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Friday, October 28, 2011

Revisiting the Exploding Offer

Update: I've amended this post somewhat based on subsequent information.

We had a good thread with useful comments on exploding offers here a couple years ago and I wanted to make sure it was something folks knew about if they were on the job market this year or had some influence on the extension of expiring/exploding offers for the law prof gig.

In that earlier thread, I tried to explain what considerations should be relevant to setting a floor for the expiration date of a given law school hiring. Although I am probably more sympathetic to some shorter deadlines than some others under certain circumstances, I wanted to take a moment also to flag and express concern over one school's practice this year, which seems to me to be unusually short and unreasonable. (It may occur elsewhere too; I earlier identified the school but at this point, for the point of discussion, the particular name doesn't matter.)

The law school gave only seven days to a candidate who lived in another city and had a significant other to consult. It's possible that this little time was given to others as well (ie., both laterals or rookies). It's also likely that candidates might have been told that if an offer were to eventuate, the candidate would have about a week to consider it although there wasn't (from what I understand) clarity about when the offer was to eventuate. Notwithstanding the apparent notice, this "offer" seems to me to be an unreasonable and unfair offer. If it doesn't give people a reasonable opportunity to plan to visit with family or others impacted by the choice in advance of the offer's expiration, then it puts undue pressure on candidates. Again, I don't think all offers with less than a month of time are unreasonable or unfair. But if a school is unclear about the date on which the offer will be extended and doesn't give adequate time for persons with families or sig others to perform some due diligence and make a visit, then that strikes me as an unwise and indeed unfair choice to put to candidates. After all, it doesn't make sense for sig others to have to start doing due diligence or looking for jobs before the offer to the prof candidate materializes (especially when doing that could be harmful or costly to the affected family members). Well, that's my view, fwiw, not the views of the candidates who might still acquiesce to these conditions. I hope this practice ends.

Posted by Administrators on October 28, 2011 at 01:52 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Roxie, the idea of offers exploding before AALS is not the problem (at least to my mind though I suspect others disagree and believe all candidates should have a chance to see what their prospects are like at the meat market). The problem I identified was not giving people a reasonable opportunity to plan and/or visit and to do so in consultation with others affected by the decision in response to the particulars of the offer being made.

Deans or hiring committees don't usually specify what the package of goodies they are offering prior to the vote(and for decent reasons). And they also don't always tell people with precision when the vote will be so that the affected parties can clear their calendar subsequent to the vote. So unless and until the offer issues forth with all its main details for the affected parties (will there be accommodations made for sig others, etc), and unless there's a reasonable opportunity for the parties to come visit after the offer has been made, the short-fuse that circumvents these criteria seem profoundly misguided to me. Your mileage may vary...

Posted by: Dan Markel | Oct 31, 2011 10:58:22 AM

One fact that is missing from this conversation is the fact that the school referred to in the original post made its plans clear from the start. When that school called me for a screening interview, they made it very clear what their timeline was and asked if I would be interested in pursuing such an abbreviated process. At that point, they didn't say, "you will only have 7 days to decide," expressly but they made it very clear that any offers would explode before AALS and suggested that decisions regarding offers would be made in early October. I'm not saying this is the best system or even good, but I think it's important to note that this process was much different (and much more transparent) than if, say, a school doing callbacks now (and without a similar disclaimer) made a 7-day offer.

Posted by: Roxie Hart | Oct 31, 2011 8:46:47 AM

And the school you are complainig about is in a large urban area like Chicago?! How does this distinguish the academic job market from any other professions with routine lateral moves across geographic markets? Even if it did, why do disciplines like economics and English regularly impose tight deadlines (10-14 days seem to be a luxury in those disciplines, according to how national organizations instruct candidates in their materials) have a different norm than law, where offers routinely seem to be open for a month or more? I am with those who suggest that the problem is the norm with academic hiring in law, not with schools imposing deadlines, even if those deadlines are only a week. IT is true that that tight deadlines might require a candidate and his/her family to make a decision quickly, but they also might encourage candidates with circumstances that might preclude this to bring that to the attention committees early, negotiate extra time, or both. In my opinion, this would produce better sorting and matching that presently occurs in the legal academic hiring market, which strikes me as highly inefficient for both schools and candidates.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 30, 2011 3:00:09 PM

FWIW, I think the last anon comment was correct to identify the various difficulties and things that separate the academic job market from many other kinds of labor markets.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Oct 30, 2011 1:12:13 PM

ArtIII -- my initial reaction was the same as yours (not a professor, here). But on further reflection, I think academia is different from other legal jobs in terms of the geographic tradeoffs it demands of candidates -- and especially their spouses who are along for the ride.

Most other legal jobs can be applied for locally. Spouses/partners won't have to drop everything and look for a new job immediately. And if the legal spouse is considering applying to jobs in a different city, it will usually be a single specific city, so their spouses can start targeting that city for jobs if necessary, even prior to the legal spouse receiving a job offer.

Obviously, clerkships are different - truly exploding offers. (I was certainly startled to see seven days referred to as an academic exploding offer, given that as a law clerk applicant, I received exploding offers of 1-8 hours.) But there are a couple of significant differences:
- Clerkships are done early in one's career; I suspect that many more clerks are unattached than prospective academics
- Clerkships are only for a year, which gives clerks in relationships various options. I know some clerks who lived apart from their spouses for a year; I know others whose spouses were able to negotiate with them for at least part of the year.

Academics are unusual in having to relocate indefinitely to often less-desirable areas of the country. This is understandably of concern to their spouses and children. It makes sense, I think, for academic candidates to request time for their families and they to consider their decisions carefully, especially where they must work out the logistics of displacing several people.

Posted by: anon | Oct 29, 2011 4:07:03 PM

What's the problem anyway? In most professional contexts I am aware of, including legal hiring and hiring in other academic fields, a week is considered a long enough deadline to make a decision on an offer where both parties have done their due diligence in advance. Judges hire clerks on much shorter deadlines, and universities hire presidents and provosts and football coaches without longer offer deadlines. Most law firms today also require that an offer be accepted quickly, rather than remain open for weeks or months. Each offer that is extended presents opportunity costs for the institution hiring as long as it stays open, and institutions have a legitimate interest in withdrawing job offers quickly if the are not accepted quickly. Perhaps the real problem is with a candidate who has not had serious discussions with his/her spouse before receiving an offer, or who seems to think that an offer from one school can be used to put other schools on notice, much like the law review shopping process. I think that the problem may be a norm of some law schools leaving offers open longer than a week. If the norm were to have offers expire within a week, this would put more of a burden on the candidate to actually think about whether he/she will be in a position to accept an offer fairly quickly before he/she goes through a campus visit and interview, and to the extent a candidate needs more time for family purposes the candidate can always ask for it before the offer is extended. I wonder what kind of world view justifies the kind of law professor exceptionalism that would lead one to think that, as a routine matter, it is unfair or immoral for an institution making a job offer to except a yes/no answer within a week. How is this fair or moral from the perspective of the next best candidate, who is not given an offer but might accept the position immediately, or the institution, that might lose out on the opportunity to hire both candidates if the offer is left open? What other profession can claim the kind of luxury that law professors as asking for?

Posted by: Artiii | Oct 29, 2011 3:35:57 PM

AnonVap, your point is taken but my sense is that with these kinds of things, there's the potential for non-culpable parties to be tarnished by association with what the dean or the committee did (both elsewhere and at the school that issued the offer I think is unreasonable under the circumstances) and those persons or groups should not bear any stigma even if it's unreasonably attached to them by others.
So I'd appreciate it if we just adopted a "moving forward" perspective here...

Posted by: Dan Markel | Oct 29, 2011 2:23:08 PM

I'm not sure why the particular name of the school doesn't matter or why it would make sense to remove the name of the school, if at least part of what we want to do in condemning the behavior is encourage particular institutions to change. Especially given the lack of institutional memory for entry-level candidates, and that it is best if candidates are on notice of what they might be getting (e.g., a 7-day offer window), why now redact the school's name? I read the discussion (and the school's name) earlier and thought - "GOOD, this is precisely the only way schools will change - if they get called out and publicly chastised."

Posted by: anonvap | Oct 29, 2011 2:10:44 PM

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