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Sunday, September 28, 2014

ASU Aspiring Law Professors Conference

Yesterday I attended the sixth annual Aspiring Law Professors Conference at Arizona State University.  I thought I would share a little about my experience for those who might want to attend in future years.  Overall, I found the conference to be very helpful to me as someone who is on the market this year, and I really appreciated the enthusiasm and generosity of Dean Doug Sylvester and all the professors who attended.  They are doing all of us aspirants a great service by spending their free time on a Saturday trying to prepare us as effectively as possible for the process that lies ahead.  (I haven't attempted to reproduce most of the specific advice that we received, but a quick Google search reveals that past conferences were recapped in further detail by permanent Prawfs bloggers here and here.)

The day began with a keynote address by my Pepperdine colleague, Paul Caron, titled Law School Rankings, Faculty Scholarship, and the Missing Ingredient.  The address started by asking a question Paul had previously raised with a co-author in What Law Schools Can Learn from Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, namely how we can better measure faculty contributions to a law school’s success.  Paul went on to argue that, while existing rankings based on faculty scholarship are undoubtedly important, more metrics need to be developed to assess other aspects of a professor’s value to the institution, particularly with regard to the student experience (the “missing ingredient” in existing rankings).

After Paul’s address, we broke into three concurrent sessions: one for people who are on the market this year, another for clinical or legal writing candidates, and a third for people who are thinking about going on the market in a future year.  I of course went to the first session.  The panelists there shared helpful tips on issues such as how to prepare thoroughly but still have a natural conversation in the interview, how to ask thoughtful questions, and how to stay energized and be your best self for the duration of the hiring conference.  I’d picked up a decent amount of similar advice from friends and colleagues who have gone on the market recently, but I still found it helpful to hear some additional perspectives.

After lunch, all the participants were invited to sign up for a mock interview, mock job talk, or both, and all the sessions were open to everyone to observe, including current and future candidates.  I watched three of my fellow candidates deliver 10-minute versions of their job talks and answer a few questions each before receiving feedback.  Apart from the very useful suggestions I received on my own talk, I found it more helpful than I expected to watch other people deliver their presentations and get feedback on what they did well and where they could improve.  Doing and watching some mock interviews likewise helped me to better appreciate the unique challenges of that setting, and I left with a good plan on what I needed to prepare between now and October 17.

All in all, I found the conference to be very worthwhile.  For those who are considering whether to attend in the future, I think the conference would be essential for anyone going on the market straight from practice or perhaps a Ph.D. program.  I also think the conference would be useful for people, like me, in a smaller or relatively new VAP program.  I have been very fortunate to get lots of advice and tremendous support from my colleagues at Pepperdine, but it was still helpful to have a chance to practice my job talk in front of an additional audience and to get advice from people at a few different law schools.  Not surprisingly, there were fewer attendees from some of the larger fellowship programs, and I imagine people at such programs have multiple opportunities to do practice job talks and watch their colleagues do the same.  But even for them I think the conference could be useful in giving opportunities to practice with strangers, as a past conference speaker pointed out

As for people who are only thinking about law teaching or planning to go on the market in a future year, I don’t know exactly what was covered in the concurrent session, but I think the usefulness of the conference will depend on how much you already know about the process.  If you went to panels on how to become a law professor as a student in the relatively recent past, then the main value of the conference would be the chance to watch some mock interviews and job talks, and I’m not sure that alone would justify the trip for anyone who has to travel a long distance.  But if you didn’t get this advice as a student, then the ASU conference would seem to be a great opportunity to get firsthand insight that’s not otherwise readily available, and then the chance to observe the afternoon mocks will give you a nice headstart on the process.

Thanks again to Dean Sylvester and all the professors who came to this year’s conference!

Posted by Richard Chen on September 28, 2014 at 11:41 AM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


That's what was on the schedule, but now that I think about it they may not have done the separate panel for clinical/legal writing candidates.

Posted by: Richard Chen | Sep 28, 2014 10:05:56 PM

"one for people who are on the market this year, another for clinical or legal writing candidates..." really?

Posted by: jr. | Sep 28, 2014 9:50:26 PM

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