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Friday, July 20, 2012

What Would You Tell Aspiring Law Professors?

Dan was kind enough to note below that I'll be speaking at the upcoming Aspiring Law Professors conference at Arizona State; the details are here. I have heard from several past attendees that they found the conference very useful. I should note in fairness the obvious point that attending is no guarantee of a successful application; I assume the value of the trip will be greatest for those who have a viable shot but would like some serious advice and an opportunity for practice and refinement. 

While I have some thoughts on what I want to say, I would be very happy to solicit any advice about what you would tell aspiring law professors if given the chance. In doing so, I should note two related matters. First, I appreciate the juxtaposition between this post and my recent post about "failing law schools." While hoping to forestall unduly obvious "advice" along the lines of "don't apply at all," "burn down the schools," "withdraw until you have practiced at least 20 years," and so on, I do think the juxtaposition is relevant and, indeed, it's the main reason I was so glad to agree to come. I do intend to bring some of these issues into my talk. I do think people entering a teaching profession, in this or any other time, have an obligation to think about what that position requires of them, including, say, getting to know one's local legal market and becoming actively involved in faculty governance. Second, for better or worse, for purposes of this talk I am taking law schools' hiring preferences as a given. If I ever give a talk to aspiring hiring committee members, my text might differ on this point. In any event, I welcome advice on what advice to give! -- either about how to get a teaching job or about what duties that job entails. I posted the same request on Facebook and got some very useful advice (thank you, "friends"), so I thought I'd ask here as well.   

Posted by Paul Horwitz on July 20, 2012 at 08:37 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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The best piece of advice I received when I was on the market last year was to come to terms with the fact that the process is largely out of the candidate's control.

One can obviously spend the next few weeks worrying about whether to include SSRN downloads and alike on one's resume or whether to send targeted letters in late August or early September. (This is not to pick on FARout - these are perfectly reasonable questions, but at the end of the day there is no right or wrong answer to such questions). Similarly, one can completely immerse oneself on the burgeoning literature of what makes a wonderful job talk. However, all of these things might not materially advance the candidate's prospects given that faculties have different expectations and the radically shifting landscape for law schools.

One question that I think all candidates should be able to answer (and that hiring committees might wish to ask) is: "What can you [the candidate] impart to our students that many other equally qualified candidates cannot?" I think that this might be a good way to identify candidates who are truly interested in educating and helping students in these difficult times.

Posted by: Milan | Jul 20, 2012 3:40:31 PM

If you can't make it to this conference, I suggest you do a mock job talk at another conference or with law professor friends/mentors/colleagues. I found the feedback I got on my mock job talk to be incredibly valuable, both for my paper and for the talk itself (I ultimately received two job offers).

Posted by: anon | Jul 20, 2012 3:05:35 PM

I second Rita's comments about the long-term issues raised above. If we're going on the market, we're going on the market, and we can't even think about these things until December at the earliest. Please give us some advice that is immediately relevant. We are looking to get our feet in the door, not negotiate our contracts or evaluate multiple offers based on the age bracket of the tenured faculty. (At least, not yet.) Most of us won't get multiple offers anyway.

A few more timely questions that would generate useful advice for this point in the process:

1. How can applicants who received JDs from non-T14 schools get noticed for purposes of obtaining a first round interview? (I obviously disagree with MacK's statement that you have to have graduated from a top-6 school and I think last year's hiring reports confirm my point; this is particularly true for those of us with LLMs from top-10 schools and/or fellowships/VAPs and/or appellate clerkships.)

2. When is best to send target packets?

3. Is it possible to have too many references? If so, how many is too many?

4. What makes a job talk stand out for you?

5. How do you redirect a first round interview toward your scholarship if the conversation gets off track?

6. How can applicants with relevant practice experience play up that experience in a way that appeals to committee members?

7. Is it useful to put SSRN top-10 lists on your CV?

8. If we place an article in the August submission cycle, but after the FAR distribution, how do committees prefer we convey that information, and should candidates wait until the expedite process is over to do so?

For those of us who can't afford to attend the conference (sorry Paul), I'm sure we'd love to get feedback and comments here. Thanks in advance for the advice!

Also, Paul, I'd like to hear some of your "advice for committees" even though that's not part of your upcoming talk, particularly if it pertains to one or more of my questions. Again, thanks.

Posted by: FARout | Jul 20, 2012 2:18:52 PM

As an aspiring law prof planning to go on the market this year and attend the Arizona State conference, I wanted to chime in: this thread is a great perspective and fodder for thought. It is hard for many in the stressful throes of the market to think about things such as long-term career implications specifically raised by MacK and DDF (and the others) - hard, but important nevertheless.

A thank you to all of you who pass along your advice and experiences, and how you came out on the other side of the process. Hope to read more from posters in the coming days.

Posted by: Rita Trivedi | Jul 20, 2012 11:46:30 AM

Vaguely apropos of DDF's comment: Can hiring committees in "flyover states" please stop being so anxious and defensive about their geographic locations, i.e., stop scouring candidates cvs for evidence of having lived in the midwest or rural towns; stop choosing not to interview candidates they think they can't get; of the candidates they do interview, stop taking seriously only those who offer local bona fides? In this market, the answer to the question, Where would you like to live? is Wherever a law school exists that will employ me to do what I've been trained to do. If we prioritized geographic freedom, salary, and other things, we wouldn't be academics.

Posted by: anon | Jul 20, 2012 11:21:15 AM


In my experience it is hard to generalize exactly what b-schools are looking for when hiring legal scholars. In the case of the top ranked b-schools, the desired qualifications would likely be much the same as on the law school market (strong academic credentials, a promising publication history, etc.). Meanwhile, in some cases lower-ranked programs may place less emphasis on research history, and instead prioritize prior teaching experience and/or significant practice experience. Other institutions favor candidates with an MBA or other advanced business-related degree. It really depends on the school, and what they need the candidate to teach.

Posted by: Anonity | Jul 20, 2012 10:53:50 AM

My advice would include an observation of the fact that hundreds of law profs start and end their (happy and intellectually rewarding) careers at the same law school. That's not the message one gets from the hypercompetitive types who offer tips about how everyone, including entry levels, should always be looking to move up the law school food chain. While advice about moving up is useful for some, all should hear that that's not the only model for satisafaction, success, and respect in this great and noble profession. Quite the contrary. New profs who are willing to invest deeply in the development of their institution and the success of each of their students, even if at the expense of some of their own scholarly reputation, can be very happy too. There are many happy types out here who strike the balance(s) differently. I would emphasize to these aspiring profs the full range.

Posted by: David Dudley Field | Jul 20, 2012 10:51:27 AM

One last comment - beware of some autocorrect features, unless you are very careful pretentions seems to always be changed to pretentious

Posted by: MacK | Jul 20, 2012 10:37:53 AM

My advice would be to recognise that the legal education market is dangerously unstable and that there is going to be a real contraction at some point in the medium term in the number of law schools - plus growing pressure to cut class sizes, raise faculty workloads and thus effectively prune the faculty. That being the case simple self preservation dictates certain courses of action:

1. Read the tenure agreement or system for any school where you are considering taking a position and ask - where would I be in 3-5 years if this school needs to cut faculty?

2. With respect to item 1, consider the age demographics of the faculty - is it possible or likely that a large proportion of the tenured faculty might be willing to retire? If the faculty is on balance older, their retirement is more likely - and trey may be more willing to accept early retirement buyouts, saving junior faculty.

3. If you currently have a position with a law firm consider asking that firm if you can retain some sort of "of counsel" status while taking up a faculty position. The growing emphasis on practice skills for professors means that keeping some actual practice connection may prove important in the long term.

4. Consider the attitudes of the law school you are proposing to attend towards "practice" orientated legal publications. At this time law faulty get essentially no credit for writing casebooks or treatises on legal topics, while fairly ludicrous monographs and law review articles on subjects very distant form legal practice are regarded as highly prestigious. For a new law professor though, the best long term contributor to employability is likely to be writing casebooks and treatises - which also means that one has to accept that the criticism of the legal academies pretentious to scholarship are well founded.

5. Take a hard look at the law school's finances and what that law school has being dining this year to attract 1Ls - desperate measures denote a desperate position.

6. Consider if the law school belongs on the "law school death list" i.e., is it a law school likely to close. Other than a small law-school specific endowment other factors likely to place the school on that list are:

(a) being private school (all things being equal public schools will probably last longer (but see Rutgers-Camden for a school that looks like it is in "meltdown");

(b) the treatment of the law school historically as a "cash cow" by its host institution (such an institution is likely to close a school that it sees being in long/medium term deficit);

(c) whether the school's facilities are capable of being easily repurposed by the host institution (i.e., the law school is contiguous to a larger campus);

(d) the presence of more highly regarded law schools in the same metropolitan area;

(e) state schools that are nearly as highly regarded nearby with lower tuition;

(f) a public school in a state college system that support more highly ranked schools;

(g) being a "for profit" private law school.

Given that to be a candidate to join the tenured full time faculty of a law school you would need to have graduated from one of the top-six law schools, or have had some very impressive, probably public service practice credentials, there are alternatives to becoming a law professor. If you are in the latter category and say in your 50s, the issues are perhaps different. But for a law graduate in their late 20s to early 40s, perhaps carrying law school debt, you need to recognise that there probably is no easy way back to practice from being a law professor. Most practicing lawyers hold professors in bemused contempt, especially those with the 2-3 years of "practice" that many hold. That situation behooves careful consideration of when and how, or even if one should move to academia because it may be an irreversible decision. It also means that new law professors need to consider how that can balance the current predilection of faculty towards impracticality with the growing need and demand for a more practice orientated professoriate. Get this right and you may have a career.

Posted by: MacK | Jul 20, 2012 10:34:29 AM

I attended this conference in the past and found it to be very helpful, and the participants were very supportive. My advice would be to emphasize to participants about the tremendous amount of serendipity of the process - whether one gets a job in any particular year often has much to do with timing and other factors outside the applicant's control. I knew this going in, and even though I got a job my first time on the market, it was immensely helpful to hear from other current law professors that sometimes it might be necessary to go on the market more than once, and to receive suggestions for how to stay in the game in the interim (by visiting, etc.).

Posted by: anon | Jul 20, 2012 10:09:03 AM

I have wondered about the law in business schools positions. What do schools tend to be looking for for those positions in terms of credentials and experience?

Posted by: curious | Jul 20, 2012 9:50:40 AM

One piece of information that may (or may not) be of interest to aspiring professors that they may not be already be aware of is the prevalence of tenure-track law teaching positions at business schools or other non-law school departments within a university. While the hiring process for these positions is much less centralized than the AALS, these positions may nevertheless be an attractive alternative for those who are unable to secure a position at a law school, or those who would actually prefer teaching non-law students (especially in the current, "law school crisis" environment).

Posted by: Anonity | Jul 20, 2012 9:17:17 AM

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