If At First You Don’t Succeed

First of all, let me thank Dan and the rest of the Co-Op gang for inviting me to participate in this terrific blog.

So, it seems that hiring season is coming to a close. Larry Solum is tracking entry-level successes here and Dan Filler has the scoop on laterals here.

But for all those happy folks out there, there are plenty of candidates who did not get jobs. And the question for them is whether they should “try, try again.”

My thoughts on “if” and “how” below the fold:


The short answer is a qualified “yes.” Let me say this — many, many, many talented law profs did not get a job the first time they went on the market. So, just because you didn’t get a job, doesn’t mean you won’t get a job.

The reason why the answer is a “qualified” yes, is because you must first diagnose why you didn’t get a job. As a frequent attendee of the FRC on the hiring side, let me offer a few thoughts:

First of all, you need to recognize that some people are the “full package.” While there have been gripes on the internet re: whether journal placement matters, the bottom line is you can’t get caught in those minor details. Some folks have it all — top law school, on journal, with great grades, with 2-3 well placed articles, with a fancy clerkship, with great job experience, and terrific references. Now, even these people, who look so good on paper that they tend to make apptmts committee members wonder whether they’d get a job in today’s market, will fail to get jobs IF (1) they don’t exhibit intellectual playfulness, (2) they can’t communicate their ideas clearly, and (3) they don’t have some overall vision about their research (not a detailed agenda, just a direction…)

Now, if you didn’t get a job, you need to figure out what you are lacking and whether you can compensate for it.

If you don’t have two or three articles already written then stop reading this and get writing. Otherwise, ask yourself these questions:

1) Did I make stupid mistakes with my FAR form? That is, did I offend people by excluding areas of the US in a pejorative way? Did I put anything other than additional references or addl publications in the comments section? (Under no conditions should you be making comments in the comments section.) Did I pick boutique courses and refuse to list even one bread and butter course? Does my package cohere in a way that someone would understand who I am as a scholar by the kinds of subjects I am willing to teach?

2) Do I have good references? Law profs want to see other law profs (and an occasional very distinguished judge) listed as your references. At least two of your references should be law professors. And the profs you pick will reflect on who you are.

3) Do I have job experience that ties to my research? Some very top schools will take a peek at top grads from law schools when they are fresh out of law school or a clerkship — these schools are looking to see if you are a rising star. But if you aren’t one of the handful of folks that meets that requirement, then you need to show the rest of the law faculties that you actually know something about the practice of law. Some work experience is a good thing.

4) Did I get lots of initial interviews, but few or no callbacks? Then your problem is in your interviewing. Talk to your law school about arranging for mock interviews (and a mock job talk) and have folks give you feedback. Of course, even an interview that goes well may not result in a callback simply because the school has a number of priorities it is trying to balance or because in your field, frankly, there was just someone better than you are. BUT if you are getting lots of initial interviews and no callbacks, you’ve got an interviewing problem.

But to be brutally honest, I would give up if:

-You graduated from a third or fourth tier school AND you were not in the tip top of your class AND you haven’t written a meaningful law review article. This may seem like a no-brainer to some folks, but I can’t believe the number of candidates without any distinguishing features who feel compelled to throw their hats in the ring. Please, please, please stop killing trees.

You may also like...

3 Responses

  1. Jason says:

    Being realistic in your “brutally honest” paragraph, shouldn’t your ANDs all be ORs?

  2. Michael D. Cicchini says:

    This is refreshingly honest, and accurate. I graduated first in my class, subsequently published three times in good journals (e.g., Seton Hall L. Rev.), and have an outstanding trial record as a practitioner. Despite this, I was unable to land a single interview in the so called “meat market” process.

    The problem is that while academics are very open to diversity when it comes to gender, race, etc. – as they should be – they’re very narrow minded when it comes to diversity of backgrounds and experiences. If a candidate differs in any way from the mold they’re comfortable with, e.g., didn’t go to a top school, OR didn’t do a clerkship, OR has “too much” work experience, etc., the candidate is out of luck.

    Professor Ferzan and Jason are right: you need to know when to abandon the search and move on to something else. If you don’t fall into the exact mold that search committess are looking for, your chances for interviews will be few.

  3. David W. Case says:

    Graduates of mid-tier law schools may have to be extremely creative in positioning themselves to have the best chance of success in such an extremely competitive job market. I wrote an essay from that perspective about my experiences with the teaching market (which included 3 trips to the FRC on the candidate side) that some may find useful — “The Pedagogical Don Quixote De La Mississippi” — which can be found at 33 U. Memphis L. Rev. 529 (2003).