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March 18, 2010

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anonymous old-timer

I went on the market a couple of years back, but I suspect this is still pertinent: The single suggestion I would offer is to provide candidates with more frequent updates on their status. There were schools with which I interviewed that never got in touch to let me know where I stood, even after I contacted them to let them know I had a pending offer elsewhere but would be happy to hear from them. I may be alone in this, but I would have preferred blunt honesty ("We're still waiting for scholarship reviews"; "You're now fifth on our list"; "We lost your application materials") to radio silence.

anon here

I agree that minimal courtesy demands that hiring schools do better to keep applicants informed. I'm aware that often the standing of candidates is uncertain and there's some reasonable strategic behavior that schools may need to engage in, but saying things like, "We've not made final decisions" or "we've had a few call-backs but haven't made offers yet" seem to me to be the minimally decent things to do. And, when things are all over, please at least send a PFO letter or email. It's obvious that after a certain point a school isn't going to make an offer, but the PFO letter at least closes things out and makes it easier to move on.

BDG

Unscheduled "drop in" interviews, in which the candidate hangs out in a room and hopes people show up, don't seem to work -- or, if they work, it's only because of good luck. You get booms and busts. If the group is too big, the candidate doesn't get to really meet or engage with anyone, and many people are bored because the conversation is not about their own interests. During busts, well...it's just a waste, isn't it? Why not schedule the groups ahead of time?

I was very happy with the end result of my recent experience with the unscheduled drop-in approach (and eventually managed to get to know my new colleagues better), but was pretty discontent with it while it was happening.

anon-o-VAP

What most candidates want: more and better job offers. Everything else that's wrong with the system is palatable, so long as in the end you get multiple offers to join T14 faculties.

Since that's not going to be possible, here's a quick thought. The process needs to be more professional. It never will be as long as faculty handle the task themselves as a part time burden.

I understand the need for ultimate faculty control over hiring, but that doesn't mean faculty should personally handle every aspect of the process. They don't have the skill sets of HR professionals, and they don't do a very good job. That shows up on the applicant side in the abysmal lack of communication to candidates, but, looking around at how the process played out at the school where I am a visitor, it also plays out in schools sometimes not getting the talent they deserve in the door.

Here's a thought: do what companies and law firms do. Hire a recruitment coordinator. Talent is the lifeblood of any professional organization, and that's just as true for law schools as it is for law firms. Law firms long ago learned that this task was far too important to be left to partners who approached it as an unwelcome extra task. The same logic applies here.

What could a recruitment coordinator do? Well, obviously, screen the FAR forms and discard the ones not meriting a serious look. Beyond that, establish contacts at the leading law schools, LL.M. programs, fellowships, etc., and build the profile of the school with those who will be coming on the market. Of those FAR forms that are interesting but not quite there - second tier degree but perhaps an interesting publication, first tier degree and clerkships but incomplete research agenda, and so on - do more investigative work to develop a fuller picture for the committee's consideration. There are some diamonds in the rough out there, as there always are, but they aren't going to be found in a Saturday morning review of a fat stack of FAR forms. The recruitment coordinator could develop easy to digest one page summaries of the top 100 or so candidates prior to committee meetings, summarizing the good, the bad, the inchoate. And, last but not least, organize and professionalize the process of communication so that it stays coherent and organized even as new members rotate through the hiring committee.

With the recruitment coordinator handling the workaday tasks of investigation and communication, time is freed for the faculty to address higher value issues. Does the school want to develop areas of expertise, or just hire the best available athletes? If the school is tier three or tier four, what are the best available athletes going to look like, and how can they be wooed away from higher ranked schools? If the idea is to develop core areas of expertise, are there feeder institutions that should be cultivated so they send along talent?

After the hiring season, the recruitment coordinator could debrief all the candidates who got past a certain stage. If desirable candidates were lost to another school, it's good to know why, just in case there are addressable themes that arise over and over again. Even of the ones who didn't get an offer, it might be instructive to find out what impressed them and what left them cold. With some continuity in the hiring process, faculty hiring becomes an iterative process that can be improved incrementally, rather than a series of one off committees stumbling through a necessary but unpleasant task.

This doesn't need to be a full time job. In most areas, there are people who could handle this on a part time basis, or, alternatively, other duties could be folded into the job. The point is to have someone professionally trained and committed to help improve one of the most important tasks the school faces.

Just a thought. I have many more, but that's all the time I've got today.

anon

IMO, faculty will never delegate candidate screening to an outside source for two reasons:

1) Faculty appointments committees have an agenda that would not be served by outsourcing hiring to a third-party; and

2) A third-party will not necessarily be aware of who faculty at various law schools have deemed "hot," and therefore the FAC will end up interviewing those candidates anyway.

I think the biggest problem with the faculty hiring process is that so many schools chase the same handful of candidates, to the exclusion of other qualified candidates, even when they know full well that the chance of hiring these "hot" candidates is slim to none. I think a lot of FAC are blinded by their own ambition and desire to impress other law faculties with showy entry-level hires, to the detriment of both their overall recruitment success and the candidate pool as a whole.

Anon Junior Prof

Whoa, that was quite a bait-and-switch! I thought this was going to be about the UCC! Anyway, more seriously, I whole-heartedly agree that faculties need to do a better job of keeping people updated. I also think they should do a better job of making decisions in a timely fashion. This is particularly a problem at higher-ranked schools. Just because you *can* wait until April to decide you're not going to hire me doesn't mean you *should*. It's disrespectful to the other schools that actually made me an offer and were waiting to hear whether I will accept. The higher ranked schools should have quit stringing me along and just told me "no" sooner.

Paul Yamada

RE: Alex Chilton
I hope that someone out there has heard his 1977 ep, Singer Not The Song, which is probably his best pop-rock after big star, and the really great Box Tops CD from 1998, Tear Off. Tear Off is worth hearing JUST for the version of Bobby Womack's I'm In Love.

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