Law Teaching Interview Advice: How to Ace the Job Talk

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8 Responses

  1. Eric Goldman says:

    Great advice as usual, Dan. Two things:

    1) I think a good job talk runs 20 minutes and not much more. Some candidates might think 20-30 minutes means 35 minutes is OK. I disagree. 20 minutes should be enough to sketch out the basic argument (perhaps only a fraction of the total paper) and stimulate discussion. Longer talks get people restless.

    2) Candidates should ask their handler about whether they are likely to be interrupted for Qs during their talk, and if so, how the candidate should respond. I believe faculty norms vary widely on this. If faculty norms are to interrupt the talk, candidates may in fact only get 5-10 minutes to set up their talk before anarchy ensues.

    Eric.

  2. Bruce Boyden says:

    I agree entirely with everything here. 2 additional points: (1) Do a practice run, even if you believe you are a good public speaker and don’t need one. Ideally you should round up some faculty, but even just lawyers should work fine, since most faculty won’t know your area either. I answered my very first question in the practice round with something everyone agreed was a gigantic mistake.

    (2) This is something everyone should do in writing generally, but particularly when you’re preparing for “oral argument”: Look at your paper or presentation from the point of view of someone who’s *trying* to poke the biggest hole in it possible. What questions would such a person have for you? Now imagine being asked that question. What’s your answer? You may have such a question in the back of your head and a vague idea how you might answer it, but answering a question in the back of your head is often like speaking a foreign language fluently in your dreams; when you try to do it in reality you suddenly realize you are speaking gibberish. It’s better to actually write the question out and then outline or speak your answer.

  3. Fred Tung says:

    Invaluable advice. A few additional practical tips. Practice your talk and time it. I absolutely agree that 30 minutes is too long. Twenty minutes and stop. Faculty love to hear ourselves talk, and we can’t wait that long. You should be able to do at least the first 3-5 minutes without looking at your notes. Make eye contact. Teach the faculty. Engage us.

  4. Anita Bernstein says:

    All correct. Some will disagree, but I would say that unless you’re in a field with a strong contrary norm (business, economics, some IP), you should omit visuals like Power Point at your job talk unless your slides or clips add to what you can convey by the spoken word. Slide shows are still a minority taste among law professors, and not everyone in your audience will react positively to your prowess at the monitor.

  5. David Bernstein says:

    Generally good advice, but have to disagree about trying to do a talk on a subject that the faculty already knows about. The more people in the audience consider themselves to be experts on the relevant subject, the more likely someone in the audience is going to take your talk as a personal affront to his or her worldview, and make it his mission to make you look foolish. Not to mention that if you portray yourself, as, say, a family law scholar, and it turns out you know less family law than some on the faculty who don’t even teach it (not uncommon for entry-levels who want to teach outside their practice area), you’re not going to get the job. Much better to give a talk on a topic that’s interesting but esoteric, in which you’re the expert and the faculty is learning from you.

  6. David Hardy says:

    OK, I’ve got my Third Amendment presentation locked up!

  7. Jay Currie says:

    Great advice.

    A good way of checking your written presentation is to have someone read it to you. You’ll hear the infelicities and the contra points will jump into your ears.

    [This works just as well with undergraduate papers, written argument and formal seminar papers.)

  8. Orin Kerr says:

    I blogged my own take on this issue way back when.