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February 21, 2013


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I'm surprised by some of the comments here saying that legal practitioners are essentially fungible. In my admittedly brief couple years of practice, I've found that many lawyers from medium and big firms I deal with don't write very well and don't come up with the best arguments. It seems to me, as a result, that the idea that interest in academia is a good way to weed out a surplus of candidates is quite wrong. To the contrary, academic success (as demonstrated through obtaining a VAP and publishing articles)would suggest good analytic ability and strong writing, and thus excellent qualification. Which makes me think, again, that there is a massive market failure going on, with being "on track" and narrowly devoted to one path valued over ability to do the best possible work.

Previously Anon

You. . .seem to be making an argument for the opposite of what you seem to want to support. Members of big law firms, in particular, tend to come from top-ranked law schools, and usually in the upper parts of the classes in those law schools. If they still "don't write very well" and "don't come up with the best arguments," then maybe academic success has less to do with ability as a lawyer than you seem to suggest.

Of course, even that depends on "writing well" and "making strong arguments" as the most important skills for a successful attorney. While they are certainly important, negotiating skills, marketing skills, and other skills can also be very important(and usually largely unmeasured by academic success in law school).

Previously Anon

If, on the other hand, you mean that many partners or other high-ranking attorneys are not the best writers or the best at constructing solid arguments, well, I think you have your answer about how important those skills are to long-term success as an attorney.


So will there be a survey for people who have failed even at getting a VAP and are now out of a job because time spent writing, applying, and flying out to interviews that never even email a rejection all isn't billable?

Has there been a discussion of how VAP programs basically want fully formed professors to apply, not people who have some room to develop?

David: if you think firm recruiters are being honest about wanting strong academic records purely for their intellectual talent, you're a little naive. They say they want that, but really want--and reward--people who are willing to bill 2,200 hours and play the firm reindeer games. They want the academic records for social and prestige reasons.

vap in a snap

VAPflop, that's an awful story. I have seen several blog posts lamenting that VAP programs were created to help those who weren't quite ready for the market, but in recent years the people who apply for and accept them are those who already have top JDs, clerkships, and lots of pubs, making the VAP just one more credential on the way to the TT job and pushing out those for whom the programs were initially designed. On the other hand, I hadn't heard of anyone losing a job because s/he spent so much time and effort trying to land a VAP. VAP applications should be far less time-consuming than TT applications (at least in theory), and some people actually go through the AALS process while working at firms.


You know, pace hiring partners - all this stuff about not wanting a former VAP is not really correct.

From a hiring perspective the biggest problem with a VAP is that they have had an interregnum in their practice career and most importantly at the point when they should have been starting to lay the foundations of their long-term practice. That is to say that VAPs have undermined their ability to bring in clients and business often at a critical point for their long term career - remembering that most VAPs have in principle impressive qualifications. The secondary issue with VAPs (albeit not universal) is that they often seem to have decided they wanted to be VAPs because they were not good at private practice, especially in large firms.

I went through the interregnum myself brought on by moving from one country to another and from private practice to a major public company GC role - when I went back to private practice most of my clients were gone and I had to rebuild that client base - while establishing a law firm. Part of the reason I and my partners set up our own firm was our general detestation of BigLaw's business model as well as our desire to pursue a practice that was both broader than a BigLaw firm would like - and at the same time a business niche that has turned out to be a canyon. But I will not deny that the early days of shingle hanging were very scary.

A VAP model where an associate or junior partner interrupts their practice to teach at a law school for a year or two is simply a bad one - dangerous to the VAP - and inclined to recruit those who just did not want to be lawyers. It is a bad idea all around.


The affectation that today's VAP's are better than yesterday's professors is absurd. Wher is the Calabresi, the Posner, the (even) Fiss of today's thinkers? They are mostly cookie-cutter drones.


"The affectation that today's VAP's are better than yesterday's professors is absurd. Wher is the Calabresi, the Posner, the (even) Fiss of today's thinkers? They are mostly cookie-cutter drones."

The majority of professors are always going to be cookie-cutter drones.


@RobP: "The affectation that today's VAP's are better than yesterday's professors is absurd. Wher is the Calabresi, the Posner, the (even) Fiss of today's thinkers? They are mostly cookie-cutter drones."

That's a high bar. Few of "yesterday's professors" (current senior profs) could clear it - maybe 5, including those you mention - nor could many VAPs. The typical VAP today (1) has more experience in both practice and teaching, and more publications, than most tenure-track hires even a few years ago and (2) is far more productive than your typical senior faculty member. This is well known. I grant that most VAPs don't measure up to Posner. If VAPs are "mostly cookie-cutter drones" under that standard, what does that make your current median senior faculty member?

That said, no VAP I have spoken with believes any of this means VAPs "deserve" to get hired. That is not how the world works. But my sense is that that reality goes both ways - the number of those wanting to be VAPs only appears limitless, and prospective VAPs have options. Once there is more awareness of VAP outcomes, and AALS outcomes this cycle more generally, we may (*may*) see a change in the pool.


vap in a snap: The first hurdle is finding the VAPs. Paul Caron's list is admirable but incomplete, and it isn't always easy to determine from the title whether given VAPs have limitations (e.g., tax only, Wisconsin grads only). Then there are the applications: VAP applications (done with some level of diligence) are tailored to each specific program. TT applications are, well . . . filling out one form once, more or less. Yes, preparation for the Meat Market is more intensive, then callbacks (if you get any), but the centralized nature of TT hiring makes it much less time consuming overall.

And yes, I've been up until 2:00 am before a day of callback interviews, dealing with a discovery problem that "couldn't wait." The results are obvious.

Law firms, especially large ones, do not want much original thinking. They want originality they can rope in easily. I haven't seen the top-of-the-class rise to the top in law firms, only the mid-ranges. Law firms eat their brightest or beat them into dullness.

Law schools do not want VAPs they can train and mentor. They want fully- formed professors they can put on the market for an automatic success--to look better to the next crowd of VAPplicants. Those with practice experience will be channeled to "clinical" positions, which is beneath the dignity of doctrinal faculty.

There's your market failure, David: both legal employers and legal educators have forgotten that their professions--I use the term deliberately--are based on apprenticeship: coming into the profession partially formed and working to learn the disciplines.


Well, after a day away, I see that what was an eye-opening and beneficial thread about the prospects I face if I'm successful getting a VAP or fellowship for the fall has been taken over by trolls. Wonderful.


Yes, VAPflop, I think you've nailed it.

Previously Anon

Here, let me summarize it for you, VAPplicant: Don't go, no jobs.

Or, you could listen to the "trolls": Don't go, last thing we need is more wet-behind-the-ears associates without significant practice experience joining the academy.

another VAP out in the cold

In a probably vain attempt to retrieve the thread, I've learned that I can't edit the survey without erasing all of the responses thus far. So I won't be editing the survey. We have several responses, but not enough to constitute a quorum.

If we want this survey to work, we will have to circulate it to our contacts and get more people to fill it out. Here's the link again:

FYI - we have one person who completed the survey who isn't a VAP or a Fellow. So far, all the VAPs/Fellows who completed the survey are currently at a tier 1 or 2 school, most people went to Harvard, Yale, or NYU for their JD, everyone had a minimum of 2 publications when we went on the market, and there are even people in business/corporate law that didn't place.

I'm now seeing even more flaws with the survey, i.e., there's no subject line for "tax." Oops. But I think imperfect is better than nonexistent.

Damaged Goods

I'll summarize too. Unless you clerked for the Supreme Court, or if you really hate your job (and any other job you could get), don't do it. No jobs. Hell, if I'd signed up for a PhD and not this stupid VAP at least I'd be half-way to teaching in some real field that has a sustainable schooling model.


Um, Damaged Goods, don't think for a minute that the job market in the humanities is at all healthy. It's way worse than the law teaching market.

Not Larry Mitchell

I suspect if you look a year out, things will change dramatically. I'm really confident if you looked a year and a half out failed VAPs will have good jobs, either in academia, or in private practice, or state, federal, or local government. Or they'll achieve something outside the norm like becoming chairman of a movie studio, or chair of the FDIC, or the president of a technology company, or working as ambassador of protocol for the White House. There's just so much failed VAPs can do. Remember, we're dealing with a 40-50 year career, so I think it's misplaced to put so much emphasis on not being able to find gainful employment within the first few months of ending a VAP.

Previously Anon

Yes, a law degree opens so many doors (as law schools keep telling us).

Damaged Goods

@ David I didn't say anything about humanities, but thanks for letting me know.

I'm OK being forced outside the norm, obviously I'm a risk-taker if I took a VAP at all, but if I had known the failure rate, I would have made completely different choices that wouldn't involve deciding between heat and my student loan payment. The worst part was the great job my spouse gave up so that I could pursue my now-crushed dream. I would have at least made sure that didn't happen.

It's time to be honest with VAPs about the outcomes. Potential VAPs need to be aware of all the doors a VAP closes, including BigLaw. Obviously, we're all highly qualified, and we will land somewhere, but to those thinking about taking a VAP now, just don't do it. No jobs.

Previously Anon

Yes, David:

I wouldn't say "way worse," just that the job prospects for both are awful. At least with law teaching, though, if you do manage to get a job you will likely make a living wage (for now, at least).

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