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Friday, December 12, 2008

Notes from the Faculty Recruitment Conference, 2000

I can't be the only prawf out there who gets heart palpitations reading this Law School Hiring Thread that's being hosted here on PrawfsBlawg.  Thinking about my experience going on the market eight years ago is about as pleasant as remembering the school dances I went to in seventh grade--awful experiences all of them, even when I didn't get sent to the principal's office for making out in the girl's bathroom.  Nevertheless, I thought that sharing a few memories might go at least some tiny way toward brightening the day of some of you out there suffering through the market right now.  I guess the point is that things can still work out great, even if almost all of the experience is painful.

What I remember most was the post-conference silence.  I must have looked much better on paper than I came across in interviews, because out of thirty or so AALS and pre-AALS mini-interviews, I got three callbacks.  But it's not like I thought that I had blown the interviews; I actually thought most of my interviews had gone really well (OK, not the one where the Dean told me my argument was wimpy and that my paper showed "bad topic selection on [my] part," but then again what would you expect from Chicago?).  With eight years of hindsight I think I get it now, but back then I was totally clueless.  For example, there was one great school that had called me right after the forms had gone out to express their interest, then arranged for me to have an interview with a faculty member before the AALS, and then interviewed me at the AALS.  I keep a journal, and so I know what I thought about my prospects at this school following the conference.  "Very nice," I wrote, "I think they'll call me back--said there's a big gap for law and religion."  Their rejection letter was the second one I received, preceded only by the form letter rejection I got from my alma mater.

Then there was the top-30 school that called me the day after the conference to tell me I was at the top of their list and to ask if I was really interested in them.  Were they kidding?  I called right back and said that of course I was incredibly interested.  I'm not sure I ever heard from them again.  I think I got an email at one point saying that their plans had changed or something.  It was like the time I was a summer associate at a law firm and a partner invited me over to a Fourth of July party at his house but then later, when I confirmed that I could go, told me he needed to think about it more and get back to me.  He never did.

This is a thing I did after the conference that still makes me want to bash myself in the teeth with a pair of pliers:  I typed up a list of the area codes of the various schools I had interviewed with and taped it to my desk next to my phone so that if I got a call, I could look at the caller-ID and figure out which school was calling.  Dear lord.

Looking back at my journal entries for the two days of the conference, though, has provided me with a laugh or two.  Here are some verbatim notes about two of the interviews: "Duke--good substantive conversation.  Had an out of body experience as I talked about my paper for the 24th time."  "Michigan--went very well, even though I got there 10 minutes late because they listed the wrong room and I woke up some woman who was in her pajamas."

Come to think of it, I never got an official rejection letter from Michigan.  Maybe I should go check my voice mail.  I wonder what the area code for Ann Arbor is!

Posted by Jay Wexler on December 12, 2008 at 09:09 AM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market | Permalink

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Note to self--skip next week's planned post on "Notes from my Last Bout of Intestinal Flu, Circa 2006."

Posted by: Jay Wexler | Dec 12, 2008 5:08:38 PM

The ink that is spilled reliving and rehashing it all is a form of catharsis. Much cheaper than professional therapy. Soul cleansing, in a way.

I think the process is a necessary evil. It is the most efficient and cost effective way to deal with what is an insanely and overwhelmingly competitive market.

Posted by: David Case | Dec 12, 2008 3:37:00 PM

Agreed that the process is mostly a very bad memory, full of rejection no matter how well it ends up. That said, why does everyone keep talking about it so goddamned much? When I finished with the market after my second go-round in 2007, I had absolutely no desire to relive the experience ever again, any more than I wanted to relive various bouts with the intestinal flu. I realize everyone deals with these things differently, but it's more than a bit puzzling that in light of how awful most people agree the process is, so much ink is spilled reliving and rehashing it all.

Posted by: Dave | Dec 12, 2008 3:11:25 PM

The process is pretty uncomfortable, but I tend to agree that it works pretty well. Schools interview candidates, candidates get a feel of schools, and it all happens pretty quickly. Could be a lot worse.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 12, 2008 2:23:59 PM

Hiring committees should also be aware that candidates notice and remember when members of hiring committees decide to start browsing their AALS folders instead of the listening to the candidate, and that this looks particularly bad when the person ignoring the candidate is the one who has asked the question to which the candidate is responding. Same goes for committee members walking in and out of an interview talking loudly on their cell phone about getting a taxi to the airport.

Far better to deal with those issues, or one's boredom with the candidate, by having an out-of-body experience and sending one's soul to do fun things (or arrange for a taxi) while one's body continues looking attentive and respectful.

That said, this process generally beats the the hiring process in the arts and sciences and is probably worth keeping -- both for its usefulness and humor-value.

Posted by: Mr. Invisible | Dec 12, 2008 12:45:18 PM

I offer the following excerpt from "Memo to Lawyers: How Not to 'Retire and Teach'". Recognize that this comes from the perspective of one who spent a quarter-century outside the academy, and therefore got socialized in a particular way:

"The philosopher David Hume insisted there was no a priori principle of causation, only a learned expectation of consequences. We predict the billiard ball will ricochet in a particular direction, not because of some unseen law, but because that is what they always seem to do. After twenty-five or thirty years in the practice or in business, we learn expectations from certain kinds of personal interactions. Friendliness and interest in an interview session, much less in the collegiality of a semester or year-long visitorship, imputes hope of a continued relationship.

"My far more experienced academic friends told me not to draw any conclusions about the hiring process on the basis of previous experience, and I continued stubbornly not to believe them until I experienced it myself. Nothing in your experience of hiring or firing or making business decisions will prepare you for being on the outside of the black box that is the faculty hiring process. Do not take anything at face value, and do not presume that you have a job until you have a phone call from the dean, after a faculty vote, informing you that you are being invited to join the faculty.

There are from five to ten faculty members in the room at the meat market interviewing you. Nothing is correlated to a call-back. Do not mistake vigorous interaction, smiles and nods, or a detailed discussion of how well your qualifications fit the school’s needs for anything other than what they are."

* * *

"As I said, it’s likely, in the course of a long career, that you have formed a sense of expectation based on certain kinds of social signals. Nothing in the collective process by which a faculty, as the committee of the whole, decides on new faculty, resembles the orderly way you are used to seeing hiring decisions get made. Deal with it."

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Dec 12, 2008 12:32:20 PM

Very funny post, about a very unfunny process.

I wonder if this is really the only way we can do this. I mean, if the era of the "issue spotter" exam is ending, why not consider alternatives to the meat market? Surely a group of reasonably intelligent people could come up with some alternatives...

My own best moment: lunchcart rolls into the room, pans and dishes crash together right when I am explaining my research agenda. Very time I restart a sentence, a new loud CLANG (!) the volume of the cymbals at the symphony resonates.... the horror, the horror.

Posted by: anon | Dec 12, 2008 11:01:41 AM

Ann Arbor is 734...

Posted by: RonBurgandy | Dec 12, 2008 9:26:09 AM

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