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Monday, May 16, 2011

The Anti-Entry Level Hiring Report

As an excellent counterpoint to the entry-level hiring report, I strongly recommend Samuel Buell, Becoming a Legal Scholar, 110 Mich. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2012), and would  be very curious to hear what folks think about it. I looked for excerpts to pull, but I would have ended up excerpting the whole thing, so here's the abstract:

There is now a literature on how to become a law professor. The first book-length treatment of the subject, Becoming A Law Professor, displays a common fault of this literature in directing candidates’ focus on process at the expense of substance. The present body of material on the market for new legal academics does not persuade candidates of the necessity of locating their agendas and voices as scholars, much less does it show them how to go about that vital search. It also risks contributing to a tendency of credentialing processes to standardize resumes without improving outcomes. A second-generation literature is needed: on how to become a legal scholar. This Review explains the need for that literature and suggests some directions for it.

This article captures a lot of what makes me uncomfortable about the hiring report, notwithstanding how fun it was to put together. Although do note this excerpt from Buell's article:

I admit to a full share of responsibility in this process of standardizing teaching candidates. Few things irritate me more in the hiring process than candidates who evidence a failure to have consulted the resources on preparing for the law teaching market. If you can’t be bothered to do the basic legwork of using the internet to find out the fundamentals of the market in which you hope to compete, how serious can you be about doing the job you are trying to get? (Watch what I do, not what I say: Read the literature on how to handle the job market in spite of my criticisms of it.)

Posted by Sarah Lawsky on May 16, 2011 at 09:34 AM in Books, Entry Level Hiring Report, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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As a current VAP and aspiring law professor, I have read both the book that is the subject of Sam's review - as well as Sam's review. I do think at one level the two are engaging in entirely different projects - and that's a good thing. I agree with Orin's point that just writing is likely to have independent instrumental value in getting a job, though (as Sam would likely reply) none in becoming a great scholar.

I think the two projects stand alone in part because of what Jeff briefly noted - one concerns the reducible (the nuts and bolts of becoming a law professor) and one concerns the irreducible (becoming a great legal scholar). The reason we have so many proxies (both at the entry level, tenure, and post-tenure stages) has to be that people are reluctant to read and give significant thought to everything a particular individual has written (and even if people did, there would be vast disagreements). And there are likely good reasons for that, ranging from costs to opportunity costs. So, things like how many publications, where they are published, your pedigree, etc. all must play a crucial role in the vetting process. And simply put, they matter. Now do they matter because they matter - or because we decided they should matter (a question Sam raises). Well, does that matter? People are on notice they matter and we all thus compete - understanding the rules - and more than ever thanks to publications like this book. The job is after all a tremendous one, as Orin notes.

Posted by: anon vap | May 24, 2011 9:52:20 AM

Nor, deliberately, did we do a critique of practical legal education.... It was a book about the nuts and bolts of how to get a job as a law professor.

On the substance of the scholarship-practical training polarity framed by Sam's reaction and Larry's reaction, however, I posted a compatibilist view last summer.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | May 16, 2011 11:52:27 PM

One thing I find rather fascinating about "Becoming a Law Professor" is the nearly complete lack of attention to the question whether a candidate has any facility in the skills necessary for success in the practice of law, or the ability to impart those skills to students. Of course, this is likely appropriate as a descriptive matter regarding contemporary hiring practices. That said, how long can the legal academy go on building a profesiorate without regard to the needs of the consumers of legal education, especially in a changing legal market?

I recently published a piece that uses the legal career of John Yoo as an example of the current state of affairs in which the profesiorate could regard an individual as something of a scholarly superstar who proves unable to practice law with reasonable competence. (For those who are interested, see http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1630574) I wonder, is this really a tenable state of affairs in preprofessional education?

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman University School of Law

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | May 16, 2011 4:41:15 PM

Interesting link, Sarah, although I tend to look at it a bit differently than Sam Buell does.

As I see it, the literature on getting a law professor job is focused on how to get a law professor job for a very good reason: It's an incredibly awesome job that you get for life that is intensely competitive to get. Those that want the job *want the job*, so they're really focused on how to get it. How to do a good job once you have it strikes me as a largely separate question. And given how easy it is to get tenure at most law schools, it's a question that scholars are less concerned with than just how to get the job in the first place.

I also disagreed in particular with one line in Buell's piece: Of course, “write” is no answer at all. That’s like telling someone who wants to know how to become a pianist, “Play.”I tend to disagree. A pianist is a person who plays the piano: Everyone who wants to become a pianist plays a lot of piano. But law professors have a more complicated relationship with writing scholarship. True, some write a lot. But some only write occasionally, and some almost never write. A wannabe professor who really delves into scholarship and writes a lot will distinguish herself by it and be at a significant advantage in the hiring process. So the advice to "write" is actually important advice, I think: It is advice to be part of the subset of scholars and wannabe scholars who are frequent writers.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | May 16, 2011 12:21:05 PM

Jeff, I'm so glad you weighed in! To be clear, I consider your book a real service that helps make the process of law professor hiring more transparent. I also agree with you: Buell's review is a book review in a law review, so it is framed as "But..." In fact, as you say, I see it as in no way counter to your work, and it would perhaps be more accurately framed as "And..."

Posted by: Sarah Lawsky | May 16, 2011 11:22:57 AM

Brannon, Marcia, and I were all delighted to have Sam review our book, and he showed us the review for our comments before submitting it. Each of us commented to Sam separately, so what follows is my view, and don't necessarily ascribe it to my co-authors.

Sam himself acknowledged that it is a typical book review in the sense that it's not really about our book but about another issue altogether. He is going beyond the mechanics of the entry level hiring process (which is what our book was about) and grappling with the ideal for legal scholarship. That's an interesting subject, but one we expressly avoided.

My own view of Sam's far more sophisticated project is that it invites us to be reductive about the irreducible. (Similar, by the way, to Adrian Vermeule's thesis about judging under uncertainty, and the parallel to judging cases and judging quality seems solid to me.) You don't have to be a crit, an anarchist, or an indeterminist to accept a Kuhnian view of all science, much less social science, much less whatever it is legal scholarship aspires to be. While Sam's essay certainly highlights the worst things about the process of entry into the legal academy, it doesn't even come close to positing what is a prototype of ideal legal scholarship, and I think even asking for an answer to that question makes the point. Let a hundred flowers bloom. We are only going to know what makes a difference long after the fact. I'm convinced for example that 75 years from now all of the extreme rational actor law and economics stuff is going to read like something between phrenology and social Darwinism. But that hasn't seemed to hurt the careers of those plying that particular paradigm.

In short, we loved the fact that we provoked Sam into expounding on the issue, and mainly asked that he spell our names correctly.

On a happier note, the book is selling like hotcakes, and I understand will be available on Amazon at a discounted price shortly.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | May 16, 2011 10:58:54 AM

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