Thursday, October 17, 2013

Let's Talk About Law Faculty Hiring

Here we are again at the AALS Faculty Recruitment Conference (FRC). My co-editor Dean Richard Gershon started the conversation the other day, and I would like to chime in with a few thoughts. I think the FRC, in its current form, is an idea whose time has passed. When this conference first started--all of us coming to DC (and sometimes Chicago in the really old days)--it was an efficient system. It provided a convenient way for candidates to meet with many schools and schools to meet with many candidates for quick screening interviews all in one place at one time. It enabled schools to keep costs low by shifting some of the cost to candidates themselves and by enabling interview teams to go to one place at one time to talk to everyone.

But, times have changed and technology has advanced. It can no longer be considered efficient for either interviewing teams or candidates to incur the costs to travel to DC when there is now reliable and inexpensive technology that can enable us to have the initial screening interviews from our own conference rooms in our home schools. There is no reason why the AALS couldn't continue to provide the FAR--and even charge for it--but when schools buy access to the FAR, that should include the right to opt out of the annual pilgrimage to the Marriott Wardman Park. The AALS could impose some date restrictions so that schools are operating on a roughly even time table.

Don't get me wrong; I really enjoy meeting the candidates and hearing about their fascinating and innovative work. I enjoy hearing about their enthusiasm for teaching; it inspires me to go back and find ways I can be a better teacher and dean. I enjoy getting to know people through the hiring process. I have good friends and colleagues who I met through this process (on both sides). Without the FRC, we would lose some of the camaraderie that develops within teams as well as between teams and candidates. I am looking forward to what the next two days will bring and excited about the prospect of ending up with some wonderful new colleagues who will help usher in the bright future of legal education.

However--in this time of shrinking budgets and concerns about rising costs--it's time to consider whether the FRC is the best use of our limited resources (for both the schools and the candidates).

But let's hear from you! While you are relaxing between interviews, send us your comments. What are your thoughts about the conference and the hiring process in general? Candidates, what do you want deans to know about you and about the process? Deans and Faculty, what do you want candidates to know? What do you look for when you hire faculty? For those of you who have been here before, what is your favorite memory from the AALS FRC? Your worst memory? (Mine's the year we had to vacate in the middle of the night for a fire--wasn't that 2001?) Tell us whatever you want to--it is your chance to rant or vent or just retell a funny story (and you can do it anonymously if you want to).

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I enjoyed you post on the FRC on your new blog. Having served on a hiring committee for five years (and the last two as chair), I share much of your sentiment.

The main value for the conference for our team is that, since our school values excellence in classroom teaching at least as much as we value scholarly performance, we need a window into a candidate's presentation skills. We get that with full day callbacks, of course, but with 600+ "applicants" and the ability to bring only a few back to campus, we have found that without some kind of personal interaction with candidates we have a tough time identifying those with the kind of classroom presence we value based solely on paper.

An idea pitched on Prawfs a few years back,, was the collection of (perhaps optional) "video" resumes for candidates in which they answer four or five standard questions (how would you teach? what makes you passionate about your subject? etc). While we have used skype preliminary interviews and ordinary phone preliminary interviews on occasion over the past few years, we haven't quite got to the point where we can conduct an interview that flows as naturally as interviews do in person. And not all candidates are up and running on skype or facetime, so it's hard for us to give everyone an equal shot when we are seeing some people in video and talking to others only by phone.

I think the AALS could help smaller schools overcome the costs and challenges of figuring out how to get that personal perspective on candidates without the expense associated with the traditional model.

Posted by: Anonymous | Oct 18, 2013 5:28:40 AM

Cindy, thank you for posting this. Even the biggest supporters of the FRC have to admit that the conference hotel is an expensive nightmare for teams and candidates. There has to be a better place to host the FRC.

Posted by: Richard Gershon | Oct 18, 2013 10:41:37 AM

Here's an idea. Why don't you hire people who have actually practiced before. Who knows. You might turn out people who know how to be lawyers. Most of my professors from LS never ever practiced law before. How can you teach a subject with no practical knowledge? How can you explain a negligence suit if you have never filed one? Explain civil procedure and motion practice if you have never...ever...been in a court room?

The fraud here is: theoretical knowledge over practical. The real practice of law which most Deans have never done either, is not like it is in text books or law review articles.

Posted by: john | Oct 21, 2013 7:37:43 AM

This makes a lot of sense, Cynthia. My only question would be whether AALS would make the FRC optional. If so, schools might have to address signaling problems. I.e., do they make a less-good appearance by not being there. And if any schools show up in DC, then candidates may feel that they need to come. This might argue for cancelling altogether, as opposed to an optional approach. Not sure how all schools (and candidates) would feel about that, but any partial approach would likely not work.

Posted by: Anonymous | Oct 21, 2013 2:08:06 PM

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