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July 27, 2009


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Eric Fink

The most peculiar geographic restriction I saw on a FAR form last year, when I was on Elon's hiring committee, listed about half a dozen states, including Alaska, where the candidate indicated she would not accept a job. I suppose I can understand that someone wouldn't want to move to Alaska (though, as a fly fishing enthusiast, I'd be thrilled), I had a difficult time understanding that someone trying to become a law professor wouldn't know that there is no law school in that state.

First Time Applicant

I hope this question isn't too inane, but what is an applicant supposed to put in on the FAR from as his "Date Available"?

Tim Zinnecker

FTA: I'd put "August 2010," as that's when most hires begin work.


Any idea when one can submit one's FAR (and pay the fee). As of today, it still says the system is "closed" and emails to AALS are not returned.

Tim Zinnecker

Steve, I wouldn't worry about the "closed" submissions just yet. FAR forms appear in distributions in alphabetical order, rather than in order received. If you still have a problem with submission by mid-July, you might try contacting one or more of the AALS staff members, whose email addresses are found here:


You can now submit payment for the FAR forms.

Jacqueline Lipton

Prawfs has recently updated and bumped forward its list of hiring chairs/hiring committees for this year:

Barrister's Handshake

I like how you characterized this year's market: "Every year the talent pool seems to get deeper, and this year we might be up to our necks in *impressive credentials.*"

Indeed, there may be a ton of *impressive credentials* in the form of laid off big law associates ---but that doesn't mean there are a ton of qualified candidates, a point I tried to make in a recent faculty meeting and listserv debate.

I do wonder if this year's glut of pure bred pedigree will cause appointments committees to look beyond the JD to better indicators of publishing and teaching potential... or will committees see Harvard and Yale everywhere, jump for joy, and reflexively hire the "most credentialed."

The hiring market has evolved over the years and appointments committees should be able to look beyond: pedigree, clerkship, and coif. Here are some proposed metrics for everyone to consider/debate:

1) VAP or Fellowship? This shouldn't be a singular requirement, but with the number of opportunities out there it should be something commitees look for as it indicates commitment to the profession and also provides other useful data. This seems commonsensical, but what other piece of information provides a better proxy for success than success in the actual job the person is being hired for?

Think of it this way (maybe I should write this at MoneyLaw), Stanford has a great Track and Field program, but if I'm hiring the best candidate, do I hire the person who went to a school with a great Track and Field program and hope he/she can run a 4 minute mile, even if they have never done so before? Granted, they come highly recommended from that well known coach, and no one has ever heard of the coach at Michigan State. So I'm faced with a choice, the well credentialed runner with indicia of running potential, or I can hire the person from Michigan State who actually ran a 4 minute mile.

The answer about who you hire should be obvious, so why do many of us insist that Prestigious JD/Coif/Clerkship and a publication is superior to Average JD/No Coif/No Clerkship but teaching experience and publications while in the actual job for which the candidate is applying? The latter candidate will probably be successful from the get go, the former is a gamble based on credentials. Granted, those of us within the profession are highly credentialed and believe ourselves to be successful, so it's hard for us to imagine that someone who isn't credentialed like us could be more successful than someone who looks like us. Hiring those who look like us, who are recommended by professors who taught us, is certainly one approach, but it's a biased one, not a rational one (assuming the preference we seek to maximize is the best all around law professor). So, how does this relate to VAP's and Fellowships? Quite simply they provide us data that runs contrary to our biases and forces us to think rationally.

One final note on VAP/Fellowships, they're not all created equal. Committees should not only look at what the candidate has done in their VAP/Fellowship, but what were the demands on their time. A VAP teaching a 2/2 (or more) is a proxy for reality, a VAP teaching one course (or seminar) a semester is a nice job I wish I had.

2) Scholarship. The best indicia of scholarly potential is...scholarship! Take a careful look at the pool of candidates and you'll note the choices: There are the highly credentialed proven scholars (they quickly get gobbled up by schools in the Top 25). After that the choices start to normalize a bit: You can hire the well credentialed Top 5 JD who may be a lightly published candidate with non-thoughful scholarship and hope they improve (they went to Yale, they're bound to!) Or you can choose the less well credentialed candidate with a better more thoughful publication record. One choice is based on hope and change (it's catchy) the other is based on evidence.

How does the VAP/Fellowship factor into this? While those in practice assume that professors have tons of time, new faculty find that prepping new courses each semester, teaching those courses, mentoring students, and tending to administrative responsibilities quickly cause the time to disappear. In fact, the utter lack of structure results in some new faculty feeling lost and taking a lot of time to get their bearings. So, contrary to what I wrote in 1), a VAP alone can't be enough. In fact a VAP without publications is a strong signal that the candidate might not "get it." So, committees should look for whether a candidate with a VAP published some scholarship during that time. This will indicate to the committee whether that candidate will be able to produce as a new faculty member with little mentorship (the usual scenario). Granted, every junior scholar needs some mentorship, but success in the absence of mentorship is a good indicator of success as a tenure-track faculty member.

Now, I recognize that some VAPs will go on the market a mere month or so into their VAP, and some may argue it's not fair to hold those candidates to a higher standard. I think the appropriate response to that criticism is that there are hundreds of "highly qualified" candidates for what amounts to a job for life --- shouldn't we strive to get it right? No VAP, no publications, then perhaps we should look to the candidates with a VAP and publications. That may mean actually considering a candidate who isn't a pure bred pedigree type, but they may have the best indicia of scholarly potential, actual scholarship.

3) Is their scholarship any good? This is a hard one to judge. Our proxies are placement in top journals and recommendations by other faculty. These are trust proxies, in both cases we are trusting that the 2L law review editors got it right or trusting that Harold Koh (taking last year as an example) really is recommending all 40 of those candidates due to their fantastic scholarship.

Of course we could go with a non-trust proxy --- actually read the scholarship. But that takes a lot of work, and we're all busy...sure, it's our job to do our due diligence, but why not leave it up to the one person on the committee we task with reading the scholarship and reporting back to us (another trust proxy). Better to push the subjective evaluation off to one person than to have 40 subjective evaluations.

Of course, there's another helpful proxy that can be combined with those above (or is perhaps superior). Leiter's scholarly impact rating. It's easy, and it isn't subjective. The candidate has either been cited or they haven't. Type the candidate's name into Westlaw's JLR database FIRST /2 LAST and see what comes up. Then compare it to yourself or maybe your most junior faculty member. If the candidate has a few citations under their belt, someone out there thought their scholarship was good enough to cite (even if merely in support of a proposition or as a But see), if they have a dozen or so citations under their belt, maybe the committee should strongly consider that as a factor. If our goal is to hire scholars whose work will have an impact, citation by other scholars is a good measure, citation by courts is even better (but many tenured faculty don't ever reach that point.) Another benefit of citation counts is that it strips away our biases: "Podunk Law Review is a bad placement" might be a true statement, but if the article has been cited a few times it suggests others looked past the placement. "The candidate has written too many short pieces, or not enough theory pieces." That also may be true, but if others are relying on what that candidate wrote, that means they're being read, and they therefore are having some impact. "I just didn't like his/her scholarship, I thought it was sloppy." Citations won't save that piece, but it should cause the evaluator to pause and question just how sloppy the work actually is. In the end it may be garbage (albeit cited garbage) but it's better to know that than to reflexively say "Chicago Law Review, good placement, must be good scholarship." Many among us have placed articles in lower ranked journals and are surprised by how often those pieces are cited, we should use that experience when we judge the work of candidates.

4) Teaching- Yes, I know this is not the top priority at many places, but it is a top priority for the 65 faces looking to the front of the room for guidance and instruction at $30,000+/year. VAP's and some Fellowships provide a true measure of teaching ability...actual teaching evaluations. Lots of practice experience won't guarantee a good teacher, and great scholarship is also not a proxy for teaching potential. The critical eye of students, going into debt in a rough economy provides a true measure of a candidate's mettle. Now it's true that teaching evaluations have their limitations, but they're the measure we use to evaluate candidates for promotion and tenure, certainly they're an appropriate measure for hiring purposes.

So, what about those without teaching experience? The job talk is a possibility, but that doesn't really reveal what kind of teacher they will be. So why not have that professor who doesn't have teaching evaluations actually teach a class in the slot they're being hired for? I know the answer, it's too much work, which leads me back to the value of VAPs and Fellowships. Why not let some other school with a VAP program do that year long evaluation for us? We let law review editors screen for higher ranked placements through the expedite process, why not let VAP programs and those students do some of the screening for the hiring process?

5)Reputation in the field. Let's face it, most of us aren't the big names in the field that we think we are, so we can't expect candidates to come to the table with a reputation. But some do! Some VAPs and Fellows are invited to workshops and symposia. Certainly that speaks to some level of expertise or reputation, and is something we should value. Holding all things equal, I'd pick the less credentialed candidate who has been workshopping and presenting at conferences and symposia over her more credentialed competitor every time. Her initiative and engagement with the field is indicative of a colleague who will hit the ground running.

6) Collegiality/Service. I don't have much to say about this. This criteria is somewhat related to 5, and to teaching. Did the candidate (if coming from a VAP) get involved on committees or mentor students on law review or in clubs? Were they involved in AALS or bar groups related to their area of research interest? If so, chances are they will be involved when they are a tenure-track faculty member.

7)Am I being realistic? Probably not. I'm guessing this year we'll see the glut of highly credentialed candidates find homes, and the less credentialed but perhaps highly qualified candidates will lose out based on pedigree. But so long as we can send a glossy card out announcing our new hire (Princeton '99/Yale '02) we've certainly done are job, haven't we?

Barrister's Handshake

I just re-read my post, apologies for the typos I should have proofed before posting. I'll make one correction so that what I intended to say isn't obscured, and I'll let the rest of my typos (are instead of our?) stand as a testament to my sloppy blog commenting.

In 1) I meant to write "The answer about who you hire should be obvious, so why do many of us insist that a Prestigious JD/Coif/Clerkship and a publication is superior to an Average JD/No Coif/No Clerkship with multiple publications and teaching experience, both gained while in the actual job for which the candidate is applying?"

Kim Krawiec

Thanks for these very thoughtful comments, Barrister's Handshake. I drafted a comment in response a few times, but it kept getting longer and longer. Finally, I just decided to do a separate post that builds on some of the ideas you've raised here. Anyway, thanks for joining our conversation -- and for giving me inspiration for a new hiring post. Give me a few days to get my thoughts together, but I do plan to elaborate on these issues you've raised in more detail. Thanks.

On the Market

This has developed into a very interesting post. I think Barrister's Handshake gets a lot of issues right. Though I think he/she overexaggerates the importance of fellowships/VAPs versus good scholarship being the most important metric. Certainly scholarship *should* be the most important of the criteria. I understand that good scholarship often coincides with one having done a VAP or fellowships but there is no necessary relationship. Also, I think the point about citation counts is a really good one as well. If someone is already being cited in law reviews, schools ought to try to figure that out. Which raises a question: as a candidate who is on the market this year and has been cited a bit, I suppose there is no real way to communicate that; in other words, you just depend on someone on an appointments committee eventually running a search on WL or Lexis, right?

Tim Zinnecker

To "On the Market" -- consider adding the citation info to your c.v. (which you will post online with the AALS and/or circulate to schools of interest). I would not count on schools running an independent online search. Give some thought to limiting the citation info to judicial decisions (rather than CLE materials or journal articles).

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