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February 21, 2013

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With a sad and heavy heart.

"I should have had more meat market and callback interviews and offers than I did. But my -- admittedly anecdotal -- advice is to suck it up and be a mensch. At the very least, you will see these folks again."

Michael. You seem like a good guy. I'm sure this is meant well. But...

Looking at your CV, you had a prestigious fellowship in 2006-07. You went on the market in 2007. Your CV lists two 2007 publications -- one in a very good IP journal, one in a mediocre one (I think -- I'm not an IP scholar). Giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming that both of those were placed by the time you were on the market, you were someone who had been out eight years, with no clerkship (admittedly by choice in your case given your grades), no PhD, no teaching experience, and only two publications.

I don't think you would have fared very well on the market in 2012. I'm sure you shouldn't be telling the failed VAPs on here -- who at a minimum are going to have to go through a painful career transition, and may well be looking at unemployment -- "to suck it up and be a mensch." It doesn't come across very well.

Michael Risch

Heavy heart - I know why I didn't do well. I was warned why I might not do well. In fact, some told me to take another year off and write some more, maybe go VAP somewhere. But I had a newborn and a huge mortgage in California, and I made some tough choices, just like the VAPs today are doing. I was lucky that it worked out for me.

And yet, the predictors were all wrong! I've published many, many well regarded articles and I've been cited by the Supreme Court -twice. And so the black box of hiring got it wrong.

It was a tough market for me and it is a far tougher market now. It's bad, and I don't mean to minimize that. My "suck it up" comment was not meant as "grin and bear it." VAPs are taking a huge risk, and I can fully understand the sour grapes if they don't get hired - you saw some of my own despite the clearly "rational" reasons I didn't do better on the market.

My point, however, was that even if the black box of hiring gets it wrong, attitude matters - even more so now than ever.

Michael Risch

Since my first point got lost, let me also clarify a couple other things, so they don't get lost:

1. My own sour grapes are the lack of interest in my candidacy, not where I got hired. First, WVU was and still is a wonderful place to work, where I received unbelievable support and made many friends. Second, and I think this is more true now than ever, getting your foot in the door anywhere may be better than nowhere. I think some might have disagreed with this when I was on the market, but as Heavy Heart notes, it's a tough new world out there, where many won't get jobs who might have in the past.

2. My comments were meant prospectively. None of them will help those who didn't get jobs this year, and that stinks for those folks. And the reasons they didn't get jobs may be varied.

But I bet that if you look at everyone getting hired, even in this tough market, they won't all come from the top-most schools, or the top-most VAP programs, or even have 3 publications. There will be intangibles that got them hired, and my advice was merely that humility is one of those intangibles.

So make sure people know you clerked, but make sure not to exude superiority because of it. You may think I'm making this up, but I've interviewed candidates who made it clear that's exactly what they thought. And as Heavy Heart notes, sometimes people decide not to clerk even though they could. In past years, such folks would just go get jobs somewhere else, but I don't think that's true anymore. And that's my point.

It doesn't matter whether I would get hired today (I'm happy to say, even though it doesn't make any of you feel better). What matters is maximizing your chance of getting hired, and I've offered a window into the process. I hope it's helpful.

Uh, no.

Michael --

I'm actually not so sure the reasons that most of the unsuccessful-but-well-qualified VAPs (and similar candidates) didn't get jobs are really that "varied."

The fact of the matter is that there were a lot fewer entry-level openings this year. Anecdotally, half of the schools that I had AALS interviews with didn't end up hiring or hired laterals. The proliferation of VAP programs means that the people who are on the market tend to be absurdly well-published. The presence of this cohort means that even the non-VAPs know that they need to publish as well (or better) to be competitive. You end up in a sort of arms race -- a ton of increasingly credentialed and well-published people applying for a dwindling number of jobs.

This isn't to deny that a particular candidate might have said the wrong thing in this interview, or rubbed a committee the wrong way in that interview (or even in all of his interviews). But for the vast majority of unsuccessful candidates, the reason that they struck out is simple. Over the past few cycles (and especially the most recent one), there are a lot more really impressive candidates and a lot fewer jobs. That's a dynamic that's probably only going to get worse over the next few years (and it's the reason that I'm going to cut my losses).

Michael Risch

Uh, no - you are totally right on a macro level. I'm talking about the micro-level - for the spots where there is hiring. And there, the reasons people are picked to be interviewed, called-back, and hired are varied. It could be curricular need, personality, overall scholarship quantity, overall scholarship quality, complete randomness, faculty politics, etc.

That's varied, in my book, even for candidates with great credentials. It was hard to get a job even when the market was good. The problem, as you note, is that when there are fewer openings, there are fewer opportunities to make it through the gauntlet.

Anonymous VAP

I'm currently doing a podium VAP that I started last fall. I have a heavy teaching load and get paid what I consider well. It's absolutely the kind of non-program where people mainly smile at me in the hallways and to the extent I have relationships on campus, they've been of my own making. I worked hard to make the ones I have, and am not complaining.

I'll offer some background because it may be shared by many other VAPs. In the past, my school had often renewed VAP contracts. Since I only had one article last fall (and just an accepted one at that), I decided to wait before going on the market and planned to go this fall, after submitting a second. For the coming year, however, like many schools, my school recently eliminated funding for VAPs for budget reasons. There was no guarantee, everyone's aware of the broader situation, and I'm not complaining (not sure I buy this "duty not to offer a VAP" thing; as someone above said, we're adults). So the initial question I and others now face is whether to try for another VAP (podium or otherwise) or try to go back to practice and go on the market from there.

I have applied for many VAPs and fellowships (and am not geographically limited) but in a world where *in the 2011-12 cycle* I understand from two reliable sources that 2 of 6 Climenkos on the market did not get offers, does it make sense for me and others in my shoes to continue down this path? Sure, being a tenured law professor is great, but it seems like a pretty remote possibility at this point.

At the risk of being labeled a thread-jacker, I would be interested in folks' advice on a related issue, which I assume is relevant to many reading this. I only left practice last year, have typical (not rockstar) VAP credentials -- HYS, circuit clerkship, a few years at a top firm, strong academic references, one publication (a solid placement) -- and am hoping that I am still relatively marketable to firms (including my old one). If you were in my shoes, would you (1) do a second VAP or fellowship just about anywhere you got it or (2) unless you got an excellent VAP or fellowship, go back to a firm (and go on the market from there)? Both doing a second VAP/fellowship and going back to practice Will Raise Eyebrows at AALS, but that's unavoidable now. Put another way, purely from the standpoint of legal academic hiring, how costly is going back into practice? I appreciate the need to demonstrate commitment to scholarship etc., but I also have to eat (and like many of my vintage, I still have a lot of debt). And, realistically, what is the value of a second, one-year VAP where you go straight from filling out your HR paperwork at school #2 to going on the market? Is it purely defensive, in the sense that it allows you to deflect criticism that you're Not Serious About Academia? Thank you for your thoughts.

Headhunter emeritus

This doesn't answer your question, but I would talk to a headhunter before taking another VAP. If your old firm will take you, that might be your last chance.

Forgotten Attorney

Although I am not interested in becoming an academic, this has got to be the scariest series of comments I have seen here from a young lawyer's perspective.

To the AnonVAPs, you have awesome credentials. Why leave practice? Is BigLaw as bad as they say? Why choose teaching? Since you are anon, no need to hold back.

Anonymous VAP

Forgotten Attorney: thank you. I hesitate to generalize about BigLaw - there is dramatic variation in experiences, even within the same office of the same firm - but I will say that overall I had a good experience in BigLaw. At times, I genuinely loved it. Of course, at times not. But if I had a magic wand, I'd sooner make myself a tenured professor than a BigLaw partner. Just personal preference.

Michael Risch

Anonymous VAP - I hijacked this thread a while ago, without even knowing it... I'm glad to see it move on to other pastures.

Damaged Goods

I'm a failed VAP, with all the standard credentials, good program, and no real reason I shouldn't have placed somewhere. A lot of VAPs placed, somewhere, I guess, but there are plenty of good folks left with no chairs when the music stopped, people I am shocked didn't place.

I moved my family across the country, gave up a good career for this, lived like a student for two years, and yes, I doubt they want me back now. In a word, I am screwed. I am not sure what I am going to do. With next year looking even more dire, it's time to go back to the real world. Sadly, my resume shows I am now damaged goods, and not exactly partner material, given I already bailed for academia and failed.

I hope that those considering VAPs really consider the risk. I think I was blinded by rosier times when placements were easier, well and I've never failed like this in my life. I had underestimated how devastating this is, to my family, to my entire sense of self. I have never been this low. I really hope VAPs think long and hard about back-up plans. And now I desperately wish I had written at least one article about something that is actually useful in practice.

VAPplicant

When VAPs say they struck out with AALS and are now finishing the winter semester with nothing clear on the horizon, do they mean that they got ZERO offers or zero offers they were willing to take (e.g., not at an unranked school in central Iowa)?

Like many of you, I find the near future of the law school job market horrifying. I have good credentials (not HYS/circuit credentials) several solid publications. But it's become increasingly clear in recent months that even great credentials are no promise of landing a TT job after a VAP/fellowship, let alone getting the VAP/fellowship in the first place.

For those of us for whom academia seems like the option of personal satisfaction (if we're lucky enough to get there), what else are we supposed to do except hope that a VAP will lead to a TT job, and then maybe to a TT job that we'd be happy staying at for the remainder of our careers?

Uh, no.

VAPplicant --

I'd be surprised if there's a single person out there who turned down a TT job unless they had a better offer in hand. As in, anyone. And yes, I know in past years there were superstar candidates (SCOTUS clerks, econ PhDs from top departments, etc.) who did this. This year isn't like other years. I'll donate $50 to your favorite charity if you can point me to a single person that did this this year.

Damaged Goods

I had a handful of TT schools in the mix I would have gladly taken, but none of them actually hired anyone. I seriously doubt that will change next year. Don't believe anyone who says there are enough spots. Plus, you have all of us still hunting.

Anonymous VAP

Damaged Goods - I'm very sorry to hear that. A recruiter can help you put the best spin on this if you want to go back to practice, and I wish you the best. I'm glad to see you not blaming yourself. As you allude to, there are a series of linked musical-chairs exercises going on (the law practice music stopped; then law school applications (down 40% this year from two years ago); then TT hiring; and now VAP hiring, as schools find they are able to get by with fewer faculty teaching fewer students). Those who've done everything right and are partway down the path (but not fully, i.e., in a tenured or TT job) are particularly vulnerable. Of course one could say the same in spades about students graduating from many law schools in the past few years.

"Uh, no" confirms what I have heard. Sure, maybe there's an anecdote out there about some guy who turned down some teaching job he was afraid to tell his in-laws about and thus considers himself to have struck out on the market. It might even be true in that one case! But it's essentially a fairy tale at this point. Everyone knows how awful the market is and is flexible to a point no one should be expected to be (see Damaged Goods). Further, time was, accepting a job at an unranked school in the middle of nowhere was merely undesirable. Now, even if one receives such an offer, it's unclear whether it's viable - some of those schools may not be operating in five years (and one can't expect to be able to lateral from such a school, esp. in this market). In sum, frankly, it would not be unreasonable for people to reject jobs at those places, BUT as Uh, no says people are accepting them when offered.

Headhunter emeritus - thanks for your advice. That's one question I plan to ask the recruiter.

vaptastic

@Uh, No: I turned down a TT job at a great school this cycle for a non-TT academic job that I'm excited about, for geographic/spouse's job reasons.

@Anonymous VAP, as strange as it seems to fill out HR paperwork and AALS paperwork at practically the same time, it does offer some benefits. If you start your VAP over the summer you can actually get to know some faculty members pretty well who will advise you, vouch for you, and make calls on your behalf, and as a VAP you have a lot more time to devote to the callback process. Mooting your job talk at a faculty workshop can be incredibly helpful. (I went on the market this year having just started a one-year VAP). Of course, as others point out, going back to practice mitigates the risk of the market and is probably easier to do now than a year from now if it comes to that.

another VAP out in the cold

I am in exactly the same boat as Damaged Goods. I couldn't have said it better myself. Devastating in so many ways.

@VAPplicant - I had about a dozen AALS interviews that translated into zero offers, and it's not because I'm a bad interviewee. I do know of at least one person who turned down a TT offer at a T4 school because of the reasons stated above... probably that school will close in 5 years and then the candidate would be extra screwed. At that point, you definitely can't go back to practice and you probably can't lateral.

It is so defeating to have spent so much time and effort building my experience and credentials and now to have nothing to show for it. Not just nothing... no career. I know people with only BAs making more money than I'm making now, and certainly more money than I will be making come June when I'm out of a job. This is horrible.

If any of you reading this are considering leaving practice for a VAP, don't do it. vaptastic is the exception, not the rule. There are MANY seriously good candidates who are left-overs from this year's hiring cycle, and we are all totally screwed. If my anecdotal evidence is correct, most of us were on partner tracks in practice and darn good at it, and we chose to leave to pursue academia which has, obviously, not panned out. In a month or so, the folks at Prawfs will post a list of the people who placed in TT jobs and it'll look all happy and wonderful. But no one makes a list of all the people who didn't. Frankly, that would be the more informative list.

Uh, no.

Well, I stand corrected. Vaptastic, you were the first -- and the one with firsthand evidence -- so name your charity and I'll send them $50.

As for someone who turned down a fourth tier offer without another job in hand due to fears that the school will shut down, that's probably the smart play -- though I certainly wouldn't have had the you-know-whats to do it.

Is anyone else on here applying to DOJ and USAOs? I think that I'd be attractive on paper, and the pay at GS-13 or GS-14 (I think I'd come in as one of those) isn't bad. It probably would mean living apart from my spouse until s/he found a job in the new market (which in his/her field could take years), but it's better than unemployment or underemployment in our home market.

Steven

I'm trying not to enjoy this discussion too much because I think these failed VAPS deserve as much sympathy as any other unemployable graduates, but I am enjoying it a little. Few claims are as offensive to the unemployable law school graduate as the claim by the professors who made him so that they are actually underpaid themselves, that every year they collect their measly few hundred thousand is a year of noble sacrifice, given the lucrative biglaw jobs they forego. These accounts from failed VAPS are hopefully shedding some light on what your options really are.

another VAP out in the cold

Seems like we need a VAP loser support/advice group.
Uh, no - not yet, because of geography.

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