow it to do better hiring.

Posted by: anon | Nov 19, 2008 7:09:29 AM

Having gone through the interview process now in six different countries (US, England, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, and Australia), I am amazed by how rigorous the US process is, particularly by comparison. I personally enjoyed it, including the job talk, but I know it wears others down. The only equivalent process was at Melbourne Law School, where I am moving in February -- and that may well be because the school is becoming the first to go all-JD in Australia and has a new Dean, James Hathaway, who taught for years at Michigan. The UK schools were almost uniformly at the opposite end of the spectrum: they did not involve dinners, breakfasts, job talks, or meetings with anyone other than the formal interview committee. In fact, and I kid you not, Glasgow flew me to Scotland from where I was living in India, put me up for four days (because of my flights), and spent a grand total of 30 minutes with me. (It wasn't just me; I was offered the job.) The only UK law school that ever asked me to give a job talk was the London School of Economics -- and that talk was, and again I kid you not, eight minutes long with 12 minutes of questions. Auckland was in the middle, with a dinner and a job talk but no other meetings.

Ah, diversity!

Posted by: Kevin Jon Heller | Nov 19, 2008 12:17:16 AM


At GW, we don't have strict slot hiring, so we don't usually have multiple candidates competing for a single job. There are no foregone conclusions, in any event: It's all up to the candidate and the job talk. Indeed, at least at GW, the appointments committee doesn't have much influence over what the faculty does, so there can be no favorites. My sense is that this differs at other schools, though: At other schools, the appointments committee has more muscle.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Nov 18, 2008 11:55:59 PM

I'd love to hear about the vote stage.

Presumably you call 3-5 candidates back for lets say one crim law spot. How are you sorting them out?

Does the Dean/Faculty Chair say "Take out a piece of paper and rank the candidates 1-5" then you drop the bottom 2?

Is there a discussion where one person can pretty much kill a candidate? Is there any discussion?

Is it pretty much a foregone conclusion going into the job talk that a certain candidate is "favored" based on their CV (say an SC clerk) and the other 4 are the back-ups in case the top choice chooses to go elsewhere?

Posted by: candidate | Nov 18, 2008 10:39:03 PM

At GW, we include the meeting with students. Our view is that it's important: We value the feedback from students because we are hiring professors who will teach students. Someone who is rude or arrogant to students (it happens) is going to have a harder time getting hired. Also, we usually have group meetings of 3-4 profs because we're a large faculty.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Nov 18, 2008 10:26:28 PM

Our practices, Dan, are pretty much like FSU's, although there is time reserved for a meeting with students. And, we also reserve time for Feats of Strength and the Airing of Grievances.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Nov 18, 2008 10:22:07 PM

One format for interviews I'd single out as a failure -- and which I've encountered twice in a half-dozen or so callbacks -- is the unscheduled drop-in. This is the set-up where you, the candidate, sit in a room, and the faculty stops in when they feel like it. Predictably, this leads to booms and busts, especially on Fridays (when everyone stops by in the morning). The bust time is wasted, and the booms leave you unable to really meet or get much sense of the faculty -- all you can do is answer questions.

And, as long as I'm opining, I've never gotten much out of library tours, and I really appreciate and like our library staff.

Posted by: unnamed former prawfs guest | Nov 18, 2008 9:55:06 PM

What is the typical length, minute-wise, of the job talk?

Posted by: anon | Nov 18, 2008 9:30:04 PM

I'm sure that anon junior prof kept his/her feelings well hidden during interviews, but candidates should remember that the Library Director is almost invariably a tenured member of the faculty (i.e., will be voting on YOU), and the "exercise in bullshit" with the students involves people who will be asked for their impressions about you. Assume that everyone you meet at a law school will either be voting on you or knows someone who will be voting on you, so act accordingly.

Posted by: David Levine | Nov 18, 2008 9:28:39 PM

As someone who has several times been a bridesmaid, but never a bride, I would say that many schools seem to follow this general format, but there is a fairly broad range of how people actually handle the different segments of the day. Sometimes the office interviews are very free-wheeling, and sometimes certain people (or small groups of people) are designated as focusing on scholarship, or teaching, or junior faculty life. I think it felt especially useful when there was some segment that related to life as a junior, but that may vary a bit depending upon the personalities of the junior faculty - at one place the junior faculty meeting was scheduled late in the day, and was far and away more aggressive (in terms of "gotcha" questions and so forth) than any other meeting that day. That's perfectly legitimate, of course, but it was a little surprising and more challenging for being so late.

One very admirable institution, which I won't name to preserve anonymity, sent me a detailed memo a week or so before my visit, laying out the schedule and setting forth their norms and expectations for the job talk and other issues. I thought that was a very nice leveling touch -- I had been coached and had done visits before, but it seemed like a generous recognition that even in this day and age, there may occasionally be finalists who haven't been preparing for the visit since their 1L year. This same school also has a very nice practice of giving the candidate a little down time before the talk (as many schools do), but in a room with a basket of various healthy and non-healthy snacks, so you are not famished when you go to give your presentation. All my other visits I've been trying to discretely grab two bites of the lunch in the 15 minutes you have before you get introduced, or discretely pull out the power bar hidden in my briefcase.

I would agree that the dinner night before always felt like a bit of an ordeal, especially if you've been traveling. You wind up giving the 15 second overview of the job talk five or six times, and you're usually tired and anxious about the next day. I was much happier the one time I got to just order a sandwich from room service, review my talk, and try to get a good night's sleep.

Posted by: Anon non-prof | Nov 18, 2008 9:02:52 PM

At U.C. Hastings, we usually leave the candidate alone on the evening of arrival, since they often have come a long way to get to San Francisco. The day looks much as Dan outlined at FSU, except that we include time with the students, who also give a tour of the law school. We give the candidates an hour of downtime right before the talk in order to let them eat lunch quietly and to review their notes. We don't make them be "on" for lunch and then roll right into the job talk. They have separate meetings with our Dean and Academic Dean sometime during the day. These meetings include discussion of teaching packages, research support, other terms and conditions of employment, big picture for the school, etc. A relaxed dinner with a few faculty members is at the end of the interview day. Sometimes the candidate flies off that night, but more commonly stays a second night.

I would welcome feedback on what works at other schools.

Good luck to all candidates as you "enjoy" the road show!

Posted by: David Levine | Nov 18, 2008 7:02:15 PM

I've always thought the meeting with a library director was a waste of time. Perhaps a tiny group of candidates has peculiar library needs (e.g., historians), but most of us just don't care about the library details. Ditto for the meeting with students. In my experience, it's nothing but an exercise in bullshit. The second dinner also feels like an overkill. What I appreciated was a little time to work out (physically) in the evening -- at least enough time to walk back to the hotel after a long day of interviews before the grand dinner.

I also thought dinners after the day of interviews were more productive than dinners on the night before. After the day on campus, I already had some idea of the school, so I could have a more meaningful discussion at dinner; the faculty in attendence also had a chance to hear my talk, so they often would discuss my project and its extensions. The night before, I just wanted to unpack and rest.

Posted by: anon junior prof | Nov 18, 2008 6:56:52 PM

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