Law Professor Lateraling 101: Part 5 (The “Everything” Interview)

conf.jpgAs I have said to others, the “everything” interview is the flyback/job talk interview where you not only need to show up at the school of your dreams and behave reasonably well, but you have to stick the landing.

And by sticking the landing, I primarily mean giving a gang-busters job talk. Yes, you will go on a whirlwind adventure at the lateral school for 24 hours, where you will gorge yourself on food (wow, poor David Case, I thought we treated him well – doesn’t everyone get catfish and BBQ?), speak to everyone including the custodial staff and a few visitors to the law school who are just walking through, and stay at the swankiest hotel that school has to offer.

All fine and good (though not for the waist-line), but really here’s what the food, office interviews, and everything else boils down to: just be a normal, everyday person. Now, I realize this will be hard for some of you (and shoot, who am I kidding, me), but try not to eat with your hands (or off of someone else’s plate (my problem), keep yourself from blurting out your professed love for Barry Manilow or Gary Glitter (I believe he is currently rotting in a Thai jail on child molestation charges), and don’t start laughing maniacally when what the other person just said wasn’t even funny. Just chill.

But do put all of your effort into the job talk that you will give normally during lunch time in front of a good segment of the faculty. Here are some tips.


First, don’t eat before your job talk. Have someone put some food aside for you for afterwards. It is no fun trying to hide the stomach cramps that are making you squirm in pain during your speech and having to run for the pot mid-way through (not that this has ever happened to me).

Second, not everyone will be riveted to your speech. I have given about six lateral job talks and I have witnessed: someone reading a newspaper and book during my speech, looking over their email on their blackberries, talking in a rather loud voice to their friend about something about fishing, and even falling asleep (needless to say, I didn’t get that job). Try not to be unnerved by this. In one of my speeches, I couldn’t quiet the inner voice that was telling the senior female faculty member in the back corner of the room to “Put down the damn newspaper and listen!” I never got back on track.

As far as the presentation itself, you should try to give a piece that shows how you have advanced scholarship in your area of the law and that you are a creative and original scholar. Most schools want about a 20-25 minutes speech, followed by some equal time for questions and answers. Do not put the faculty to sleep by giving an hour snoozer. You don’t want to finish your speech and have the faculty run out to get to class or just to get out. Realize also that many schools will videotape your presentation for missing colleagues. I don’t know how you all feel about it, but the word for me is “unnerving.”

But schools do differ here in what they want. As far as my specific experiences, one school I went to made it like an appellate argument (with aggressive judges on the bench). They basically wanted to see if I could survive an antagonistic faculty I guess. I spoke for about two minutes before being interrupted and attacked over what was not the main point of my paper. That dialogue ended up taking a substantial part of my time and I never got back on track. Of course, I didn’t get an offer there either (which I figured out when my meeting with the Dean after the speech lasted for about five minutes). What I would say to the appointments people out there is that your candidate will appreciate it if you allow them to get through most of their talk, and then let the faculty have at them. One school in particular did a wonderful job of asking for questions to be held and then wrote down a list of people who wanted to blow me out of the water in an orderly, polite manner. I didn’t get the offer there either.

But to stick the landing, I think it is important that you speak without notes in a conversational tone if at all possible. No shocker here but faculty are not impressed with people who read from their papers like they’re reading a book or look live their davining (praying for the uninitiated) because their head is going up and down so frequently. Similarly, in answering questions, no matter the tone of your inquisitor (I mean questioner), keep it on an even keel. No one appreciates combative, defensive answers or a patronizing look that screams, “Gosh, that was a moronic question.” Of course, it is also good that you don’t break down and cry when you are asked a question you have no earthly idea about and which you realize quite late to the game that you should have probably included in your paper.

Here’s another hint I learned from one of the better people I had the privilege to listen to: No matter how asinine or mean-spirited you believe a question is, you should begin your answer with: “That’s a great question, Orin . . . .” (I swear I just picked the first name that popped into my head).

In any event, when you are done with the job talk, take a deep breath, and hopefully close the deal. On the other hand, I have given such stinkers that one appointments committee head took me to the school cafeteria and just slowly and sadly shook her head back and forth.

I didn’t get that job either.

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1 Response

  1. aspiringprof says:

    brilliant post!! and very, very funny!