Law Teaching Interview Advice

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10 Responses

  1. Kaimi says:

    Nice advice, Dan. A couple of quick questions:

    -Are you articulating an objective or a subjective standard here? Is this “what Dan wants to see” or “what everyone wants to see”? Or some mixture of the two? And if it’s “what everyone wants to see,” then how much play is there in the categories?

    -On a related note, are these seven prongs all equally important? Is there one that’s more or less important? Does it vary from place to place?

  2. Kaimi,

    This is definitely what I like to see, but I think it has broader applicability than just me. I certainly can’t purport to speak for everyone, but I’m deriving my advice from my experiences discussing teaching candidates with others and from listening to people talk about what they are looking for.

    I’m sure that the importance of these seven prongs varies from place to place and person to person. My guess is that at top schools, prong (7) will be less important — they will be less concerned about whether you’ll want to be there. Probably (1) and (2) are the most universally prized, but again, this is just based on my limited experience.

  3. Catch-22?

    Dan Solove gives what seems to be an excellent distillation of the current wisdom on how aspiring law professors should approach their screening interviews at the AALS. And then comes Paul Horwitz to warn us law professors not to be fooled by the peopl…

  4. Joe Miller says:

    I’m in year 5 of law teaching. Dan’s advice strikes me as spot-on, both in terms of my own views and those I’ve heard colleagues voice.

  5. Doug Litowitz says:

    I respectfully disagree with your list and with the comments so far. Allow me to raise a contrary view.

    I have seen far too many recruitment teams pass over genuine scholars with PhDs and peer-reviewed books in favor of someone a year or two out of Harvard-Yale-Stanford who has very few original ideas and no research trail, and who will be a very disappointing but highly functioning professor. They are not interested in scholarship per se but only people who are interested in the same things as them.

    As for the other items on the list (be confident, be enthusiastic, show interest) — those apply to any job applicant in any interview for any job.

    The hiring process is mostly a boys’ club trying to recreate themselves, but they don’t want to admit this, so they dress it up as a search for scholars. But when confronted with actual scholars (who tend to be highly eccentric and not collegial, by the way), they don’t know how to react.

    A professor from an elite school recently said in a moment of candor, “Each year we hire the same type of person hoping they will turn into a Sunstein and then we are disappointed but we continue to do it because we are out of ideas.” That was the truest thing I have heard so far.

    What I am saying is harsh but it is the only way to explain why so many new hires have identical profiles.

    Everyone likes to believe that they are searching for scholars — buy ask yourself how many recent hires at your school have published peer reviewed books from a university press.

  6. Kaimi says:

    Doug Litowitz writes:

    “Everyone likes to believe that they are searching for scholars — but ask yourself how many recent hires at your school have published peer reviewed books from a university press. ”

    That’s a curious formulation — scholarship = books (and by implication, anything other than books is not scholarship). You seem to assume this as a given, though I don’t think that the case is so clear.

    There are many scholars who have not produced peer-reviewed, university press books. You would have a hard time convincing me that Eugene Volokh is not a “scholar” producing “scholarship,” however those terms are defined. Yet his C.V. shows no peer-reviewed, university-press books.

  7. Doug Litowitz says:

    Well, that is the Gold Standard of scholarship in academia — peer-review.

    What I find odd is that for most schools in the AALS selection process, the actual fact of currently producing scholarship is somehow trumped by the potential for producing future scholarship. There was an article on this in the Journal of Legal Education about a year ago, it made clear that most schools were using pedigree as a proxy for scholarship when in fact there was no correlation.

  8. Anon recruiting chair says:

    According to the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago (see, there are over 40,000 new Ph.D’s awarded each year in the US, including over 5000 in the humanities and upwards of 6500 in the social sciences not counting education. According to the American Association of University Presses (see, there were 11,763 books published by university presses in 2004.

    While it is certainly the case that there are intellectual trends at work in the legal academy, and that many law professors are less catholic in their intellectual tastes than might be ideal, it is surely reasonable for law school hiring committees to focus on a candidate’s likelihood of contributing to the advancement of understanding on questions of central interest to lawyers and legal practice, rather than on scholarship per se.

    Finally, the claim that high eccentricity and lack of collegiality are the marks of an “actual scholar” strikes me as quite idiosyncratic. Faced with an appointments candidate who made such a claim, I also wouldn’t know how to react.

  9. Anonymous person says:

    Recruiting chair,

    I think that Mr. Litowitz just had an axe to grind. In my experience, the loudest cry for more Ph.D.’s comes from Ph.D.’s who didn’t get the jobs they wanted. The loudest cry for more books comes from book writers who didn’t get the jobs they wanted.

    And I suspect that the loudest arguments for more non-collegial “eccentics” comes from, well, non-collegial eccentrics who didn’t get the jobs they wanted.

    (Your miles may vary.)

  10. Litowitz says:

    It’s rather thoughtless to imply that I have an axe to grind whereas all the other posters are neutral and objective. You don’t deserve that patina of disinterestedness. Your axe to grind is that you want to play a game where you pretend that you care about scholarship and ideas, when in fact the evidence is clear that pedigree trumps everything.

    Reminds of what Terry Eagleton said when someone accused him of having an ideological axe to grind. He said that ideology is like B.O., it’s always something that the other guy has, never something that the accuser has. So I have an axe to grind but you don’t. Right.

    In my experience, recruitment teams make a double gesture — they talk a big game about scholarship but when push comes to shove they don’t really favor scholarship over pedigree. It’s not true in every case, but in most.

    The majority of law professors come from merely three schools — do you really think this is a representative distribution of talented applicants? What are the odds that ‘scholars’ are limited to three or four schools? Isn’t a better explanation that recruitment teams are lazy and are using pedigree as a proxy for thinking on their own?

    I suspect that the loudest voices against PhDs come from people who lack PhDs. I suspect that the loudest self-congratulations comes from people who are, well, self-congratulatory. See, it’s an easy game to play.