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Monday, October 26, 2020

An Entry-Level Candidate's Plea

I received the following anonymous email from "AALS Candidate." I'm not generally in the habit of posting anonymous emails to the blog, but this seemed of general interest to those on the job market and also like something that might generate a useful discussion, including thoughts from people who are directly involved in fellowship programs and hiring and who have a sense of, for example, whether fellows are actually not getting jobs this cycle (though of course it's also very early to know that).

I'm an entry-level candidate on the AALS market this year, and it's miserable. I have a strong CV. Not SCOTUS clerk + PhD strong, but in any other year I'd have at least a dozen screening interviews. So far, I've had 1 screening interview. I may get a few more since some schools are delayed, but I'm not very optimistic.

Here is why I'm writing. I've spent years planning out in excruciating detail exactly how and when I would go on the market because I have a personal situation that precludes me from going on the market more than once. I don't want to elaborate because I want to remain anonymous, but trust me. I have one (real) shot. And many years ago, I picked 2020. So, it's especially painful for this year to be the year. For candidates like myself, a member of an often-marginalized group of candidates, going on the market is usually inequitable. Even in a decent year, the stars might not align for us. But especially this year, pandemic-related hiring freezes are likely to shut a lot of quality, marginalized candidates out of the academy permanently.

My ask: if anyone reading this has any sway at your school, please push for your school to fund a new VAP or fellowship. It doesn't need to pay much; we're desperate. I read a scary comment recently that struck me as prescient: most existing VAPs and fellowships won't lose many from their ranks this cycle and schools may extend time-limited positions for an extra year, leaving new candidates on the market shut out entirely unless schools create *new* opportunities for us. Please do what you can to give us an equitable chance to succeed. Thank you.

Posted by Sarah Lawsky on October 26, 2020 at 05:59 PM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market | Permalink


Anon, to your point on schools interviewing lots of people but not hiring anyone: Back when I was on the entry-level market, 20 years ago, NYU gave AALS interviews to something like 60 candidates even though (I later heard from several sources) they planned on hiring no one. Apparently this was something NYU did just to get to know the entry-levels that year so they could keep an eye on people that impressed them for a possible future lateral hire down the road. That was a disservice to candidates: Candidates who didn't realize NYU wasn't really interested would drop interviews at lower ranked schools that might actually hire them and instead get very excited about the possibility of being hired a the entry-level by NYU, which was never in the cards. I don't know if any schools still do that, but they really really shouldn't.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Nov 3, 2020 4:02:02 AM

The problem with the law school market is that it gives everyone's hope. This is partly because schools interview so many candidates. The rest of the academy only does 3 fly outs with no preliminary interviews or does about 10 or 15 short Skype interviews. Because of the dynamics of the meat market and have 2 days allocated to the meat market, they interview so many people, most of which never have a real chance of actually getting a job. When a school interviews 30 people, that means 27 of the 30 won't get a call back and 29 out of 30 will get the job. That assumes they even hire; a good percentage never even actually hire anyone in the end. But because getting an interview makes. you feel like you are a competitive candidate like one of the below posters mentions, it makes a lot of people think they are better candidates than they actually are.

The simple fact is that there are about 30 or 40 super qualified people on the market the last few cycles, most all with Ph.d and/or fellowships or both, top pubs, and top schools. Then probably about 20-30 who are just behind. Not even the people in the first group all get jobs. These numbers may be actually less than what it is, given my own observations when I look at the entry hiring list; it might well be about 80 to 100. I don't think people realize just how many people are extremely well qualified. I had a colleague with all the top credentials the first year on the market completely shocked that they had only 10 interviews, and none from the top schools.

And sometimes even those without the top credentials get hired over ones that do. This is often due to a geographic connection. Schools don't want to go through this again. No one says it, and they still waste time interviewing you at the meat market, but I don't think in the end most schools totally believe that a person who lived their entire life on the east coast will move to the Midwest on a permanent lifetime basis; they may believe you will take the job and look to lateral in 2-3 years but if there is another candidate with a strong geographic connection who they think they can retain that person has an advantage.

It might be a good think if hiring changes. It wastes everyone's time to interview 30 candidates.Also the pressure of going to the meat market might make some schools not waste people's interview interviewing when they really are not hiring. Many top schools never hire and only interview to scope out the market. It may also move hiring more to the spring semester, especially this year, when we have a better idea about the virus.

Posted by: anon | Nov 3, 2020 1:45:09 AM

I was on the meat market 10 years ago. Didn't get an offer and moved on. I see the market is just as depressing and the folks just as desperate as it was back then.

The meat market is a grinder.

Posted by: longtimeago | Nov 2, 2020 7:11:57 PM

I am a recently hired tenure-track faculty and appreciate everyone's contributions to this ongoing conversation. I guess I land with most of what "another perspective" said on October 29. The only challenge I see is that it is impossible to demand from most law schools, many of them are struggling with economic hardships (only exacerbated by COVID), to provide more TT jobs (and VAPs and Fellowships) at this time. The law school hiring market is a MARKET -- and as such impacted by all the general trends that impact all other facets of the economy. Where the rest of the country sees record breaking unemployment it is not inconceivable that law schools will have hiring freezes (as well as salary freezes and furloughs). Law students are demanding more money from their law school administration (going for anything from prevention testing to classroom adjustments for hybrid teaching to financial support). This is just a crummy reality all around. We can hope for a better general economy (and vote!) which will then translate into a general better financial reality that will trickle down to the academy too. But we also must be realistic in what we can demand from deans at this time. For years now we've been hearing about dozens of law schools that are at risk of closure (with a few live examples of actual closures). If you are considering becoming a law professor you have to be cognizant of these realities and operate within them. Simply voicing empty pleas helps no one, go beyond wishful thinking and propose solutions that are also practical across the board.

Posted by: Recent hire | Nov 2, 2020 9:57:31 AM

I find this thread somewhat wild in its assumptions of what it takes. I have a T3 JD and now have a PhD and fellowship, but I have been on the market recently with just the JD and promising pubs and even then had interviews and solid schools seriously interested in me enough to fly me out. Definitely do not have a SCOTUS clerkship or famous profs calling committees on my behalf 24/7. It didn't work out for me which is why I've continued to accumulate credentials but it feels like with a twist of fate (like Covid NOT canceling searches last spring or this fall) it could have even then.

Posted by: anon0 | Nov 2, 2020 6:48:21 AM


Here are the three best sites, the combination of which will probably cover 90%+ of all the jobs in the world for English-speaking scholars. (I've included a search for law in the URL; if the searches don't work, just go to the main sites and search for law manually.)


https://www.jobs.ac.uk/search/law (best site)


South African jobs are not that common, but you will definitely find them listed at the second and third site. Set up email notifications, because non-US schools advertise when they have openings; there is no meat market or centralized system.

If you get to the point where you're really serious about applying abroad, feel free to drop me a line at the University of Copenhagen for some tips/tricks. You can find my email easily with Google.

Posted by: Prof. Kevin Heller | Oct 30, 2020 11:20:42 PM

It's a mistake to be in a situation where all your eggs are in one year's basket. Despite 20 or so screening interviews and a few callbacks, I struck out entirely my first year on the market, partly because of market conditions, partly because I vastly overestimated how many law schools wanted to hire in Evidence (why not just hire a local judge? they think) and partly because my interview skills weren't great.

The following year I got an offer, and I've been here for over 25 years now... It's really tough now, b/c so many people do VAPs, fellowships, PHds, and then they still have to be patient and flexible. I really sympathize. But you just can't predict what the market will look like in any given year, who will be hiring in what area (in my case the Evidence VAP left GMU the second year and they needed someone), whether you will realize that you made a big mistake in which paper you chose for your job talk, and so on...

Posted by: David Bernstein | Oct 30, 2020 7:45:50 PM

@Prof. Kevin Heller--is there a place to find out about international opportunities? I have academic experience teaching, writing, and LLM'g on human rights and national security (US), and would love to know about opportunities in the countries you mentioned, South Africa too.

Posted by: ExPatWannabe | Oct 30, 2020 5:11:00 PM

You've got a good point, a non. But it's not unanswerable.

First cull down b/w those 150 to 300 candidates to be consistent with law school topical needs. Let's say your search is broad. That yields you 1/3 of those of those within your parameters (you've eliminated all the areas you're not hiring for (e.g. tax, estates, con law, etc.)). So now you're down to 50 to 100 candidates. Then, you are faced with a FAR form that emphasizes pedigree at the top, and that is obviously important but, I think, misplaced. Of course, no one can seriously knock carefully scrutinizing information about education, employment experience, demographics, and the like. But to shift the paradigm away from what many on this thread believe to be outsized factors tending to elitism, one needs only to emphasize what is most important to the academy: high level, cutting edge, erudite, creative, well-organized, elegantly written, and powerfully articulated publications. That knocks out many of the remaining applicants whose works are exclusively or almost exclusively of the bar journal variety. Then take those remaining people, prioritize the areas of law based on school needs and committee preferences (e.g. candidates whose principal interests are criminal law or tort law). Next read (or even skim, if you're really pressed for time) an abstract from one article of each remaining 15 or 25 candidates. From there select eight candidates consistent with the appointment committee's mandate. And now you've got recommendations to discuss with the committee.

Once at the campus interview, judge between candidates almost entirely on the merits of written and oral presentations, with almost no weight given to the traditional proxies like degrees and clerkships. Collegiality of course being important. The dominant determinants, however, should be creative and articulate scholarship.

Posted by: AnonProf1 | Oct 30, 2020 3:29:19 PM


In my experience, hiring committees absolutely can--and regularly DO--"judge between two, three, or even four candidates almost entirely on the merits with [little] weight given to the traditional proxies like degrees and clerkships." The problem is more: how do you cull from a list of 150 or 300 plausible candidate, where there just isn't remotely time in the day to read scholarship or meet with everyone? Most of the decisions in question (decisions that rely on proxies) happen at that stage, not at the point that it's feasible to take a close look at the small subset of remaining candidates.

Posted by: a non | Oct 30, 2020 2:11:36 PM


You wrote, "Who would you hire, or what secret method would you use to deduce that the first candidate is the one who "really" deserves to be hired?"

It ain't no secret: read the candidates scholarship and hire the most astute intellectuals, meet with them and identify whether they have the temperament to be pedagogues, and reflect on whether they would be good colleagues. And bam! You've got a winner.

After years in the academic milieu, we should all be able to judge between two, three, or even four candidates almost entirely on the merits with far less weight given to the traditional proxies like degrees and clerkships.

Posted by: AnonProf1 | Oct 30, 2020 2:02:52 PM

While I sympathize with the original poster this job is not something you can expect to apply one year and then get. I did the market multiple times before landing a job and I checked all the boxes. I certainly did not want to have to spend over $1000 each year and hike down to the wardman. It is very emotionally draining doing that multiple times. But most candidates I think probably do the market multiple times and doing so wrecks havoc on everyone‘s personal life whether it be spouses jobs or planning a family or just the sheer monetary cost.

I also think some people - particularly those in privileged groups - gain a reputation by being active on Twitter. I never noticed it before but when I started paying attention to who got jobs I noticed that some seemed to punch above their Weight based on pubs and traditional metrics alone. I would like to say those things don’t matter but implicitly they do; knowing a lot of people and being friends with a lot of people helps you get noticed. And some groups either lack access on how to do that or don’t have the personality for it. But I think people missing one of the typically things are often overeager in making sure they get noticed. They have to be; otherwise they would not be able to get a job.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 30, 2020 1:18:38 PM

There's a lot about the hiring system that is unfair, but it's not completely irrational. First, to kill a couple of myths: (1) Supreme Court clerks aren't automatically hired--my T100 school has decided not to make offers to several over the years (why did we interview many, and make offers to some? Because they were incredibly accomplished, as one would expect of SCOTUS clerks). (2) A candidate's advisers can't get them job offers, period. Just not a big factor in our decision-making.

And a question back at those who are complaining about the current system: What would you have a school do, when deciding between a solid candidate coming straight out of practice with maybe 1 article and a JD/PhD coming out of a Harvard fellowship with 3-4 strong articles and good teaching evals? Who would you hire, or what secret method would you use to deduce that the first candidate is the one who "really" deserves to be hired?

Posted by: yetanotheranonprof | Oct 30, 2020 8:25:22 AM

"Quite frankly, the entire hiring process is 100% lottery. I really tire of people who get hired or who were hired years ago, acting like divas who won the meritocracy. Their positions are often almost entirely based on random luck or the most minute of slight differences. Just about anyone else could do that job just as well." Posted by: Anon101 | Oct 27, 2020 9:27:57 AM

What's infuriating about this remark is its role in obfuscating the dynamics of the hiring market. So much of it is actually dependent upon: (a) branding, i.e., which law school you went to; (b) whether, as a previous poster has already mentioned, one's advisors/supervisors/others in positions of authority/well-branded positions supporting one's candidacy make the right sort of phone calls behind the scenes; and (c) identity politics.

Around 90% of American law school faculty members vote Dem, yet hire like it's the Ancien régime.

""If one wasn't able to get into the T-6 law schools, why does one deserve to be considered for a TT law school job? What is the inherent virtue of attending Suffolk Law School that will provide students with irreplaceable component in their education that they do not receive from professors who graduated from a T-6 law school?" thegreatdisappointment | Oct 27, 2020 3:45:16 PM

What is the inherent virtue of a T-6 JD education vis-a-vis scholarly and pedagogical training? Nothing - pace certain Yalie friends of mine who insist that they train their JDs to be scholars. :)

Posted by: Anonymous Bosch | Oct 30, 2020 7:35:20 AM

I am a recently tenured prof. I am a woman and a minority. I figured out I wanted to be a law professor by the end of college and I worked and sacrificed to get the right credentials after graduating from a T3 school. To have all the work I put in throughout my twenties dismissed and myself described as a privileged and undeserving because I prepared is pretty wild. For at least the past ten years, the information has been publicly available as to what to do if you want to be a law professor. I had no special connections. I just asked a lot of questions in law school and took the rules for going on the market seriously. It is incredibly clear what law schools are looking for at this point. I was able to join what is being called a "club" just by earning a spot at a T3 school and working at it. So what's being presented as impossible for women, minorities, and people from working class backgrounds isn't really so. There is a formula for being a candidate with a good shot at getting a job. The scorn in this thread for people who choose to execute this formula when their entire career is at stake is shocking.

What's more, I can't help but feel that making the standards more broad and vague (looking for "potential" "good work experience" and a "good personality" instead of the more concrete top publications, clerkship, fellowship/PHD combo) would tend to revert back to the old "culture and fit" criteria that has historically hurt women and minorities. And as a matter of fact, hasn't the legal academy become more gender diverse over the past twenty years as hiring has become more competitive in the ways that this thread insults? And it hasn't gotten any less ethnically diverse. I think blending in diversity concerns in this conversation confuses the issue, because changing the existing standards won't necessarily help women and people of color.

I ultimately agree with "a non" from October 28 who said "To some extent, though, isn't this just an unavoidable consequence of seeking an ultra-competitive job?" There aren't enough slots available for all the people who would do well in the job. Even if you switched up the standards, other deserving people would be left out in the cold. The only real answer to the problem the email describes is to expand hiring (which they suggest, but I would go further than VAPs, which are really a stopgap, and say more TT jobs are needed). The academy is woefully understaffed, and that's a cold irony, given how many talented people are out there to allow expansion without a drop in quality.

Posted by: another perspective | Oct 29, 2020 11:38:28 PM

And I apologize for the typos from my clumsy use of the phone.

Posted by: Jas. Madison | Oct 29, 2020 10:28:27 PM

@queanon: a lawyer with less than five years of practice experience cannot have had an "impactful practice." They may tell you that, but it's rarely true. It may seem impactful to law professor who never practiced or practice discovery management at a white-shoe firm, but it isn't. The reason why is that they know so little about practice that it takes at least five years to be trusted by superiors with "impactful" cases.

@anon0: your use of the term "rando" pretty much sums up the attitude of the professoriate for non-T3 candidates. Thank you for being honest.

Posted by: Jas. Madison | Oct 29, 2020 10:27:08 PM

I really wish people in this thread would stop describing the hiring process as a "lottery" or based on "luck." That is true only in one narrow respect: within the group of candidates who have equally superb credentials, which one(s) get hired is often based on unpredictable criteria. But it is not luck that, as a group, T3 graduates with SCOTUS clerkships, PhDs, VAPs, and multiple T30 publications get hired. They get hired because they have the credentials hiring committees are looking for.

To be clear: I strongly agree with the commenters who criticise what hiring committees are looking for. The credentials above are shot through with class privilege and many of them have no predictive power whatsoever. But they are not random. On the contrary: people who want to law professors know *exactly* what they have to do to get jobs. The problem is that obtaining such credentials is practically impossible for far too many people who would likely have brilliant careers as law professors.

In short: we need to combat the idea that you cannot be a good law professor unless you went to a T3 school and clerked on SCOTUS. My first tenure-track job was at a T30 school, and my colleagues would hire *anyone* who was a SCOTUS clerk, even if it was painfully obvious he or she would never be a productive scholar. By contrast, they routinely turned down candidates who went to "lesser" schools (ie, T20, not T3) who had published brilliant, cutting-edge research.

Unlike AALS Candidate, I have no problem with hiring committees demanding multiple quality publications. Most people can find time to write, no matter how onerous their professional and personal commitments. And if they really can't write more than one article before going on the market, why should a hiring committee believe that will change once they get hired? That might be unfair in some cases, but law professors have to publish. Full stop.

And here is a tip: there are law schools all over the world that teach law in English. If being a law professor is your dream, if you have excellent publications, and if you are geographically flexible -- leave the US. Non-US jobs are not easy to get, but you will find that hiring committees are much more tolerant of non-typical career paths for Americans than US law schools -- especially when the American candidate publishes often and well. (And unlike American law schools, they aren't stupid enough to think that publishing in Wake Forest Law Review is better than publishing in, say, the Harvard International Law Journal.)

I speak from experience, by the way. I spent two years in my tenure-track job at the T30 school in the US. I hated the American legal academy so intensely that I left the country. 14 years and tenured jobs in five different countries later (New Zealand, Australia, England, the Netherlands, and Denmark), I have not regretted my choice for a moment.

Posted by: Prof. Kevin Heller | Oct 29, 2020 8:57:37 PM

I'm a tenured professor and have served on my law school's hiring committee several times. There has been a sustained arms race among candidates over the past 15 years. Each year the market is flooded with "super-candidates": graduates from top law schools who have impactful practice experience, PhDs in related fields, VAPs/fellowships, multiple well-placed publications, and strong recommendations from well-known professors. We are not looking for these super-candidates per se. We are looking for people who have a high probability of becoming an excellent scholar, teacher, university citizen, and colleague, not only because those are the people we want to have on the faculty and to teach our students, but also because that's what it takes to get tenure at my university. The initial hiring decision is just the beginning. Six years later that person's record is going to be scrutinized by professors at other schools, who write so-called tenure letters, and by my university's tenure committee, which includes professors from other departments. If that person doesn't get tenure it was a failed hire, an outcome which nobody wants. Super-candidates' prior records suggest that they are likely to achieve tenure, and the low rate of tenure denials seems to bear that out. If you want law schools to change their hiring practices, you need to convince them that other candidates are just as likely to get tenure in the end.

Posted by: queanon | Oct 29, 2020 5:23:08 PM

@smooth my heart breaks for you because, although it was over 20 years ago, I undertook a journey very similar to yours in seeking a tenure track law prof job. I left practice (but later came back) and over the course of 12 years I did two federal court clerkships, a LL.M., a Ph.D., a VAP, and went on the market 4 different times trying to break through. I wrote about that story in the University of Memphis Law Review (the law school where I finally landed my first job) in a piece titled The Pedagogical Don Quixote de la Mississippi which was published in 2003 and may very well be dated because the market is even more hyper competitive now than it was back then. I've been on a lot of hiring committees since then and I'd be more than happy to talk about this with you off this thread, if you have any interest in that at all. If you'd rather not, I totally understand. My email is attached to this post.

Posted by: David Case | Oct 29, 2020 3:10:13 PM

News flash:::-Legal academia isn't a meritocracy. It can be clubby and self-replicating, and it's a process that sometimes results in some connected or credentialed mediocrities getting hired. But if you are strategic in terms of what you want to teach and have some substantively good publications (and I don't mean placement--everyone knows that's a poor proxy for quality), your odds of getting a job are much better. If you can credibly claim that you love and want to teach the "uncool" classes that are necessary to keep the lights on at the law school--tax or commercial law or trusts and estates, etc.--then you will have got much better prospects than if you want to share your views on free speech or Chevron step 3.1415 with everyone.

Posted by: AnotherAnonProf | Oct 29, 2020 2:48:52 PM

Let me assure you, being a white male and having a JD from a T3 law school does not mean you are automatically "in the club." If that were the case, I would have been hired a long time ago. I'm sure there's bias in higher ed just like everywhere, but come on, in the age of mandatory "diversity statements," this just isn't as serious problem here as in, say, policing. Or Trumpism. My experience in academia has been that everyone is hyper-conscious of the possibility of any kind of bias. Look So let's save the outrage for fighting real oppression.

Also, yes, I get that law schools are entitled to hire the "best" people, blah blah blah, but the problem is that the "best" has become so far above what the theoretical "qualifications" are for the job. Really you hiring folks should just be honest and say that what you're looking for is someone who (1) graduated from T3 summa cum laude; (2) has published at least 3 T30 law rev articles BEFORE getting a job as a professor; (3) has practice experience that will look "prestigious" on your web site, e.g. a federal white-collar crime prosecutor, not a legal aid attorney; (4) has at least a federal appellate clerkship and preferably a SCOTUS clerkship; and (4) has the schmoozing skills to forge connections with fellow law profs such that you will get a call from Brian Leiter or whoever assuring you that this person is amazing and needs to be hired ASAP. Oh, and a PhD and VAP/fellowship are also nice.

If someone had told me that up front when I started this process, I would have been sad, but at least I wouldn't have wasted a decade of my life in a quixotic bid to beef up my CV in a way that, apparently, I can't, because (like @anecdata) I simply did not know when I was 25 that I wanted to be a law prof. But, of course, nobody is going to be this honest.

Posted by: SmoothCriminalAtty | Oct 29, 2020 12:01:16 PM

A lot of hiring comes down to assumptions about how someone will perform and fits into a specific faculty. And these things are easier to judge with knowledge of the person, which makes hiring from down the hall attractive in a justifiable way.

There are so many applicants have basically similar profiles but the committee knows the work of the person in their faculty better and can have confidence in their ability to publish it, whereas it's harder to tell about a rando's research agenda. Fit also goes beyond the "social club" thing (which is not wrong) because every faculty is a little bit different.

(There's also some fairness involved in keeping that person on board, especially if they haven't found another position and are good enough...it's one thing to strike out on the market if you're coming from practice or whatever, another to start practice over after a PhD + VAP/fellowship or one or the other. Plus continuity can be good for students and esprit de corps. Anyway, imagine how it feels being the person down the hall getting passed over for a rando no one knows but has one more article or a slightly better clerkship or whatever.)

Posted by: anon0 | Oct 29, 2020 9:24:44 AM

There are many, many law professors out there who did not graduate from top law schools who are killing it. It's true they had to work much harder to get into the academy, but they still did it. Likewise there are many who graduated from top schools who turn out to be exceptional hires.

So can we stop with the gross over-generalizations like "Every year they want a 'rock star' who turns out to be a bumbling imbecile with mediocre teaching skills and lukewarm publications."

I know the process is frustrating and stressful, but come on . . .

Posted by: AnonProf | Oct 29, 2020 9:12:01 AM

Don't you get it, OP? It's a club and you aren't in it. The club is people from the top 5 law schools who hire people just like them. Every year they want a "rock star" who turns out to be a bumbling imbecile with mediocre teaching skills and lukewarm publications. They have no tolerance for anyone outside of this club unless they are in the mood to virtue-signal in which case they find some African-American or Hispanic to hire who eventually learns that they too are not in the club. As a matter of sociology, you cannot rely of people's account of what they do, you have to weigh that against the data. What the probability that 70% of the best teachers went to 3 law schools? Zero. On many occasions I was considered for jobs and interviewed at the AALS only to have the job go to someone down the hall from the hiring committee; so tell me, what are the odds that if you threw 100 white marbles and one black marble at a map of the United States that the one black marble would land down the hall from you?

It's pure politics, prejudice, and self-perpetuation. It's a club that perpetuates itself. They do not get their positions on merit, but turn around and lecture to applicants about merit. Total hypocrisy. That is fine if the person is a serial killer or con artist, but it is laughably absurd and cringe-worthy when it comes from people with Ivy League degrees.

I used to be a law professor on a faculty with a Yale grad and I would say something like, "I am not sure whether this contract is enforceable due to lack of consideration from the employer," and he would say, "Indeed, query whether one might wonder whether the asymmetry of consideration is indeed so detrimental as to vitiate the essential prerequisite of consideration in the totality of circumstances...." I would walk away thinking he was a genius for 5 minutes then realize he was saying the exact same thing in Yale-Speak. It's a pretentious social club, get used to it.

Posted by: AnonForThisOne | Oct 29, 2020 4:28:15 AM

I'm very sympathetic to these stories of candidates striking out, especially when the candidates in question have put years (and lots of sacrifices) into this goal.

To some extent, though, isn't this just an unavoidable consequence of seeking an ultra-competitive job? Legal academia is one of the most competitive positions to get in one of the most competitive fields there is. Without a dramatic shift in the legal education model, that's not going to change any time soon. If anything, my sense is that law students (and law-adjacent PhD candidates) are increasingly realizing just how good legal academic jobs are relative to other available options. And law schools are shrinking, cutting budgets and tenure-stream positions in the process. It's difficult to imagine any sort of real shift in the near future in which legal academia positions become significantly LESS competitive.

On top of that, for those hiring for legal academic positions, it's entirely justifiable to value a range of characteristics that require a real investment of time. One of the primary components of the job is research, and prior research is the best predictor of future research, and that just takes time. Additionally, practice experience can be incredibly valuable in the classroom and for research, and that takes time. And as law grows increasingly interdisciplinary, the sort of toolsets that one builds in a PhD (or Master's) program look increasingly attractive from the standpoint of research and to a lesser extent teaching -- and that takes time.

Combine those things and you can see why we have the hiring system we have now. Most people who want to be a law professor won't be able to. Most people who want a serious shot of being a law professor will need to make a pretty serious investment of time and energy (writing scholarship, getting a PhD, getting practice experience, etc.). And most people who make such a serious investment will still not be able to be a law professor. That really, really stinks, but it's not easily avoidable; law schools are unlikely to stop caring about the research chops of their new hires, nor should they.

It'd be great if it were possible to look beyond the accumulation of these experiences and credentials and pick out future great scholars based on mostly unrealized potential alone, but I don't know how to do that. I especially don't know how to do that in a world of constrained resources; most hiring committees are already overworked doing the job they do, which typically involves making some fairly deep cuts without seriously looking at the candidates in question.

What do you suggest for a solution? Specifically, what do you suggest for a solution that doesn't require either (1) hiring committees to spend significantly more time in this review; or (2) a deliberately non-meritocratic system (e.g,. one in which hiring committees preference candidates who worse meet their hiring needs over candidates who better meet their hiring needs)?

Posted by: a non | Oct 28, 2020 7:54:38 PM

Jumping in as a recent hire. The challenge I experienced was similar to SmoothCriminalAtty's -- I didn't go to law school with the intention of ending up in academia. Consequently, as a law student and as a recent grad, I made choices that were suboptimal from the perspective of being on the market: I turned down law review work because I wanted to focus on clinical experiences, I turned down a writing fellowship that was offered to me in order to do a public interest placement, I chose work opportunities that were interesting but didn't give me useful academic references, etc. When I decided that I wanted to try out the academic path, I never got so much as a first round interview from a single fellowship/VAP -- no doubt because I had an unpolished research agenda, had only non-podium faculty backing me, and had few of the usual signals of marketability (no law review or clerkship -- though I did have solid grades from a "top 3" program and a very old PhD that was completely unrelated to my subsequent legal studies). Instead I found an "academic-adjacent" position where I could get some lecturing gigs and write (without mentors advising me, I published in specialty journals thinking that's where my audience would be, not realizing that it would be interpreted by some hiring committees as proof that I couldn't place higher).
With some grey hairs and a family by the time I felt ready for the market, I did so on the understanding with my partner that this was my one shot to apply without geographic restrictions and that if I had to apply again, I would need to limit myself to positions that wouldn't require uprooting the family. By some miracle it worked out: three interviews that cycle turned into two job offers which turned into one acceptance (at a school I had never heard of prior to the market, but which is a really wonderful community).
The decision to come back to academia required spending years to undo the "errors" of my "misspent" law school years and early career. The programs that are theoretically meant to help practitioners transition to academia never gave me a serious look. Of course no such programs *owed* me their time; as between me and someone coming out of a top law program with a related PhD, a solid appellate clerkship, recs from big names, and a decade of working toward the goal of landing an academic job, I would be hard-pressed to justify giving a spot to me. And yet, I think there is something valuable in this non-standard background. Within my field I am known for asking new questions and bringing a perspective that is not addressed in the existing literature. Would I have that iconoclasm if I came through the usual channels? Not sure, but I suspect not. Would the field be richer for having more diversity of perspectives? Not sure, but I suspect yes.
What's my solution? All I've got is that hiring committees need to get beyond the usual heuristics to understand candidates' stories and to build a faculty with a diversity of experiences and perspectives rather than a self-perpetuating monoculture. (Oh, and let's do what we can to end this pandemic, rebuild a stronger and more equitable economy, etc., so that there are still law schools, law students, and a functioning legal system at the end of the day.)

Posted by: anecdata | Oct 28, 2020 2:51:46 PM

Thegreatdiss: That's fair. I did overestimate the extent to which a PhD would make me marketable. I do think there are good reasons for people to pursue higher education that have nothing to do with financial reward, but it's certainly something folks should consider in making such a decision.

Posted by: SmoothCriminalAtty | Oct 28, 2020 2:46:15 PM


Sorry, that wasn't actually directed at you.

It was more a general comment to any candidates or prospective candidates lurking on the board letting them know that if they were considering a PhD as some sort of hail mary or fix-all they should reconsider.

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Oct 28, 2020 1:59:20 PM


Posted by: SmoothCriminalAtty | Oct 28, 2020 12:50:21 PM

PhDs are generally a poor investment. The only reason to get one is if you have full funding from a top school that's a feeder school into the exact profession you want; or, if you just want to do the PhD for yourself and can afford to take the 5 years of depressed wages it will cost you, as well as the likelihood that you'll never make up those prime earning years and, as a result, your PhD will never pay for itself.

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Oct 28, 2020 12:24:07 PM

I just struck out again after my third year doing AALS. Ten years ago I decided I wanted to become a law prof. I went back and got a PhD, published a few law-rev articles, and have some teaching experience and several references from law profs. I graduated from a T3 school, by the way, though admittedly not at the top of my class. I have nearly a decade of practice experience that is relevant to my scholarly field.

But...even those credentials are not good enough. Now I get questions like, why did you go back to practicing after your PhD? (Um, cause I couldn't get an academic job and my family preferred not to starve, obviously, why the @#$^ else do you think I would do that?) It's like I missed the sweet spot of only having a couple years of practice and now am too old to be considered, unless of course I had some stellar credential like a SCOTUS clerkship, which I don't. I can't even get a VAP/fellowship, and I have no idea why. I've tried asking hiring chairs who have rejected me for some feedback, but I never get responses other than, "We had many candidates to choose from this year..." Duh.

So, 10 years later, I'm giving up on the dream. Gotta be honest, it's super frustrating and (not to be melodramatic but) even heartbreaking, because I sacrificed a lot in terms of my career to get that PhD, thinking it would be a ticket into the academy, but turns out to have been for nothing. I'm grateful I have a job, but it's not what I really wanted to do. I love teaching, and frankly I'm a very good teacher and at least a decent scholar. But, as it happens, clearly not good enough. And that's the thing: this is such a tight market that you have to be a superstar, or just really lucky, otherwise you're just not going to get a job. People need to be aware from the start that that is the case. I wish I had been aware of this 10 years ago--I would have probably made some different choices.

The good news is, at least I won't be taking up precious AALS interview space next year for you young hotshots who are still in the game. Good luck to you!

Posted by: SmoothCriminalAtty | Oct 28, 2020 11:50:09 AM

Black Box - the information for candidates on the market isn't hidden, you just need to go looking for it. There's a book that was published by the ABA in 2010 - Becoming A Law Professor: A Candidate's Guide - that was written by law professors exactly for this purpose. There's also a surprising amount of literature published in the law journals on the law professor hiring market, so a legal research database search should pull up an abundance of that information. There's way more information than just what you can find on the websites because the problems with the market aren't new (although they are certainly writ large this year). This vast oversupply of quality candidates together with extremely limited demand (because the number of jobs available year in and year out will always be relatively small) is a constant for this market and has been for many decades.

Posted by: moreanonprof | Oct 28, 2020 11:14:55 AM

Hi, I am also a candidate this year. One way to make this process better and more inclusive of marginalized applicants would be if it wasn't a closed black box for anyone not already in the know. It starts with even knowing what you need to have on your CV to be competitive. Having the right CV and references to get you the clerkship, fellowship, VAP, prestigious additional degree that you need. Knowing how to game the law review submissions process. Knowing what kinds of articles to write for the market. Then having knowledge on how the market works, including such minute factors as how to strategically list teaching interests. Then having access to info on who is actually hiring and where to send your packets (or knowledge that sending packets is a step that exists). Then having the right recommenders to send that email or make that call. Then the tricks to get faculty on your side in a job talk. And of course, how to negotiate offers. There is some information out there, on sites like this as well as AALS, but so much of it is still hidden. Until we fix that, we will continue to have a hiring system that hires only the privileged few who have been groomed to be law faculty from day 1 of 1L.

Posted by: Black Box | Oct 28, 2020 10:25:12 AM

Anyone sensible has to feel for AALS Candidate. Most of us in tenure-track and tenured positions should recognize that luck played a role in our hiring, and can remember equally qualified friends or colleagues who wanted to teach and did not make it for reasons beyond their control--reasons including economic downturns (the market also tanked following the Great Recession).

But that's not a reason for schools to start up new VAP or Fellowship positions. There are already quite a few, and I would oppose my T100 school doing this, considering that whoever held the position would have go up against Climenkos, Bigelows, etc. next year or the year after. No point in creating a position for someone who would find themselves unemployed in 2 years.

One thing to add: one reason the current system is so unfair to individuals on the market is that most law schools are reluctant to deny tenure to a bad candidate. It happens, but it's damn rare. This means that when it comes to hiring we are risk-averse and favor the safe candidate--the one with a HYS degree, good teaching evals and 3-4 good articles, and glowing recommendations--over the one with less of a track record, who may be a stellar grad of Emory or Wisconsin with 1 promising article and coming straight out of practice.

Posted by: yetanotheranonprof | Oct 28, 2020 8:22:25 AM

So, from the comments, I gather that attending Suffolk, in itself, provides no inherent advantage with regards to teaching students and writing articles than someone who attended a T-6 school.

I do enjoy the assumptions, though, that the Suffolk grad is a scrappy fighter who's also got a PhD, wrote a groundbreaking article in constitutional law, and I'm surprised we didn't go ahead and make them a former U.S. attorney.

My question was asked because there seemed to be an assumption in the earlier thread that a grad from a low-ranked law school had some sort of virtue the T-6 prof didn't have precisely because the Suffolk grad attended a low-ranked school.

And I say this as someone who has had to overcome poor decisions from when I was 22 and who didn't go to anything that even resembles elite institutions.

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Oct 27, 2020 8:51:44 PM

This is an interesting thread that raises a lot of important issues. One thought, just speaking for myself (and not any institution, past or present):

I strongly strongly suspect that law schools will realize that 2020-21 was a crazy pandemic year that messed up everyone's expectations. 225,000 Americans and counting have died; so many lives disrupted; so many hopes dashed. Given that, I suspect schools hiring in the future are not going to have the expectation they have had in the past of a smooth resume and easily-followed transitions. They're going to realize that people were ready to go on the market in 2020-21 and couldn't; that people had to do other thing just to stay afloat; and that schools shouldn't hold it against them when life goes back to more-or-less normal. There are lots and lots of inequities in the process, unfortunately, and efforts to make it fairer are always going to be needed and also difficult. But I don't think schools will ignore the reality of what a weird time this was for everyone.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 27, 2020 8:34:51 PM

I'm a law prof but not tenured or tenure-track, so with that disclaimer...

AALS Candidate and others who are on the market this year, I feel your pain. Luck matters a lot. Depending on when you graduated from law school, you may have been the beneficiary of great luck in landing the kinds of clerkships / jobs that you now feel make you a qualified candidate. Still, being on the academic job market this year sucks and you may well be worse off than you would have been had you entered a year or two ago.

So, here's my advice. If you want to teach and write and this year is your one shot at it, apply to every academic job you can find that you would prefer over what you're doing now. Consider if you might like working as a clinical or LRW prof, hold an administrative position that comes with a teaching component, be a prof at a business school, etc. Keep in mind that some jobs turn out to be much better than they look in the job announcement.

But don't do it if you can't muster genuine excitement for these jobs. Hiring committees will sense your lack of enthusiasm and even if not, you may be setting yourself up for years of bitterness.

Good luck!

Posted by: formerly disgruntled | Oct 27, 2020 6:34:12 PM

The Suffolk comment also seems to assume that applicants are all the same apart from the applicant's law school, which they are not. The law hiring market is about comparing the HYS grad with 5 years of government experience and 3 decent publications on copyright law with the Suffolk law grad with a PhD in sociology and research interest in crim law and the Georgetown grad who doesn't have much work experience yet but published a groundbreaking paper in constitutional law and shows great promise.

It's all apples and oranges and up to the school's needs and preferences, and why would the HYS degree trump everything else?

Posted by: yks | Oct 27, 2020 6:29:13 PM

I’m really happy to see this thread pick up steam. We are seeing comments that expose our assumptions. Not to throw stones, but to help us improve our hiring and improve our schools overall.

Suffolk alone may or may not have any value. I can’t say. But there is huge value in someone who came from a disadvantaged background, struggled through school and landed there, fought tooth and nail to get through it, found a humble clerking job, passed the bar, and dragged her entire family into the middle class. And this is not just for affirmative action reasons. I have routinely found that candidates like that, are some of the most productive scholars, caring teachers, friendliest colleagues, and usually have really interesting ideas that come through in their scholarship. Now if we came place them in an environment with 2 guys from Harvard, plus a few foreign school grads, and someone else from Lewis&Clark, and a strong government lawyer, you end up with a rich scholarly community, bringing different strengths. Contrast that with an incestuous faculty all from HYS … If everyone in the academy had Larry Tribe for con law, then what a boring (and often lazy) academy we get.

But, as I said, the problem is that there are not enough jobs for all the good candidates, which means we default and go with the worst arbitrary indicators of potential value. Empirically, I am not sure those hold up.

@OldDog – yes, but note that I had a lot of “if’s” in that statement. You would be surprised how many people have all those things but are very unpleasant to be around. I don’t want to invite that person over for dinner or discuss my scholarship. The problem is that I am not sure my colleagues agree with me and I am not winning that battle right now.

I’m staying anonymous because I have disclosed some distasteful practice by hiring committees, including ones I have served on.

Posted by: Anon101 | Oct 27, 2020 5:47:44 PM


I don't believe a new subsidized research fellowship would be an easy sell to schools that may be financially struggling. Schools could subsidize new VAPs or fellows to teach courses typically covered by adjuncts, maybe by asking 2-3 adjuncts who have other fulltime work to pause teaching for a year. Decreasing the adjunct budget would help cover some of the cost of the VAP or fellowship. New VAPs or fellows could also handle committee responsibilities or plan speakers and conferences.

Posted by: AALS Candidate | Oct 27, 2020 5:41:25 PM

Many of the comments posted to this thread show that (1) AALS Candidate has very good reasons to remain anonymous, and (2) the people posting those comments do not.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Oct 27, 2020 5:11:15 PM

"If one wasn't able to get into the T-6 law schools, why does one deserve to be considered for a TT law school job? What is the inherent virtue of attending Suffolk Law School that will provide students with irreplaceable component in their education that they do not receive from professors who graduated from a T-6 law school?"

This is the dumbest and most conceited comment I've ever read on this website.

Posted by: anon | Oct 27, 2020 4:15:44 PM

thegreatdisappointment, that's a pretty shortsighted comment. Should everything hinge on one decision, made when the candidate was 22, to admit or not admit them to a T6 school? Some people don't finish undergrad with the best GPA and yet go on to be stellar lawyers and law professors. Why should they be kept out of the academy based on some arbitrary data from 10 or 20 years earlier?

Posted by: yks | Oct 27, 2020 4:02:53 PM

Less Depressed Candidate,

If one wasn't able to get into the T-6 law schools, why does one deserve to be considered for a TT law school job? What is the inherent virtue of attending Suffolk Law School that will provide students with irreplaceable component in their education that they do not receive from professors who graduated from a T-6 law school?

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Oct 27, 2020 3:45:16 PM

I am also a candidate on the market this year, and it is depressing. I vote for keeping this email up so that everyone knows how bleak the market is for us candidates this year.

That all said, I think part of the problem here isn't just pandemic economy's effects on hiring but also the general trend in hiring for law school faculty. OP said he would normally have dozens of interviews, despite not having any of the top-tier prestige markers, like a PhD or a SCOTUS clerkship. This sounds like someone was given bad advice. If you don't have a PhD, SCOTUS clerkship, or prestigious fellowship/VAP, you are SOL for entry-level TT doctrinal teaching roles -- especially this year, but not only this year.

The rockstar candidates this year are still getting double digit interviews and many callbacks. It's not the same as it was in recent years past, but some people are still going to get jobs. In another year, those rockstar candidates may be only focusing on the top schools. This year, they're seriously applying and interviewing across the board, which does make it harder for the rest of us.

I don't think more VAPs is necessarily the solution. That merely reinforces this growing trend of candidates having to check all of these privileged boxes in order to have any shot at all in the market. Not everyone can take 2-3 years off to work at low pay and move across the country for uncertain career prospects. Just like few people can afford to spend 5-7 years on a PhD. And of course, on top of all of that, if you didn't go to the top 6 or so law schools, you're facing an uphill battle to even be considered.

The problem is not the pandemic! If we want to diversify law teaching, we need to fix the overall pipeline issues.

Posted by: Less Depressed Candidate | Oct 27, 2020 3:20:38 PM

My school is planning to do a search this year. However, the committee is just now getting organized, because getting approval took much longer than normal. Maybe things will happen later this year?

Posted by: JEFFREY SCHMITT | Oct 27, 2020 2:04:39 PM

@Anon101--Loved to hear that non-TT school candidates might have a shot "if the person had 3-4 years solid teaching experience, 2-3 years practice in a good firm or government and 3-4 interesting articles, who was thoughtful, pleasant, diligent and cared about the students." I'm not the best judge of whether I'm pleasant, but the rest of that is me, with a bit more practice experience. Would love to hear if there might be a side market for lawyers with practice and teaching experience who might be able to play a number of roles.

Posted by: OldDogNewTricks | Oct 27, 2020 1:30:30 PM

AALS Candidate:

I don't understand what creating more VAP opportunities (which you yourself said could be low-paying) does for you. Are you basically asking law schools to subsidize a year of article writing for you?

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Oct 27, 2020 1:30:10 PM

"It's definitely a flawed system, but it's far from a lottery."

Far? I don't know. When one considers (1) how the trajectory of a successful candidate is almost always strongly influenced by privilege enjoyed from an early age (even if merely "middle class" privilege); and (2) the rank snobbery that characterizes faculty hiring decisions--a snobbery that hardly tracks actual scholarly or teaching ability--"lottery" doesn't seem far off. Not the ideal word, I know, but . . . .

Posted by: Edward Cantu | Oct 27, 2020 12:20:30 PM

"My assumptions about how I would have done in any other year are based on mentor feedback and comparing my credentials to others."

I question the reasonableness of this assumption. Even among those with excellent credentials, the process is characterized by a great deal of subjectivity and randomness.

Except re: candidates at one extreme or the other, mentors are not likely to have reliable input on probability, especially in an unprecedented market like this year's.

This person has been poorly advised, or has listened to advice only selectively. I can't imagine advising someone to undertake all the sacrifices necessary to become a competitive candidate without the ability to go on the market more than once. Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket!

Posted by: AnonProf OG | Oct 27, 2020 11:59:59 AM


In my email I asked for new VAPs and fellowships which might open doors for marginalized candidates to succeed in future years. I would further welcome schools rejecting the belief that candidates are not serious if they cannot go on the market more than once or have personal limitations like insufficient time to write more than one legal article or geographic constraints. I think it would be more equitable to judge candidates based on their potential and not outdated proxies for commitment that tend to hurt marginalized candidates more than others.

Posted by: AALS Candidate | Oct 27, 2020 11:58:45 AM

Comment: "My assumptions about how I would have done in any other year are based on mentor feedback and comparing my credentials to others"

And mentors and self-assessment are never off. LOL

Posted by: Anon | Oct 27, 2020 11:45:48 AM

Anon101: "I think the thing that gets me are the profs who got lucky in the hiring lottery years ago who think that luck had nothing to do with it. We need more humility and much more compassion for unsuccessful candidates..."

I agree 100%. One minor amendment - we need more humility and much more compassion for unsuccessful candidates BUT ALSO for candidates that didnt end up getting hired at "fancy dream school" but took the offer they got to get into the academy. If I had a nickel for every time someone looked down at me because of the school I worked at...

Posted by: Anon | Oct 27, 2020 11:44:45 AM

AALS Candidate:

I think you are incorrect to put the burden on professors to come up with an equitable solution. Why don't you explain what you would like to have happen.

What would make you say--even if you struck out--"This was an equitable process"?

Or is the only equitable process one in which you receive a job offer?

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Oct 27, 2020 11:31:22 AM

I wrote the email to Sarah. I am not embarrassed by my struggle or anything I wrote. My assumptions about how I would have done in any other year are based on mentor feedback and comparing my credentials to others. I stand by my assessment. I welcome comments from professors relating steps they have taken to try to make this year and future years more equitable for marginalized candidates.

Posted by: AALS Candidate | Oct 27, 2020 11:24:21 AM

Indeed I was once a disgruntled candidage myself and am now a prof who has lost all my romantic notions of the academy!

I am frequently approached to mentor young candidates from my alma mater and I am increasingly finding it difficult to know what to say. If top of your class, plus PhD, plus great clerkship or VAP is not enough to get hired, then what is going on? I see great people get routinely passed over and poor candidates scooped up. I find myself saying “they hired him?” every hiring season. And this even applies to the search committees at my own school that I have served on where the pros/cons arguments are sometimes so petty.

Perhaps my school is particularly dysfunctional and unrepresentative – I will readily accept that that is possible – but I hear similar things from friends at other law schools. One year ago, I heard from more than one friend at another law school that a job opening was actually not real. HR demanded that it be posted, and that they could go through the motions of a national search, in order to justify hiring back someone who had left years ago. Imagine the number of candidates who applied to that job in good faith who might have been better qualified.

I think the thing that gets me are the profs who got lucky in the hiring lottery years ago who think that luck had nothing to do with it. We need more humility and much more compassion for unsuccessful candidates, and a complete rethink of our hiring.

Posted by: Anon101 | Oct 27, 2020 11:23:59 AM

I posted (only) the first AnonProf comment. Just FYI, there are at least two people commenting on this post with that username. Apologies for any confusion.

We have to get out of the OCI mindset we use as our model, where you're expected to go on the market one time, do a bunch of interviews, and choose an offer. Virtually no other job market works that way. If you're at one job and you want to switch to another, you don't just send out a bunch of applications and dismay if you don't get any offers. You may need to apply not only to different places but at different points in your career, or simply roll the dice a year later even if you don't have different skills.

And yes, we do use OCI as the model. Explicitly -- the DC meat market -- and also more broadly, in the sense of there being a single track and season, and if you strike out then it's the equivalent of reinterviewing during 3L OCI. This hasn't been an accurate analogy for a long time.

Posted by: AnonProf OG | Oct 27, 2020 10:58:33 AM

I've emailed the address that sent me the email asking whether to keep the post up and will defer to that person's wishes on whether to take down the post (assuming that person is still checking the throwaway email address).

Posted by: Sarah Lawsky | Oct 27, 2020 10:41:55 AM

Sorry, I meant to write "as it can only hurt . . ."

Posted by: AnonProf | Oct 27, 2020 10:33:13 AM

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