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March 12, 2010


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Let me add a question, if I may: how important is genuine interest in a location to the school's interest in a candidate? A slught bump? Equal to an extra article? Huge? Does it depend on how "undesireable" (however measured) the location is?

I think people would be more honest on the AALS form if not counseled that limiting geographic preference is to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. But I find it hard to believe that some candidates are seriously considering a move to x-ville,(x-ville = small town in undesireable state, region, etc, or in large town with expense) away from the sights, sounds, and spousal ties to the East Coast, West Coast, Texas, Baltimore/DC, whatever. It's very frustrating for a candidate with true geographic flexibility.


Is it also possible that spouse-phobia is a way of saying no without saying no? Stated differently, the person didn't feel like it was a good fit but can't find a way to say that without insulting anyone.

Jeff Lipshaw

Tim, honestly I think it's the nature of the beast because I don't think one forms preferences in the process all at once. Take this scenario. Candidate (C) doesn't limit the FAR form geographically for precisely the reason given by anon. C hopes to God that she gets an offer other than from North Nowhere State Law School in East Podunk, Nowhere, but hasn't ruled out the possibility of a commuter marriage if that's all she gets, or if the money is wonderful, or whatever. Moreover, there's a reason to proceed with NNSLS, which is that an offer from NNSLS DOES give C some leverage in dealing with other schools. Since schools are perfectly happy to be less than forthcoming in their status reports to candidates ("you are on the B team, but because that's not a great thing to say to somebody, we won't say anything"), and willing to use leverage ("you have X days or weeks to accept this offer"), it doesn't seem fair to say that candidates have to disclose the inchoate state of their own intentions, or cannot use leverage in reverse.

I think a candidate is required only to have a good faith basis for believing there is a reasonable probability he or she would accept an offer if given. Often those probabilities cannot become choate until late in the game.

Michael Risch

"although why did you accept the screening interview?"

A couple reasons -
1. You don't know your chances on the market at the screening stage - many callbacks = ability to be more picky about geography
2. You never know - I never thought I would end up in West Virginia, but I took the first interview on the chance that I might like it there. I'm glad I did!


I agree with Jeff. The fact that a candidate ultimately rejects a school for geographic reasons does not mean that the candidate knew earlier in the process geography would be the deciding factor. Candidates are learning about schools throughout the process, just as schools are learning about candidates. Moreover, since a candidate cannot forecast what offers she will receive, a candidate cannot possibly know when accepting the flyback with School X whether she will decline an offer at School X because she ultimately receives a more geographically-advantageous offer from School Y.

Finally, as a candidate, I was asked at the AALS conference all of the questions you list by virtually every school not in the top-25, even when those schools were in NYC, LA, etc. I thought nothing of it. I did, however, answer strategically, just as the schools behaved strategically in recruiting me; returning (or not) my phone calls and emails after flybacks when I had offers and needed to make decisions; and divulging information about themselves, e.g., which faculty members might be leaving in the coming year, why, etc. Unless schools are going to lay their cards on the table to candidates at every stage of the process, they cannot reasonably expect students to do so.


Jeff seems right, especially the last bit. Until the offer is made, one can't know for sure if it will outweigh the other factors. And many schools are in places the candidate might not know well. How would she know if she'd not like the place until she and her spouse had a chance to go there and then think it over? There are quite a lot of places that I've be willing, even happy, to live if other aspects of an offer were great, but less willing to live if I were merely barely satisfied by the other aspects of the job. I'm sure I'm not alone in that, and while this is likely to sometimes be frustrating to hiring schools, I'd think it would be unreasonable to expect anything else.


Tim, two points.

1. Geographic preferences usually are not absolute but are relative. The candidate who accepts the interview might be willing to relocate if he has no other offers, but not otherwise. Given the uncertainties of the market, I don't think that it is unfair to accept an interview in those circumstances.

2. When I was on the market, I was advised very explicitly to not place a geographic restriction unless I was absolutely, completely, and irrevocably dead-set against a particular place; and even then not to put the preference on the FAR form but only to decline the interview, without explanation, if a school from that area called. The reason being that other schools draw an adverse inference against anyone who expresses any kind of geographic preference.

The sum of the above is that schools surely would like to know about a candidate's honest geographic preferences, just as schools surely would like to know where they really rank on the candidate's pecking order. But if expressing the preference is all downside and no upside for the candidate--and that is what it certainly looks like--then it is not happening.


I agree with Jeff, too. There's only one way to find out how serious someone is about your school: make an offer.

Candidates cannot be expected to tell you in advance about their reservations about your location, any more than they should be expected to disclose their reservations about your pay scale, your reputation, the collegiality of your faculty, etc. What would you say to a candidate who asked, "Before I fly all the way out there and spend two days interviewing and doing a job talk, can you please tell me any reservations your faculty members have about my candidacy, and let me know where I stand on your list of prospects?"

Interviewing is a time-consuming and laborious process for the candidate as well as for the school. I think you just have to depend on that fact to deter people from pursuing the process when they have no intention of taking the job.


Frankly, I don't really care for any questions about my family in an interview. It opens far too many doors into subject matter that isn't appropriate: sexual orientation, marital status, and so on. Here there be dragons, or other impermissible discriminatory factors.


How do you know what you really think about a place until you see it? In my case, to give an example, I had never thought much about Lincoln, Nebraska as a place to live (although I did have a friend who had lived there and liked it). I went out on a call back, and it turns out to be a lovely, affordable town with excellent schools (and with what seemed like a really nice law school). In the end, they weren't that into me (and I ended up with other exciting options) but it would have been a mistake to screen out the law school there based on stereotypes or misconceptions.

Sharona Hoffman

As someone who teaches in a "non-destination city" (Cleveland), I think it can't hurt to ask a few questions at the call-back interview. Given two well-qualified candidates, you might choose to give the first offer to a candidate with ties to your region rather than to someone who has always lived in New York and has no good answer as to why your city is appealing.

However, I would not ask directly about spouses, partners, or children. Discrimination based on marital or parental status or sexual orientation is not prohibited by federal law but is illegal in many state and local jurisdictions, and candidates might interpret your inquiry as foreshadowing discrimination. Such questions are also considered in bad taste by many employment law and human resources experts. Instead, I would just ask about the person's interest in your city or ties to your location. Another useful question is simply "is there anything else you would like to tell us or we should know about you?" That can yield a candid discussion about family constraints or partner hiring issues.


When I went through the hiring process, I knew I had to stay in my current city because of child custody constraints -- no room to budge at all. So, I limited my AALS form to schools w/in 100 miles of my city. But ALL of my friends and colleagues who advised me on the process, to a person, told me I was reducing my chances of getting a job at any of the good schools in MY city by declining to go on the national market. I resisted and ended up with a position I'm happy with, but I thought I'd share the anecdote because it speaks to the pressures one experiences on the market, particularly as an entry level candidate with no real knowledge of how schools make their hiring decisions. Literally everyone with whom I spoke about this told me that my chances in my city would go up if I created the right "buzz" about myself by stimulating lots of interest from schools outside my geographic area -- even though there was never any possibility that I'd move.

Orin Kerr

I think it's very fair for a school to inquire as to whether the candidate has family relocation issues, or other issues that might impact an ability to accept an offer. This does a few things. First, it puts the school on notice that if they want the candidate, they probably need to consider these other issues: Schools that are able to help out are now on notice that their help will be needed. Second, it flags for the candidate that the school is also investing a lot in the process, including perhaps passing on others who might otherwise be competitive. At the same time, I think it's generally best for the school to ask rather than for the candidate to feel compelled to put these issues forward.

I would also note that in the case of lateral hires, this is one of the first issues to be discussed. It's understood that most lateral candidates are likely to have family commitments that will make it at least a little tricky to move, and so one of the first inquiries is to raise those difficulties at the front end so there are fewer surprises later in the process.

Orin Kerr

Oh, and I would add that these questions would normally be raised one-on-one with the hiring chair and the candidate before the school decides to invite the candidate for a call-back. They wouldn't be raised at the AALS or anyplace like that: There's no need for a public conversation about it, especially when time is precious like at the AALS.

Peter Gerdes

Many serious with disclosing spousal relocation issues in advance were already mentioned above but I'd like to add another one.

Often the willingness of the spouse to relocate depends on their ability to find a decent job in the region. This creates the obvious problem that you don't know whether a location is going to be acceptable until your spouse hears from the employers they applied to. That's certainly the position I will find myself in shortly.

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