Saturday, February 27, 2010
Thanks Ben for the re-introduction. I’m looking forward to blogging about my efforts to prepare for my first year of teaching Property and Real Estate Transactions as well as other substantive topics.
But first, I thought I’d share a few impressions about the AALS faculty hiring process, assumptions, and reality. (after the jump)
First a little background. I graduated from Harvard Law cum laude in 2000, was a member of the Harvard Women’s Law Journal, clerked for the Indiana Supreme Court for a year and have now been practicing real estate and corporate law for 9 years (3.5 in firms and 4.5 in-house). I published a substantive article in the Virginia Tax Review in 2001, have published a dozen property "year in review” and similar practitioner articles, and had a second substantive article accepted for publication by the Nebraska Law Review before the hiring conference. I have also taught legal writing as an adjunct for four years at IU-Indy. I have lived in Indiana (Indianapolis and Bloomington) my entire life except for my three years of law school.
I know people at a number of law schools and solicited a great deal of advice. Although I got very different advice from different people, the conventional wisdom was pretty easy to distill:
Harvard, good. Cum laude – at best neutral. I was told that “everybody gets cum laude” at Harvard. Well, 70% don’t, but point taken.
Not on the main law review – bad.
Clerkship – at best neutral. “Obviously” federal appeals court would have been better. (By the way, I disagree, but I think these comments reflect a focus on constitutional law.)
Years in practice – probably too much. The conventional wisdom seems to be that 5 years in practice is the most that the market finds generally acceptable.
Articles – the 2001 article was too old to “count,” the nine practitioner articles show that I enjoy writing but suggest that I don’t understand what real scholarly work looks like, and the Nebraska acceptance is good, but it would be better if I had at least two articles.
Teaching experience – good, but I was advised repeatedly to make it clear that I wasn’t applying for legal writing jobs.
- Location - bad. I should have lived somewhere other than Indiana for a while to prove that I was willing to live somewhere other than Indiana. sigh.
This conventional wisdom was fairly depressing because I obviously couldn’t do anything to change my background and the FAR emphasizes these kind of objective criteria. I was frankly advised by several professors to hold off a year and write another article. A little depressed, I resolved to go to the hiring conference even if I only had a few interviews scheduled, just for the experience.
I am happy to report that in my case, the conventional wisdom turned out to be largely wrong. I ended up scheduling 28 interviews. Why the dramatic disconnect between the conventional wisdom and the reality of how hiring committees viewed my FAR? I have no idea, and the reality is that every committee approaches the hiring process from their own school’s unique perspective, so different things about my background were probably attractive to different schools. (Before asking me if I'd like to interview with their school, a number of hiring committee chairs did ask me if I was willing to leave Indiana.)
As you can imagine, my experience at the hiring conference mainly consisted of running up and down staircases, from one building to the next and back again. I scheduled 15 interviews on Friday and began my day with seven back-to-back. My eight years of competitive speech tournaments, which also consisted of running from room to room talking all day long, were good preparation. I think the best advice that I got about the hiring conference was from Dean Blake Morant, who advised the candidates at an opening session to “be our most authentic selves” and “bring up the energy level in the room” during each interview.
I must have internalized that advice because I ended up with more callbacks than I could accept and still remain gainfully employed, including, to my enormous surprise and relief, two callbacks before I left D.C. . Again, though, I have no idea why I was successful with some schools and not with others. I received callbacks from schools where I felt that the interview was a total bomb and never heard back from schools where I thought we had great chemistry. The reality is that candidates can’t dictate (or predict) what the schools are looking for.
One of the most interesting and craze-inducing aspects of the hiring process was the law school hiring discussion on Prawfs Blawg. The four threads, which began on August 19th, have received well over 1300 comments. I admit that I read the threads nearly every day in the weeks before and after the hiring conference. I’m not sure that I know why, except that I felt that I was part of a large anonymous community of people who were just as freaked out and insecure as I was. I suppose its better to be in such a community of such people than be alone.
If I have learned anything from this process, it is that nobody really knows the secret to success and, in fact, the process is so individualized to particular hiring committees in a particular year at a particular school, that there likely is no secret. This is extremely frustrating to wanna-be law professors because we are analytical people. We (sometimes desperately) want to know the rules and the facts so that we can weigh our odds and predict our futures.
One big gaping hole getting in the way of our analysis is the lack of data on the members of the candidate pool. A few schools do a great job advising their alumni and keeping track of those in the process (shout out to Akiba Covitz!). Most don’t, and nobody aggregates that data. It appears that AALS doesn’t release it either (other than to the schools in the FAR forms themselves). So the candidates are left to guess who their competition is and how they stack up.
The same holds true at the hiring conference. The conventional wisdom on the Prawfs Blawg hiring thread is that a relatively small number of the 1000+ candidates dominate the interview slots at the hiring conference. My experience seems to confirm that. I took way more than my fair share of interview slots. I know of a dozen other people who did the same. How many candidates attend the hiring conference? What is the average number of slots that they occupy?
So, to sum up, the first step in the hiring process, the FAR form, focuses only on objective criteria. There is a fairly rigid conventional wisdom about which criteria is highly valued by schools and which is not. In my experience, that conventional wisdom is wrong or perhaps truer with respect to the top 30 or so schools. I think that some empirical research into the objective criteria of candidates, compared to their eventual success in the process, would be fascinating.
The second and third steps in the hiring process, the hiring conference and then the callback phase, focus mainly on subjective criteria. What is the school looking for? Would this person make a good colleague? Would this person make a good teacher? Will they publish interesting and challenging scholarship? I don’t know what advice to give people at this stage except to echo Dean Morant’s wisdom.
My experience in the hiring process nearly gave me an ulcer, but it was mostly enjoyable (I met lots of interesting people) and ultimately successful. I am very excited to begin my new career at Wake Forest Law School as a Property Prof!
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