So you want to be a law professor?

The following are email messages from a discussion on a closed list.

From BURKDANL@LANMAIL.SHU.EDU Tue Aug 22 23:35:30 1995
Date: Fri, 11 Aug 1995 08:28:14 -0500 
To: Multiple recipients of list  lawprof ...
Subject: More on how to be a wannabe 

  I am discovering in private correspondence that there is a
suprising number of wannabes signed up to the list, and find that I
am now hadling a significant amount of traffic on the subject. 
Veterans of the hiring process will, I hope, forgive me, but I am
going to post a couple of items that are repeatedly coming up, so as
to avoid multiple private messages.

So if you already know the process, delete now.

For the rest: "Stuff I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before The Meat
Market . . . " 

1)  Candidates would be very wise to get ahold of a current edition
of the AALS directory.  This is the "Martindale Hubble" of lawprofs,
and contains a lot of valuable information on what schools are out
there, how to contact them, etc.  If you end up interviewing, it is
also useful to look at the interviewrs' bios to get some idea of
their background.

    I also found very useful one of the commercial "Guides to Law
Schools" aimed at students, available in the reference section of
Waldenbooks, B. Dalton or wherever -- I used Barrons', which
contained a geographic map of law schools by state.  Some of the
information tends to be out of date, but will give you a rough idea
of the student body composition, faculty size, etc. for law schools. 
This is all very useful in deciding who to apply to and/or what kind
of schools you are talking with at interview time.

2)  Your fee to the AALS recruitment conference entitles you to
several issues of a bulletin where schools list job openings.  The
listings are a mixed blessing, and should be taken with several
grains of salt.

    First, be aware that this whole process goes on before schools
know their budgets and needs for the following year.  By the time
these hiring factors are known for certain, the recruiting season is
long over -- so many schools list jobs, and go to the conference with
no more than a prayer that they will be able to make a hire that
year.  You should expect that many of what you thought were your best
prospects will turn into "Sorry, we didn't have a position after

   Along the same lines, the listings in the bulletin are the faculty
"wish list" of what they'd like to hire -- somebody or other on the
committee, usually one person, thinks it would be really great to
hire a teacher for Mongolian Water Law, or 12th Century French
Easements, or an Advanced Seminar on the Writings of Justice Taft --
or better yet, all three!  So they all get listed as areas of
interest in the Bulletin ad.  But when it comes right down to it,
they really have to hire somebody to teach Commercial Paper, and they
only have one position, if any, so all the Mongolian scholars, etc.,
are out of luck.

3)  In a related matter, if you really want to teach 12th Century
French Easements, great, but first and foremost you had better make
clear that you fill some basic need for a "bread and butter" course
like Property, Tax, Torts, etc.  Exotic seminars are a bit of a
luxury most places.

4)  Returning to the bad timing of the recruitment process -- some
schools will find very late in the game, like around April or May,
that they have an unexpected opening for the next year (frequently
someone will go on sabbatical, but unfortunately it can also be the
result of a death, accident, or other mishap).  Rather than make a
permanent hire at the last moment, the school may go back to its list
of interesting AALS candidates and offer a one-year visiting
position.  In fact, a couple of places (like the University of
Richmond) have institutionalized it.

   This can be an worthwhile opportunity because it 1) allows the
candidate to get some full-time teaching experience, 2) gives the
candidate a chance to see if s/he really likes this kind of job, 3)
there is some chance that the school may love you enought to make a
permanent offer, 4) even if that doesn't happen, you may get a good
deal of advice and/or assistance moving to a permanent position
elsewhere, 5) at the very least if you do a good job you ought to be
able to use someone there as a reference, 6) the position may allow
some time to write (at least more time than most law firm practices
allow), and most importantly 7) taking the position tends to
demonstrate that the candidate is really serious about teaching,
especially since the visiting position is rarely in a convenient
place and taking it may mean taking a significant hit in both direct
and opportunity costs.

   The drawbacks are that the position is probably for one year,
usually with no guarantees, and schlepping yourself accross the
continent for one year can be a significant gamble.  On the whole,
though, I would definitely advise taking such a position if it is in
any way logistically feasible.

5)  If at all possible, find a mentor or two at the school you
graduated from to advise you through the process -- this will likely
be the same person(s) that write you letters of recommendation.

6)  Remember that this whole process tends to be done by committee --
there is a hiring or appointments committee at each school that does
the initial screening, goes to the conference, and makes
recommendations to the faculty of the school.  Then the faculty of
the school votes on candidates, as a giant committee.  There is
frequently some procedural cut-off number (like 2/3 or 3/4) of votes
required to make an offer.

   This is important because of committee dynamics (or public choice
theory, pick your label).  An acquaintance of mine, puzzled by the
failure of a school to make him an offer, queried a sympathetic
committee chair, who told him "To be frank, this is decided by
committee, so we don't necessarily choose the best qualified
candidate.  We choose the candidate we can agree on."

   This is the key to understanding the process (whether or not a
candidate can do anything about it is different question.)

   There is an enormous literature on how and why any voting process
is subject to capture by special interest groups -- in a nutshell,
most faculty are busy living their lives, teaching their classes,
writing their papers.  The academic system rewards these activities;
it does not reward keen participation in hiring -- at least not
directly.  People who are keen on the hiring process are investing
time that they could be investing in getting tenure, playing
university politics, doing outside consulting, or whatever.  Why is
it worth their time to focus on hiring?

   Usually because they expect some major indirect reward, i.e., they
have an agenda.  This could be anything from "We need more minority
hires here" to "We need *fewer* minority hires here" to "We have got
to hire someone to teach Commercial Paper 'cause I refuse to teach it
anymore" -- whatever happens to push a particular faculty voter's

   Most places it will be fairly difficult for any one individual to
capture the process, so there will be coalitions, significant amounts
of log-rolling, deals cut in smoke-filled rooms, etc.

   This can be frustrating for the candidate because, basically,
s/he's trying to get elected.  It will be particularly frustrating if
you think it is a rational process based on objective criteria.
Remeber that if you get elected -- er, hired -- it will likely be
because some type of coalition formed in that faculty with enough
votes to make you an offer.  This *can* be to your advantage -- if
you know something about the needs and politics of a given school,
you may be able to pitch yourself so as to appeal to several special
interests -- the clinical people get something, and the conservatives
get something, and the feminists get something, and you're in.  Think
like Bill Clinton (or, better yet, Ronald Reagan) if you dare.

   If not, just realize that you're banging around from school to
school until by random luck, your particular set of qualities happens
to provoke enough special interest votes to add up to a majority

   Enough on this from me.  Others here with more experience may want
to disagree or add their own perspectives.

Dan L. Burk
Seton Hall University

From Tue Aug 22 23:35:37 1995
Date: Fri, 11 Aug 1995 10:03:04 -0500 
From: Craig Oren 
To: Multiple recipients of list  lawprof@...
Subject: wannabe 

First, there is a classic article by Dean Prosser in one of the early volumes
of the Journalof Legal Education called "Advice to the Lovelorn" -- his
cynical perspective as a Dean about applicants for law faculty jobs. It's out
of date, but it may make you smile.

Dan Burk's advice is good. But don't be cynical about the process, because
that will show as you go through the process, and make you seem less

The AALS meat market -- yes, that's what we all call it -- is the prime
screening point for applicants. You want to have as many plausible interviews
there as you can possibly hand.  Schools judge who to interview largely on
that one-page form you fill out for the AALS. There are one thousand of you
who fill out the form every year, and so you have to be -- or at least seem
-- very special to attract the attention of committee members going through
the book. 

If you've written articles, then, for goodness sake, give as full a
bibliographical description as possible. If you just say, 10 South Succotash
Law Review, the reader has to go through the effort him or herself to find
out if this was a book note or a full article, a student note or what. 

Make your "courses preferred" a list of about five subjects. More implies
that you haven't thought about what you want to teach; less makes you sound
of limited usefulness. Make at least one or two of the courses a basic
bread-and-butter course even if it's not your prime scholarly interest. If
nothing else, pick a course you liked in law school and did well in. 

Don't neglect that little paragraph at the bottom of the page that lets you
make comments. Talk about your scholarly objectives here. Do not say
something like "I've always wanted to teach" -- it doesn't tell the reader
anything. Face facts -- law school faculties want people who are going to
write, so sound like you're going to write. (If you're not interested in
writing, you'll be very unhappy).

OK, so you've filled out the form and now you've gotten some nibbles. That
means you get a twenty-minute interview at the meat market. Be prepared to
carry the conversation. Emphasize what you have written and what you want to
write about. If you've taught, talk about what you learned in the process
about teaching. Sound thoughtful -- you are, aren't you? 

Sometimes a member of the committee will try to answer a question for you.
(this happens for a variety of reasons). If so, gently cut them off and
answer the question yourself. Sometimes a member of the committee will try to
bait you. Remain unruffled.

You will meet some very tired committees. Be especially careful to carry
these conversations, even if you feel you could sleep for a week. (You will
feel that way very quickly).

There's nothing to do afterwards but wait and worry. If something happens
that affects your desirability (i.e. you've published another piece), let
everyone who interviewed you know -- this also gives you an opportunity to
find out what's going on.

If you do get a callback, be prepared to do some kind of presentation of a
scholarly idea. This can be something you've dealt with in practice, but try
to approachit the way a scholar would. Be impartial, and connect it to larger
themes in the law. If, for instance, you are the ranking expert on recent
developments on 12th century french easements (kudos to Dan for thinking up
that one), ask yourself why someone who knows nothing about easements should

Don't be cynical, but remember the process is a lottery, just like Dan says,
and don't let yourself be depressed. This is probably a terrible analogy, but
the process is much like trying to meet a desirable mate. Try to show all
your good qualities, hope the bad ones aren't too obvious, and keep a sense
of humor.

I hope these quick thoughts help.

Craig N. Oren                              telephone 609-225-6365
Rutgers School of Law-Camden               fax 609-225-6516

From BURKDANL@LANMAIL.SHU.EDU Tue Aug 22 23:35:50 1995
Date: Fri, 11 Aug 1995 11:30:57 -0500 
To: Multiple recipients of list  lawprof@...
Subject: wannabe -Reply 

||| Craig Oren  8/11/95, 11:04am wrote:

|Dan Burk's advice is good. But don't be cynical about the process,
|because that will show as you go through the process, and make you
|seem less attractive. 

Ah -- so that was my problem.

Seriously, one somehow has to walk the fine line between realism and

|Make your "courses preferred" a list of about five subjects. More
|implies that you haven't thought about what you want to teach; less
|makes you sound of limited usefulness. Make at least one or two of
|the courses a basic bread-and-butter course even if it's not your
|prime scholarly interest. If nothing else, pick a course you liked
|in law school and did well in. 

A standard interview question is some variation of "What four courses
would you most like to teach?"  I generally took this to mean, "What
are you going to add to our curriculum?" rather than as an invitation
to fantasize about opportunities to subject students to my own
obscure interests.

Occasionally, I expect that the same question may mean, "What is to
be our excuse for hiring you, since we have pretty well decided we
like you anyway?"  In either instance you need to offer something
that school needs in terms of standard courses.  My sense is you can
often also get away with suggesting one funky seminar that would be a
treat for you, since most schools want to have some "enrichment"
offerings as well as basic offerings.

|Don't neglect that little paragraph at the bottom of the page that
|lets you make comments. Talk about your scholarly objectives here.
|Do not say something like "I've always wanted to teach" -- it
|doesn't tell the reader anything. Face facts -- law school faculties
|want people who are going to write, so sound like you're going to
|write. (If you're not interested in writing, you'll be very

An acquaintance of mine was successful in getting a teaching position
several years ago, as were some of his law school classmates.  They
all got together after the hiring season to celebrate their new jobs;
during the course of the evening one of the classmates remarked that
she was really excited about her new position but was a little
worried about "this scholarship thing."  He observed in some suprise
that the comment was much like a sailor saying that he is a bit
worried about this "water thing," or a skydiver professing to be a
little worried about "this parachute thing." 

|Sometimes a member of the committee will try to answer a question
|for you (this happens for a variety of reasons). If so, gently cut
|them off and answer the question yourself. Sometimes a member of the
|committee will try to bait you. Remain unruffled.

The other standard question these days besides "name your four
favorite courses" seems to be what Peggy Radin once called the "law
and" question -- do you do law and literature, law and economics, law
and society, law and spot welding, law and whatever?

(To which a dear friend responded, "What do I say?  I just do law and

I frankly don't know what one should say -- but I expect that the
manner of the answer, if it is interesting or thoughtful, is more
important than the particular content of the answer, at least for
most schools.

Dan L. Burk
Seton Hall University

From Tue Sep 12 16:24:30 1995
Date: Mon, 11 Sep 1995 19:49:09 -0500 
From: Margaret Jane Radin 
Reply to: lawprof@chicagokent.Kentlaw.EDU
To: Multiple recipients of list 
Subject: Lateral Hiring Market 

The lateral hiring market depends upon the hiring school's appointments
committee's evaluation of your written work.  The more of it, the better.

If school X turned you down in the entry level market -- or even if you
turned down school X to go elsewhere -- then you have to produce at least
one (more) major article to be considered again for hiring as a lateral.
In other words, they usually won't reevaluate you on the same record as
when you were entry level, even if on that record they evaluated you
favorably the first time.

If you are still pre-tenure (or maybe just a year or so post-tenure) you
can still be considered an up-and-coming developing scholar.  If you are
farther along than that, by and large you have to be considered a top
national player.

Some fields may make you more mobile than others. My impression is that
teachers of business subjects are usually in demand.  Consitutional law and
jurisprudence teachers are less often in demand, unless you are really one
of the top few in the country.

At least at schools that are "higher" in the pecking order, lateral hiring
is mostly not done by people submitting applications to the schools they
desire.  Actually in my 20 years of teaching I cannot recall any school
that I've taught at ever hiring laterally someone who sent an application
seeking the position. Instead, most often appointments committees ignore
applications and  seek out people they are interested in. You must let them
come to you. This means that you must (1) speak to your friends at the
target school, or to friends who can speak to people at the target school,
letting them know you're available; (2) make yourself as visible as
possible by publishing (again) in your field and by being invited to
conferences, etc.  Often a school will become interested in you if you do a
very good job at a workshop or conference held at their school, or maybe if
you publish a good article in their law review.

Very often schools ask possible laterals to take a visiting appointment for
a year (called a "lookover") before they can be considered for a permanent
position. Some schools have rules that they will not hire laterally without
a visit first. This is like being interviewed for a year, not always
comfortable.  Faculty will come to listen to your class, for example, and
they always seem to come when you are on something impossible like estates
in land.  Some schools distinguish between "lookover" visits and "coverage"
visits. The latter are given merely to cover some course that is a hole in
the curriculum for that year, and means they won't consider you for a
permanent job.  Sometimes candidates hope the school will change them from
"coverage" to "lookover" but that doesn't happen all that often and
yearning for it makes a lot of candidates unhappy.

In spite of the difficulties,this is a field in which some people do write
their way to the elite schools.  Yale especially hires mainly laterally.
Jack Balkin went from UMKC to Texas to Yale and George Priest went from
Puget Sound to Buffalo to UCLA to Yale, and Alan Schwartz went from Indiana
to USC to Yale. There are plenty of other examples but I can also think of
quite a number of people who are anxious to leave where they are and
haven't succeeded.

Of course, it's not too hard to move laterally when are going down in the
pecking order.  Unless you've been denied tenure.  Not to say people who
have been denied tenure don't get jobs -- they do -- just that it's almost
a piece of cake to move from a higher ranked place to a lower ranked place
if no blots on your escutcheon.

Margaret Jane Radin
Stanford Law School         (415) 725-3803

From: Margaret Jane Radin 
Subject: Lateral Hiring Market (Addendum)

Some schools hire visitors by vote of the entire faculty, after
recommendation by the appointments committee.  Some schools hire visitors
by vote of the appointments committee alone.  Some schools hire visitors at
the dean's discretion.

If you have been voted on by the entire faculty before visiting, you have a
much better chance of getting permanent offer at the end of your visiting
year than if only the dean has decided to hire you.  If you've at least
passed the entire appointments committee, that usually means a
representative group of the faculty approved you, so that's also better
than just the dean.

So, when asked to visit, it pays to find out not just whether you are a
"lookover" visitor, but what process they used to make you the offer.

Margaret Jane Radin
Stanford Law School         (415) 725-3803

Back to Michael Froomkin's homepage at the University of Miami School of Law