Category: Law School (Hiring & Laterals)

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“Be careful of those that meet you at the train…”

Every now and then, a fortune cookie dispenses with advice that is so spot-on you just have to keep the little sliver of paper tucked away.  Here is my fortune cookie keeper of all time:

“Be careful of those that meet you at the train for they know where they want you to go…”

It was 2007 and I had just accepted my first job teaching.   And the faculty at the time was in a bit of turmoil.  The dean had recently resigned and it was unknown who the future dean would be.  As a visitor setting foot on campus I was a bit blurry eyed and knee deep in figuring out how to teach, be productive and all the things you do to start yourself off right.  Many of the faculty who remain very good friends today reached out to me to be reassuring about the the stability of the faculty etc….  But one person reached out to me to tell me who on the faculty not to trust.  What was particularly interesting was they named names!  This person was actually one of the first people to reach out to me when I arrived.  So when about six months later I read this fortune cookie sliver, I took the waitress’s pen and wrote their name on the back.

In my experience, the people on a faculty who you should be most leery of are those that will tell you either the people or the kinds of people you should be careful of.  What sounds as if it comes from experience and insight most often comes from places of fear, mistrust, manipulation, and insecurity.  What it can tell you, if you did not already know it, is that there are fault lines on the faculty for which a subterranean battle for the institution’s soul may be playing out.  As a young faculty member, don’t choose sides without carefully understanding what is at stake.

When you are new to a faculty, there are some traits to be “eyes wide open” on.  One is the “do not trust” this person or group of people conversation.  Most of time, when people offer this advice it is rarely for your own well-being, but rather because of their own motives.  Likewise, advice about faculty members that reduces them down to one quality or another or suggests that they are one dimensional in their views of the world (i.e., this person only cares about scholarship, so you should talk to them about your work often; or this person is only a teaching faculty member and doesn’t really care about scholarship) is rarely accurate and should be taken with equal caution.  I recall, being told at one stop “this professor doesn’t do scholarship so you shouldn’t waste your time talking to them about yours.”  As I found out, that was some of the worst advice I had received.  That person did not write, true, but they were very interested in the scholarship I was working on.   Had I not been willing to talk about my passions to this faculty member, I would have missed the chance to build a great relationship with this person — who frankly was glad that people like me were interested in writing our voice into scholarship and wanted to be supportive of that for the good of the college.

Anyone that suggests that faculty members are one dimensional and will only care about X, whether X is how you teach or what you write, means that the person dispensing with the advice doesn’t know the faculty member they are dispensing advice about well at all.  If we know anything about people — whether they are faculty members, scholars or administrators — it is that they are rarely one dimensional and regularly surprise us with the way they see the world if we open our eyes to see from time to time.

The people that make the best mentors on faculties are those that do not spend as much time worrying about who else you are taking advice from or attempting to characterize others, as they do about what you are up to and how your year or writing is shaping up.  In other words, when you find someone that is spending far more time offering comments about others on the faculty (particularly when you are new) understand that you are not their primary interest.  Their interest is to shape you to be aligned in their view of what the law school should be doing.  And most often, after you have served your purpose, they will dispense with you as well.

A final anecdote on this line — at one of my many stops (I have had four)  a colleague had the “do not trust this colleague,” conversation with me.  Fortunately I had experience in these matters and took the advice with a heavy dose of caution (of the advise dispensing colleague) and with eyes wide open. As it turned out, the person I was told not to trust was also told not to trust me by the same colleague.  Had I listened, I would have been deprived of a person who has become one of my greatest friends in the academy, but also a really great mentor.

So now, my little Chinese fortune cookie sliver, has two names written on the back, and still sits in my office today..

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Meat Market Ruminations

So, to all of those who are braving the Marriott today: welcome to the first step of a profession that can be personally satisfying, enriching, and challenging.  I thought I would capture a few thoughts about faculty hiring.
First, it is quite true that faculty hiring has become a bit of a pro-am conflagration, where many of the candidates that appear in the market show up with numerous significant publications and significant teaching experience to add to their already impressive credentials.  This is neither a bad thing nor a good thing, but rather a point in time where the hiring market has been unable to absorb many of those candidates in prior years into permanent tenure track position.  (We are all hoping for a turn around).  The outcome is that there are far more VAPS, Fellows, and other non-traditional academic positions that have been filled over the years, where people sit in waiting for a tenure track position. I would not be honest if I did not admit that they have a significant advantage over people who are coming out of law practice.   The presence of mentors on the host institution’s faculty, daily advice about the meat market and how to approach it, as well as time to think about how to make the best impression in a thirty minute screen are just advantages in an already competitive market.

However, even the best placed people blow it from time to time.  I recall overhearing from the hallway in the Marriott (the interview room I was going in left the room door cracked) someone in front of me say to the interview team “How do you handle teaching students who are significantly less intellectually equipped than you?”  I remember thinking — that was your one question. I don’t know what happened in that person’s case, but I can’t imagine they got the call back.  No one (and I mean NO ONE) wants to hear from someone on the outside that their students are less than adequate.  Sure we might talk about how they disappoint us in various ways.  But we never want to hear an outsider (much less someone we are interviewing to join our community) start that relationship by criticizing a major component of who we are.   Inferring that the students you propose to work with are anything other than thoughtful, astute and prepared to wow everyone they come into contact with comes off as arrogant and uninformed — after all, you probably haven’t even met a student from that school yet.

Second, personality matters way more than you think in these processes.  If you are someone that the faculty thinks it would like to have around on a daily basis, have big ideas about your area of expertise (whether its property, torts, or legal writing) and seem to be a serious, productive, and positive person, you are in the conversation.  The fact that you made it in the room signals that something on your CV made the committee think that there is something about this person that they would like to find out more about.   The best you can do is be yourself and play to your strengths.   I remember talking with someone who has become a good friend since I started teaching who had interviewed me at the Marriott several years ago.   That evening we ended up in a social setting and had a great conversation.  Since that time that person has told me that the person at the bar is someone they would have loved to get to know — the one that showed up in the room — the super serious, trying too hard candidate, not so much.  On this side, I completely see what he meant.

My last piece of advice relates to after the meat market.  Whether you land the job you want, a fellowship or just return to practice, find someone on the inside (preferably on your faculty that you are working with) to be a mentor.  Everyone can learn something from someone else.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Ph.D. that is several years older, the people in your new institution offer insights into the process and the views of faculty governance that you don’t have access to.

In short — Have fun.  Good luck.  Be you (unless you are someone that is imminently unlikable — then be someone else).

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The Law Clerk Hiring Process – An Interview with Federal Judge Thomas Ambro

Thomas Ambro is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and sits in Wilmington, Delaware. He was confirmed by the Senate by a 96-2 vote and has served on the Third Circuit since 2000. Judge Ambro received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Georgetown University. He was a law clerk for former Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Daniel Herrmann (1975-1976). Thereafter, Judge Ambro was with the firm of Richards, Layton & Finger in Wilmington, Delaware, where he was known nationally in two areas—legal opinions in commercial transactions and bankruptcy. Judge Ambro is a former Chair of the Business Law Section of the ABA. He is also a member of the American Law Institute and the National Bankruptcy Conference.

Welcome, Judge Ambro, to our corner of the blogosphere here at Concurring Opinions. It is an honor for us to have you contribute to this blog.Unknown

Question: How many law clerks do you have, and how long are their terms?

Answer: I have four law clerks per term. Generally those who clerk with me serve only one term. Because of the timing of exceptional post-clerking job opportunities, a few clerks have served less than a full-year term. For scheduling reasons, some have served up to a few months longer.

Question: Tell us a little bit how the clerkship application process works. For example, when do you first start accepting applications and up to what point do you stop considering them?

Answer: When the hiring protocols were in effect, I would receive applications from putative clerks via  OSCAR (Online System for Clerkship Application and Review) when those applications were released. All applications would be from persons who had completed at least their 2L year in law school. Because the hiring plan for federal law clerks has been discontinued, applications now come in randomly, and they are often from applicants in their 2L years.

I stop considering applications when the four law clerk positions for a term have been filled. Thereafter, the judicial assistant in our chambers alerts OSCAR of this fact.

I review the applications sent to me, whether online or in the mail. If I am interested in a particular application, I either wait for the letters for recommendation to come in (if they do not accompany the application) or begin calling the recommenders. Often an application is preceded by one or two recommenders alerting me of an applicant and inquiring whether I have a position available for the term to which the applicant is applying. In any event, if I remain interested, I call the applicant to set up a time to meet. For the four spots in a given term, it is uncommon that I would have more than a half dozen interviews with potential applicants.  In addition, the interviews with me and with my clerks are lengthy. Thus, it is rare if I do more than one interview of an applicant in a day.

Question: How much do you rely on OSCAR?

Answer: With the demise of the hiring plan, many applications come by mail. Thus, in a technical sense, I rely on OSCAR less than I did when the hiring plan was in effect. Nonetheless, I find OSCAR very helpful in every respect I can think.  In addition to saving reams of paper, it is both easy to use, highly efficient, and much appreciated.

Question: How far in advance do you select your clerks?  Some federal judges are now hiring two years in advance?  What is your current practice?

Answer:  Right now (March 2014) I have all positions filled for the 2014-’15 and the 2015-’16 terms.  I also have two clerks committed for the 2016-’17 term. My typical lead time for a clerk is two years. That may mean that a clerk will be at least a year removed from law school when she or he begins working in my chambers. That time is usually spent in another clerkship (almost always a District Court clerkship, though on two occasions it has been another Circuit Court clerkship), with a law firm, or sometimes both another clerkship and work in a law firm. Read More

Announcement: Clinical Faculty Position at Georgetown Law

I was asked to post the following; sounds like a great opportunity:

Georgetown Law invites applicants for a full-time tenure-track or tenured clinical faculty appointment. At least five years of practice experience and two years of clinical teaching experience are strongly preferred. Georgetown is especially interested in candidates who wish to teach a transactional or regulatory clinic with an intellectual property or other technology focus. We are also interested in clinicians who wish to teach human rights, public policy, federal legislation, or school-to-prison clinics. Notwithstanding these priorities, we welcome applicants in other substantive areas.

Applicants should have a record of excellence in practice and a teaching and academic record that demonstrates the potential for superb clinical teaching and scholarly achievement. Georgetown Law is an equal opportunity employer committed to a diverse faculty, staff, and student body. We encourage applications from women, minorities, persons with disabilities, and others whose background, experience, and viewpoints contribute to the diversity of our institution. Interested persons should send a resume, references, and subject area preferences to hennink@law.georgetown.edu.

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Do Canadian Law Schools Care More About Teaching? The Case of the Teaching Dossier

Blame CanadaOne of the first things that people interested in applying to law faculty positions in both the United States and Canada will notice is that the Canadian application requirements are the more onerous of the two.  In this post, I will focus on one way in which the Canadian approach is superior to the American approach, even if it is a bit more burdensome on applicants.

American law schools are generally content to let the capacities of the AALS’s Faculty Appointments Register website dictate their application requirements.  Consequently, they have two requirements for those seeking to obtain an initial interview: a one-page “FAR form” and a C.V.   Even listing these as separate requirements is somewhat misleading; other than the section for Teaching Preferences —  in which applicants list up to five “preferred” subjects and five “other” subjects — everything on the FAR form is also present in the typical C.V.

Compare this to the Canadian application process.  First, there is no Canadian analogue to the Faculty Appointments Register, so applicants send separate applications directly to each school that interests them.  Moreover, the application requirements for each school are considerably more extensive than those for American schools, at least with respect to getting an initial interview.  In addition to a C.V., a Canadian school typically requires the following: a detailed cover letter (or, in Canadian, a “covering letter”) which identifies the applicant’s areas of interest in research and teaching, a detailed research agenda, copies of all law and graduate transcripts, two sample publications, and a teaching dossier.   While applicants might grumble about having to find their old transcripts, they still have the comfort of knowing that they  will eventually have to provide almost all of those items to the American law schools that decide to interview them anyway.   But not that last item — the teaching dossier. What is a teaching dossier?  What are they all aboot?

It is a mistake is to assume that the teaching dossier is the Canadian equivalent of the FAR form’s Teaching Preferences section.  One does not simply list ten courses and consider it a teaching dossier.  Just a little online digging reveals a host of Canadian websites and workshops designed to walk people through the process of writing one (e.g., Toronto, Victoria, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada).   It does not take long to realize that a dossier is not something that can be dashed off; the Queen’s University manual is nearly 50 pages long, and that might be even shorter than the instructions on the University of Toronto’s website.

Though I did not do a comprehensive survey, there is considerable uniformity among these guides.   Generally, they recommend that dossiers have four main components: (1) Approach to Teaching (your teaching philosophy); (2) Summary of Teaching Responsibilities and Contributions (courses you have taught, methods you have used); (3) Evidence of Teaching Successes (course evaluations, analysis of the results of your teaching innovations); and (4) Professional Development (continuing education, mentorship).

The consistency in format might be a byproduct of the fact that a pedigreed source, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), was the first to call for them, and its call became a focus of academic attention for several years before widespread action was taken.  In the 1970s, a CAUT committee  headed by Bruce Shore rallied around shared dissatisfaction with the practice of using student course evaluations as the primary metric for evaluating teaching quality.  The committee wanted professors to be evaluated by “a summary of a professor’s major teaching accomplishments and strengths” as evidenced by multiple sources of information.  Thus, the initial appeal of the dossier was that it accorded to professors the opportunity to put their best feet forward even in the face of less-than-stellar student evaluations.  It gave them a chance to supplement those evaluations with justifications of teaching methods and goals, as well as personalized accounts of teaching successes.

Canadian schools did not warm up to dossiers until the early 1990s, after some American academics (e.g., Peter Seldin) and organizations such as the American Association of Higher Education picked up on CAUT’s idea.  To quote a legendary Canadian troubadour, “Isn’t it ironic?”   Since taking the idea back from the Americans, Canadian schools have run with it, outpacing  CAUT’s original ambitions.  For example, the original CAUT Guide recommended that dossiers be three pages long, but now the typical size is between six and twelve pages.  Appendices can bump that total into the sixteen-page range.  Although it is an outlier, one school saw fit to set a maximum of thirty-five pages, with a maximum total of twenty pages in appendices.

Today, the teaching dossier is not simply a way for professors to insulate themselves from the consequences of unfair student evaluations, it is also a way for faculties to get aspiring academics thinking about how to develop coherent and effective teaching strategies.  When an applicant is forced to put as much effort into a teaching dossier as she put into a research agenda, it can lead her to believe that the employer values those two dimensions more or less equally.

It is fair to wonder whether the fact that American law schools do not require applicants (or even junior faculty in most cases) to draft teaching dossiers is a sign that they do not care as much about teaching as do their Canadian counterparts.  It is possible, of course, that American law schools value teaching just as highly but fear that making teaching dossiers a necessary part of their applications would be too burdensome.  Along similar lines, they might believe that applicants do not yet know enough about teaching to make the completion of a dossier worthwhile for either the applicant or the hiring committee.  And to be fair, some Canadian schools require dossiers from applicants only “where appropriate,” meaning perhaps that those without teaching experience need not provide one.  Whatever the merit of these arguments, there is a growing sense that American law schools must do a better job responding to the demand for excellent teaching.  This sense is potentially at odds with reality; as there are law schools, such as my own, where teaching is of paramount importance in promotion and tenure decisions and where tremendous effort is put into classroom observation and evaluation. Still, making the teaching dossier a part of the application process is a low-cost  measure that could send the signal that law schools are taking teaching seriously.  And it might make better teachers too.

For those interested in learning more about the history of teaching dossiers, consider reading Christopher Knapper’s, The Origins of Teaching Portfolios, 6 Journal on Excellence in College Teaching 45–56 (1995).

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Temple Law Hiring Announcement

On behalf of this year’s committee, I pass along the following:

Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law invites applications from both entry-level and lateral candidates for full-time, tenure-track faculty positions to commence in the Fall Semester 2014.  We welcome applications from candidates with a wide variety of interests.  Although areas of need are subject to change, priority areas are likely to include health law, business and commercial law, civil procedure, intellectual property, law and technology, trust and estates, torts, and employment law/employment discrimination.

Lateral candidates should contact Professor Gregory Mandel, Lateral Faculty Appointments Subcommittee (gmandel@temple.edu).  Entry level candidates should contact Professor Donald Harris, Faculty Appointments Subcommittee (donald.harris@temple.edu).  Temple University is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all in every aspect of its operations.  The University has pledged not to discriminate on the basis of an individual’s age, color, disability, marital status, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information or veteran status.

 

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ABA Task Force on Legal Education: Down with Status

aba status merceGood news for law professors now submitting articles seeking offers from high-status journals: the importance of status in American law schools is over-rated and is about to be reduced. At least that is the urging of an American Bar Association Task Force Working Paper released last Friday addressing contemporary challenges in U.S. legal education.

Obsession with status is a culprit in the woes of today’s American law schools and faculty, the Working Paper finds.  It charges law professors with pitching in to redress prevailing woes by working to reduce the role of status as a measure of personal and institutional success.  The group’s only other specific recommendation for law faculty is to become informed about the topics the 34-page Working Paper chronicles so we might help out as needed by our schoools. 

Much of the rest of the Working Paper is admirable, however, making the two specific recommendations to law faculty not only patently absurd but strange in context.   After all, the Working Paper urges reform of ABA/AALS and state regulations with a view toward increasing the variety of law schools. It calls for serious changes in the way legal education is funded, though it admits that the complex system of education finance in the U.S. is deeply and broadly problematic and well beyond the influence of a single professional task force.

The Task Force urges US News to stop counting expenditure levels as a positive factor in its rankings.  It stresses problems arising from a cost-based rather than market-based method of setting tuition. It notes a lack of business mind-sets among many in legal education.  It questions the prevailing structure of professorial tenure; degree of scholarship orientation; professors having institutional leadership roles; and, yes, faculty culture that makes status an important measure of individual and institutional success.

But amid all that, law professors have just two tasks: becoming informed and demoting status.  So there must be some hidden meaning to this idea of status as a culprit and the prescription for prawfs to reduce the importance of status as a measure of success.  I am not sure what it is. The Working Paper does not explain or illustrate the concept of status or how to reduce its importance.

I’ll to try to be concrete about what it might mean.   Given the other problems the Task Force sees with today’s law faculty culture (tenure, scholarship and leadership roles), I guess they are suggesting that faculty stop making it important whether: Read More

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Prawf Entry Level Hiring Down

We have reported on the weak market for lateral law professor hires on several occasions this year (all links can be accessed here).  Now Sarah Lawsky, a former colleague of mine at GW, lately of Irvine, finds an equally weak market for entry level law professors this year.

Prof. Lawsky offers an array of FAQs, graphs and interactive features to make it fun despite the grim news; she is also very careful to stress the limits of her report, which she emphasizes repeatedly is incomplete.   Paul Caron illustrates some of the ways that Prof. Lawsky’s data might be sliced and diced here, as does Brian Leiter, here, and David Zaring, here.

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Deep Dive in Prawf Lateral Market Confirmed

As anticipated (here and here), 2013 witnessed a deep dive in lateral recruiting by law schools and movements by law professors.

Only 41 schools secured recruits, which totaled 56 prawfs, according to the latest information reported at the Faculty Lounge.

Compare similar information reported since 2006  in the following table.  (Obviously, FL may have missed some results, so the data are not necessarily complete, but that is true for 2013 as well as any prior year.)

Year Schools Faculty
2006      71   132
2007      72   131
2008      80   136
2009      68   114
2010      72     92
2011      55     93
2012      56     84
2013      41     56
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Update on Down Lateral Prawfs Market

I promised to update my post from last week about the weak state of the lateral hiring market for law professors.  The Faculty Lounge has updated its figures through March 3, now showing lateral moves of 28 prawfs in recruiting by 21 schools (up from the prior report, through February 4, of 21 prawfs and 17 schools).

We know of at least a few schools/prawfs not yet reported at FL (including two involving Temple University, thanks to Dave Hoffman of this blog, and seven Paul Caron reports knowing about).  All seem agreed, however, that this is a down year, well off from the years when 70 or 80 schools wooed 130 or more prawfs. This reflects the contraction of the legal profession and resulting uncertainties plaguing legal education. The new environment entails a reexamination of past sector-wide practices, which is probably wise.

The signal that lateral recruiting used to send for a school, being competitive to boast the greatest faculty, may nowadays backfire, being a signal of peculiar resource allocation amid tough times for students. Notably, New York University’s John Sexton was a pioneer in the former and these days is getting negative press for sticking with it.  Academic luxuries can no longer be taken for granted.  It remains a difficult balancing act, however, because in many cases a lateral recruit is vital to fill an important need at a school.  It is not always easy from the outside to see the difference.