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Law Professor Hiring: Which Factors Matter?

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17 Responses

  1. tim zinnecker says:

    Another factor that can be very important is “course fit.” Some schools may be looking for the proverbial “best available athlete,” in which case “course fit” may not be important. But for those schools that seek to fill a particular curricular need, the courses listed by a candidate (either as “interested in teaching” or “willing to teach” or “not interested in teaching”) may carry significant weight, at least as an initial filter. Candidates should keep that in mind and, subject to genuine interest, express preference for several courses that are mainstream (e.g., property, contracts, criminal procedure, secured transactions [sorry, I have to plug the beloved UCC!], corporations, etc.), rather than courses that, while important, may not be at the top of most committees’ priority lists (e.g., travel law, derivatives financing, etc.).

  2. Tomas says:

    You might want to add grades to the list, but maybe high grades are a given for nearly everyone on the market.

  3. Wanabe Lawprof says:

    What about number of citations (from your student note or publications during clerkships/practice)? Are committees impressed by this, or do they think it inconsequential?

  4. Wanabe,

    Some professors might be impressed by citations, but I bet that most will not be. Perhaps if the number of citations were unusually large, it might have some small impact.

  5. tim zinnecker says:

    Grades? Probably not as important as class rank. But maybe class rank won’t be a significant factor if most candidates list “top 10%” on the forms.

    Citations? I’m with Dan on this one. I’d also probably mention any publication cited by the U.S. Supreme Court or a federal appellate court.

  6. Rick Garnett says:

    Dan — For what it’s worth, I probably focus most on considerations 5 (quality of any writing done) and 10 (references). As for 8, I try to look for scholarly vision, without demanding that an entry-level prof have an improbably coherent, nailed-down research agenda.

  7. anony says:

    Somehow I think that 5-7 should be much more important than the others – the merit of ideas and scholarly performance (publishing) being rewarded – No, that would probably never work. It’s much better to rely upon academic pedigree and personal contacts, which are never in any way related to a candidate’s socio-economic background.

  8. I hate to break it to anony, but for entry-level candidates items 5-7 are related to a candidate’s socio-economic background, too. To have done a lot of good writing before going on the market is to have had a lot of time to write and/or hang out in an academic environment. This means giving up some of the money a lawyer could earn in practice (something people of greater means have an easier time doing) and/or being well known to the faculty at the top-ranked school you attended. And for a person who’s not yet a faculty member, “quality” of placement is often going to depend a lot on resume factors.

    At the entry level, you’re hiring potential, This is especially true for folks like me who have just a J.D., but it’s true even for folks with Ph.D.’s. These days, pretty much everyone on the market has some publications. But even if those publications have appeared in really great law reviews, it’s incredibly rare for them to be mature work. I certainly wouldn’t want to be judged today by my job-market piece, even though it was published in a good place and it helped convince a school often regarded as great to hire me.

    So you can’t just give weight to demonstrated achievement at the entry level. It’s a bit more like the NFL scouting combine, in my view. You don’t care so much about the players’ statistics in college — though success at a school that runs a pro-style offense in a tough conference is certainly a big factor. You want to see how fast they run the 40, and project how well they’ll do in a few years of a real academic setting. You have to rely on lots of factors that are hard to quantify (references are important, the job talk and its accompanying paper are important for process rather than substance, the scholarly agenda is important for the same reason), and you are often going to make errors. That’s why so many people move up to “better” schools.

    The advice for potential job seekers is: Get to know your professors. Talk to them way in advance about how to think about a scholarly career. Show them lots of drafts. Try to attend workshops. That will help you absorb the scholarly norms (and understand the sociology of the academy) in a way that will help you a *lot* on the market.

  9. Mike Zimmer says:

    While teaching “experience” does not hit it, “teaching potential” does. We claim to be educational institutions. While scholarship is educational, more immediately we teach law students.

  10. Mike Zimmer says:

    While teaching “experience” does not hit it, “teaching potential” does. We claim to be educational institutions. While scholarship is educational, more immediately we teach law students.

  11. Thus far, hardly anyone has mentioned factors 1 or 2. I agree that law school attended and law review membership are not factors that ought to be given much weight. Nevertheless, we know that a staggering percentage of newly hired professors come from just a handful of law schools. Is this due exclusively to the fact that students at these law schools are more likely to be interested in law teaching? That these law schools better prepare students for teaching positions? I believe that both these things are true, but I wonder if there is some strong bias in favor of hiring students from particular schools.

    I’m also surprised at the fact nobody mentioned factor 3 — graduate degrees. An increasing number of newly hired law professors have PhDs. I’m ambivalent about the weight graduate degrees should be given, but it appears from the results of the hiring process that they are given a high weight.

  12. Sam Bagenstos writes: “So you can’t just give weight to demonstrated achievement at the entry level. It’s a bit more like the NFL scouting combine, in my view.”

    If Sam is right, then we’re hiring based on just a hunch or speculation. Given the fact that the vast majority of law professors get tenure, it seems as though it is highly problematic to hire based on just a guess.

    Many candidates today have fairly impressive scholarly records and have written a number of articles. While these are not works at the height of their scholarly maturity, I believe that they are a good indication of creativity, analytical ability, and writing ability. It is true that entry level hiring can be a guessing game, but focusing on scholarship makes the guessing game a little less of a random gamble.

    Moreover, when assessing scholarship, I wouldn’t necessarily prefer the mature but uninspired article over the more creative ambitious piece that lacks a little discipline. Discipline can be learned and will develop over time in many scholars; I don’t think that creativity can be developed as readily.

  13. Mike Zimmer writes: “While teaching “experience” does not hit it, “teaching potential” does. We claim to be educational institutions. While scholarship is educational, more immediately we teach law students.”

    Setting aside the issue of whether teaching or scholarship should be the heavier factor, how does one assess “teaching potential”? Often, many use the job talk as a proxy for this. If a teaching candidate is clear and interesting, it is assumed that he/she will be a good teacher. I wonder to what degree that this is true.

  14. tim zinnecker says:

    I do think that “teaching potential” is an important factor that sometimes is, but should not be, sacrificed on the altar of scholarship potential. During the interview process in DC, I try to evaluate this factor as the candidate interacts with and responds to faculty members in the room. Sometimes a candidate comes across as too shy, and lacking self-confidence. Perhaps a candidate responds to questions in a condescending or patronizing manner. Maybe a candidate strikes me as disorganized, or a poor listener. And candidates who leave me with these impressions may face an uphill climb when I evaluate their “teaching potential.”

  15. Billy Beane says:

    There is also interesting discussion of this thread on the new Money Law blog:

    http://money-law.blogspot.com/

  16. Dan Burk says:

    I wouldn’t necessarily prefer the mature but uninspired article over the more creative ambitious piece that lacks a little discipline. Discipline can be learned and will develop over time in many scholars; I don’t think that creativity can be developed as readily.

    As chair of appointments, I used to review the AALS FAR forms and notice the number of times someone would write in the tiny comments section at the bottom something about “how much I love to teach.”

    I always wanted to gather all those people in a room and explain: “We aren’t looking for people who love to teach. We are looking for people who love to learn.”

    Being a lawprof means reinventing yourself yearly, monthly, maybe daily. If you like doing that, you will be good at the job. I won’t have to worry about your teaching, because you will be enthusiastic about communicating whatever you learned yesterday to the students. I won’t have to worry about your writing, because you will want to share whatever you are now thinking about with the world.

    Whether the world and the students will be as excited as you are about what you are learning is a different problem — but if you are constitutionally incapable of NOT talking and writing about your latest discovery, then we can work with you on whatever else you might be lacking — presentation and scholarship skills can be improved and polished.

    But if you don’t have the desire to continually re-invent yourself, there is no amount of help we can offer you as a substitute.

    Prior to hiring, the best indication of this kind of enthusiasm is usually in the individual’s writing, but important clues can also be gleaned from interviews and job talks. And that is what I, at least, am looking for in those “factors” — and why factors 1 and 2 are not especially helpful.

  17. shamu says:

    factor 1 (schooling) may not be “helpful,” but i would guess that it’s the closest correlation, based on tallys by leiter.

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