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Sunday, December 09, 2012

FAR Form v. 2.0?

In Dan's recent posting, he asks in what ways AALS might need to adapt in order to meet the changing nature of our profession.  As I was perusing the very thoughtful comments that followed, I saw at least one poster mention the need for AALS to revise the FAR form.  I must say, I tend to agree.  As someone who just completed a turn on my school's hiring committee, I know that I have some frustrations with these forms, and I am guessing that candidates have quite a few as well.  So quick question -- what changes would you make to the FAR form and why? 

Posted by Michael J. Higdon on December 9, 2012 at 07:21 PM | Permalink


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I think the changes suggested re: geographic preferences, while interesting, still each bear their own set of signaling problems.

Consider "hometown" for example. For someone who has a "favorable" hometown, say Norman, OK, this can be a real boon -- it communicates quite a bit about willingness to relocate to a small midwest town that otherwise wouldn't be communicated on the FAR. However, for candidates with an "unfavorable" hometown, say New York, NY -- what do they do? If they list it, committees might perceive it as "they'd NEVER move to Norman/Tuscaloosa/Lincoln/Urbana/etc"... or, the person could elect not to list it, leaving committees to wonder "what is he/she hiding"? The result -- signaling problems.

My initial thought was the "places I'd be willing to relocate" approach as being a viable solution for this, but that creates its own set of strategic signaling problems -- if you list everything, you might not be taken seriously, but what if you really don't have a preference between NYC/LA/Gainesville/Boise/Boulder/Tempe/State College? One certainly couldn't (colorably) list all those places and be taken seriously as "willing to relocate" (hopefully I picked a nicely orthogonal set), but one might really care more about being a professor at a university than where exactly they lived.

As much as I dislike it, I think the current system -- "where I'm *absolutely unwilling* to go" -- is the most effective signaling system. That way if you have a reason for excluding somewhere (e.g., a terrible untreatable allergy to something in Hawaii?), they can exclude Honolulu, but leaving it blank doesn't introduce a whole bunch of signaling problems.

Yes, I acknowledge, it doesn't help those of us who really love college towns and probably would be just as happy in any such place as in a city (perhaps even moreso), but I think the purpose of the form isn't to help a small set of candidates but to provide the most overall efficient signaling system.

All that said, if someone has an alternate suggestion that overcomes these difficulties, I strongly encourage you to make it here! :)

Posted by: anon | Dec 15, 2012 7:32:14 PM

A few suggestions:

* A checkbox for teaching, education, and scholarship fields to indicate that there are additional entries listed on the candidate's CV.

* Allow for only one entry under teaching experience. Those with more experience might disagree, but I'd be surprised if many entry-level candidates have experience teaching at multiple law schools. Doing checkboxes (as mentioned above) would be necessary for this to work.

* Use that extra space to allow additional room for publications.

* With the extra room for publications, there would be space more appropriate to describe works in progress, as opposed to the "other" box.

* Re-do the list of courses. It's outdated and I suspect even when it was first devised it wasn't all that helpful. One easy way to clear out deadwood on the list would be for AALS to remove any option selected by fewer than, say, five candidates per year.

* For course listings, instead of three tiers organized only by preference, do the first tier of 3 courses as first-year courses, the second tier of four courses as core upper-level courses, and the third tier of four courses as secondary upper-level courses.

* Consolidate geographic preferences into one question.

Increase the size of the "other" field to the degree possible.

Posted by: AnotherAnon | Dec 11, 2012 6:54:37 PM

How about an optional "hometown" blank so that the hiring chair doesn't have to weed through a billion letters to find someone who is from X non-desirable location.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 11, 2012 6:03:43 PM

How about an optional "hometown" blank so that the hiring chair doesn't have to weed through a billion letters to find someone who is from X non-desirable location.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 11, 2012 6:03:41 PM

Orin. I know most about sociology, political science, and criminal justice/criminology. It varies by candidate. Most send individual applications to schools but because the application packets are more complex (cover letter, cv, research agenda, teaching packet, written letters of recommendation), candidates tend to be more selective in the number of schools they apply to. Also, most disciplines do have an annual meeting and at that meeting some schools will conduct short screening interviews (otherwise that first, pre-callback interview will be done by phone). I think Sociology and Political Science tend to have fewer open slots each year - and candidates work with their references to figure out places might be a good fit. Martha Nussbaum has an interesting Green Bag article from a few years ago that discusses the Philosophy process, which is similar.

Posted by: anon | Dec 11, 2012 8:56:11 AM

Interesting, Anon @ 6:41 I'm curious, then, as to what candidates do when they're on the market. If there are thousands of schools with sociology departments, for example, and the departments are looking to hire within any speciality, do sociology Ph.D.s send out thousands of resumes to each individual school? Or is there an AALS-like entity that serves an organizing function? I probably should know the answer, but I don't.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 11, 2012 2:35:17 AM

The real difference is the PhD. Law schools have been, and ever more now, are caught between trade school and academic discipline. So the qualifications are so diverse you get people applying for academic positions in law in much higher numbers, and with much lower opportunity costs (though to some degree more these days with VAPS and such). As law schools require neither extensive practice nor academic training, you get some people with that but you also get the full spectrum in-between.

Posted by: anonother | Dec 10, 2012 9:19:20 PM

Actually Orin, academic hiring in other areas are often as open as in law schools. Just as some law schools hire to fill curricular needs and some hire more generally, a department like political science or sociology may have different approaches. For example, one sociology department might advertise to fill one or more slots without regard to subfields, while another might specifically look to fill a criminology slot. And in my experience hiring to fill curricular needs, at least to a large extent seems to be increasing in the law schools and probably will continue to do so, at least outside of the top schools, given the current market.

Posted by: anon | Dec 10, 2012 6:41:03 PM

Anon @ 3:49. Many candidates do this: The FAR is just an extra way to get resumes out. It's helpful because law schools generally have less focused hiring than do academics in other fields. A law school might have an open slot but not really know how they will fill it: They might consider people from all fields of law, with particular interest in a handful. As a result, a job applicant would have to send resumes to 150+ law schools, which is a huge waste. In contrast, academic hiring in a subject area in the rest of the university tends to be much more focused, so an applicant knows which schools are hiring in her specific field and can apply just to those schools.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 10, 2012 4:38:39 PM

How about abolishing the entire FAR system and move directly to a system where schools post available jobs (which may or may not be subject-matter specific) and candidates apply directly to those schools. This is how it is done in virtually every other academic field.

Posted by: anon | Dec 10, 2012 3:49:35 PM

There was a very extensive thread on improvingnthe FAR form a year or two ago-- I think on thefacultylounge but could've been on CoOp

Posted by: princess and the pea | Dec 10, 2012 3:27:51 PM

These are terrific suggestions. I definitely will push hard to get some of these changes implemented.

Posted by: dan rodriguez | Dec 10, 2012 2:44:11 PM

All of Geoff's ideas are great. I especially like the suggestions of an option for inclusion in a separate book for clinical candidates, and the ability to update the FAR form to reflect new publications.

Posted by: pigeonholed | Dec 10, 2012 1:59:39 PM

The AALS circulated a survey to hiring committees after this year's conference soliciting input on the FAR form. I encourage you to send this link to someone there so they can see some of the suggestions made.

The subject matter listings need reform. I suggested having two lines, not three -- the first, with four-five courses, would be "want," the second, with a similar number, would be "willing." The "top three" and "second three" leaves too much ambiguity about candidates' real preferences and expertise. I would also like to see candidates have the chance to write in the names of the courses they have in mind, since those don't always match the AALS listings.

I would like to see actual resumes be searchable, not just the FAR forms.

I agree with "pigeonholed" about the problems facing clinical and hybrid candidates. Why not a separate book for "clinical" positions (allowing candidates, at no charge, to be included in both if they want to)?

It also seems like candidates should be able to update forms as they get news about publication decisions in the fall submission cycle. For many candidates, that can lead to a major change in their profile.

A line in which candidates express geographical _preferences_, as opposed to "restrictions," would be helpful.

Posted by: Geoff | Dec 10, 2012 11:34:08 AM

Allow for more than 3 publications to be listed.

Posted by: anon | Dec 10, 2012 10:30:25 AM

My FAR form wishlist:

It would be great if AALS overhauled that check-box list of courses from which candidates select what they offer to teach (to eliminate duplication and to reflect the actual names of courses that are currently taught in law schools).

I would have loved to have been able to add a fourth (and maybe fifth) course to my first line. Putting any specialty courses on the first line felt like a risk, because it meant bumping a big doctrinal class to make myself visible to the handful of schools that might want one of my specialties.

Make it possible to indicate on the form that a publication is co-authored. (I had to make it part of the title.)

To get REALLY granular: the classes I've already taught were forced into alphabetical order, for no reason I could see (why not let candidates control the ordering here, as with references and pubs?).

Thanks very much for asking this question!

Posted by: ML | Dec 10, 2012 10:11:18 AM

For those of us who have the background and interest in teaching either clinical or doctrinal courses (or both), the FAR form is incredibly frustrating. The fact that there's just a generic "clinical" category indicates nothing about what kind of clinic the applicant is able or willing to teach. The fact that the other courses of interest might signal one is aiming for, say a community development clinic, is inefficient and unclear. Yes, a targeted cover letter can help clarify, but in my experience it seems only the chair may read that letter and certainly the FAR form becomes the primary defining document throughout the process or at least until a callback. And the FAR form doesn't allow the clinical or hybrid candidate much flexibility in indicating the relative ranking of preferences. For example, someone might be primarily interested in teaching an environmental litigation clinic, but if that didn't work out, to land a doctrinal position teaching, say environmental law and civil procedure. Some suggested that if I didn't put "clinical" first I'd get no clinical interviews, while others cautioned that if I put clinical first I'd get no doctrinal interviews. In considering how to deal with these pitfalls, I was given as wide-ranging advice as rank the subjects on each line in alphabetical order, put clinical last on the first line, put clinical first on the second line, and more. It was amazing to me that my future depended so much on the inefficient signaling through the ranking of teaching preferences on the FAR, but I think it definitely turned out to be true. It really defines you through the process, at least until you get a callback. In the few pure doctrinal interviews I landed at DC (which I likely only got through having references reach out to hiring c'ees), much time was spent explaining why I'm also serious about classroom courses, even though my scholarship and VAP experience put me on the same footing as my doctrinal-only colleagues. I have a few offers, which I'm grateful for, but I can't help but think of all the roads that were closed merely because of the FAR preferences. Perhaps there are not so many in my position (yet), but for similar reasons to those I've discussed I'm sure applicants who only want to do clinical jobs also find the FAR frustrating. I can only imagine it must also be so for hiring c'ees. So, I hope this comment will start a dialogue about how the FAR should be amended with clinical candidates in mind.

Posted by: pigeonholed | Dec 10, 2012 9:27:24 AM

Include fields for: (1) home state and/or states in which the candidate has family ties (it's impossible to convince west and midwest states that you are geographically interested because when most of your education and work has been on the east coast and targeted letters get utterly lost in the deluge); and (2) educational debt upon graduation and at the time of application for the market (to allow those who have already made extraordinary financial sacrifices to become a law professor to explain why his or her inability to do VAP or fellowship is not, in fact, an indication of insufficient commitment to academics).

Posted by: pleepleus | Dec 10, 2012 8:12:53 AM

"I'm not sure that taking a few law school courses in a particular area, maybe writing a student note in that area, and then another paper in that area as a VAP really qualifies you as knowing very much about the topic."

And, of course, it is a truth universally acknowledged that practicing law in an area is no way for a future law professor to learn about the law at all.

Posted by: Ray Campbell | Dec 10, 2012 7:55:09 AM

An alternative to nutmegger: Allow more subjects (4-5 instead of the current 3) in the first ("Want to Teach") category of course offerings. Most schools work on a four-course load, so give the candidate a chance to present her full four-course teaching package in the form, rather than trying to figure out which of her primary courses she must relegate to the second line and be forced to explain away nervously during the interview.

I like Anon's suggestion about the order of the form, since it's an order that many of us use on our cv's, at least once we've landed a job. Of course, on a one-page sheet, it really doesn't matter all that much, since the eye can easily drift to pedigree no matter where it is.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 10, 2012 12:24:50 AM

As a candidate, the advice I received about the order in which to list potential courses was mind-blowingly inconsistent. I wonder if it would be productive to use two categories instead of 3: a) subjects you actually write on/practiced in/are very enthused about teaching, and b) subjects you are also willing and competent to cover in accordance with a school's needs.

Posted by: nutmegger | Dec 9, 2012 11:59:50 PM

To also be fair, I'm not sure how many prospective professors in the US (as opposed to other countries where many incoming professors have SJDs) would actually be able to check the first box. I'm not sure that taking a few law school courses in a particular area, maybe writing a student note in that area, and then another paper in that area as a VAP really qualifies you as knowing very much about the topic. If you found out that you were going to be teaching a partiuclar course in the fall you can probably amass a similar amount of expertise over the summer. The more appropriate question is probably whether you are genuinely interested in dedicating yourself to that area (both in teaching and in your own research).

Posted by: anon | Dec 9, 2012 10:57:07 PM

The FAR form emphasizes pedigree over qualifications. How about re-ordering the information:

Course selections
Teaching Experience
Professional Experience

and then pedigree: degrees, clerkships, honors, etc. More important than whether publications or professional experience is listed first is moving pedigree down and qualifications up.

More important than tweaking the list of courses would be reducing the number of slots. Instead of 11 slots, how about 5 or at most 7?

Posted by: anon | Dec 9, 2012 10:50:33 PM

To be fair, the candidate ought to be allowed to check both boxes.

Posted by: William Baude | Dec 9, 2012 10:42:39 PM

The list of courses that the candidate would like to teach should require candidates to check one of these two boxes for each course

____ I actually know something about this subject.
____ I just put this subject down because I thought it might help me get a job.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 9, 2012 10:07:56 PM

It should come with a warning label containing the abysmal statistics for success on the legal academic market, especially now, during these "interesting times" in legal services and, hence, legal education.

Posted by: anon | Dec 9, 2012 9:35:38 PM

1) More spaces for publications
2) More options for course selections. When I was on the market, there was no space for "First Amendment" as a distinct class.
3) More spaces for teaching experience and make it distinct from non-teaching work experience.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 9, 2012 8:05:16 PM

Have an "other" category for each column, which, if selected, allows the candidate to input a specialty other than those listed. My core area is international economic law (trade, investment), which isn't particularly esoteric, but I recall there was no international trade or investment category, only "trade regulation" which was probably intended to mean antitrust.

Posted by: anonprof | Dec 9, 2012 7:40:04 PM

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