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February 27, 2013


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concerned lawyer

"So the cheap labor thing just doesn't wash." Glad that isn't a problem. Great! Now let's consider the real problem. Most VAPs (and various unpaid fellows who take up residence, often at elite law schools) made a choice to trade in a career in practice for the hope of obtaining a faculty position. It looked reasonable two years ago. Now that faculty positions are drying up, it appears that the VAP has made an error. And that job they gave up? With the current glut of jobless attorneys (and more to come) it is not very easy for the VAP to come back two years later and ask to return to a job that the VAP clearly wanted to give up.

Not a VAP

I have two problems with Professor Hurt's thoughts.

First, I'm not sure that looking at the success rate for FAR applicants is the best way to go about determining the competitiveness of the market. There's just too much noise. Too many candidates who register on a whim and who don't have a chance, and not enough information about how many "realistic" candidates there are. For example, consider the following:

Year One: 1000 candidates, 200 serious candidates, 150 openings.
Year Two: 667 candidates, 250 serious candidates, 100 openings.

See the problem? The first year has a 15% success rate -- but the important metric, the ratio of openings to serious candidates is a much rosier 75%. The second year has an identical 15% success rate, but this time the ratio of openings to serious candidates is 40%.

My second problem with her article is that it seems hopelessly unrealistic to think that most VAPs will be able to maintain such a positive relationship with their pre-VAP employers that they will be able to return. First, many VAPs came to their VAPs from the government or clerkships. The former generally can't keep an empty FTE for a year or two without it going away; the latter is a term position anyway. And second, perhaps a firm superstar will be able to latch back with his or her firm after a VAP, but I suspect that this is the exception rather than the rule.

terry malloy

[D]oing a VAP has always entailed uncertainty and is going to be more of a risk in a down market.

Don't you mean a "fundamentally glutted and structurally shrinking" market?

Law isn't going to bounce like tech. Law is going to sink like steel manufacturing.

Previously Anon

It's almost as though law professors are hopelessly unrealistic, in a very self-serving way, about the state of the legal profession.

Also, adjunct professors typically can't fill the same role as VAPs. VAPs are full-time faculty, important for a variety of reasons. Assuming adjuncts are currently practicing attorneys, they likely can't work the same hours as VAPs and are unlikely to be as available to students outside class hours. Adjuncts also don't necessarily have the same glittering resumes, in terms of law schools attended, clerkships completed, etc., as VAPS. Using too many adjunct professors can also decrease a law school's US News ranking (since adjuncts only count as two-tenths of a professor under ABA rule 402, thus lowering the student-to-faculty ratio), they typically teach specialized practice classes rather than core classes, and the ABA limits the number of adjunct professors that can be used as a percentage of the faculty. And, given their full-time jobs, adjuncts typically don't have the same time to devote to curriculum development, and they don't generally produce scholarship.

So no, adjuncts aren't interchangeable with VAPs.


My criticisms of Prof. Hurt's post are in the comments there, and many of them apply here as well.

It would be a mistake to conflate the people raising the VAP concern with the "Law School Scam" quasi-movement: all to easy to label-and-dismiss without squarely answering.

"[D]oing a VAP has always entailed uncertainty," but so does taking out a mortgage or a loan. That doesn't make predatory lending, fake refinancing, and all of the abuses we now know were happening any more correct. It took people saying "no, there's really something wrong happening here" before the rest got uncovered.

It is too easy to dismiss folks coming forward as just people crying about something that has always been the case--but maybe it is an indication that what used to be the case isn't anymore, and systemic problems have come home to roost.

I don't think a facile answer will push that inquiry forward very far. Taking the concerns seriously would, however.

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