Law Teaching Interview Advice II

Last Friday, I posted the first half of my list of “dos” and “don’ts” for initial interviews and callbacks in the entry-level law teaching market. Here is the second half (the “don’ts”). Of course, the same disclaimers apply. . . .

6. Don’t Forget to Ask Good Questions. If you are given the chance to ask questions about the school with which you are interviewing and you have no questions, you have failed to heed the advice in #1 and #2 in my prior post, and your candidacy is in trouble. Let’s turn then to what types of questions you should ask. You have plenty of options, so try to craft questions that are somewhat original, appear somewhat particularized, and send the right message. For example, I suspect the most common question for hiring committees is something along these lines: “What kinds of scholarship support do you provide for new faculty members?” This was a fine question the first time it was asked, in 1983. It is not a particularly good question now, at least unless it’s packaged a bit differently or expanded. Admittedly, some variations on the same basic theme would be far worse (e.g., “How many days a week do I need to be on campus my first year?”). Still, it is not original and says nothing about you. Perhaps mix it up somewhat and add a little content: “As I mentioned earlier, my next project in area X will be an empirical study. I noticed that a number of your faculty members are doing interesting empirical work. What kinds of resources and support does your school provide for this kind of scholarship?”

7. Don’t Overlook Teaching. If you have heard that most schools/hiring committees/professors do not care about teaching, you have heard wrong. Apparent teaching ability alone is unlikely to get you the job, but an apparent inability to teach or disinterest in it may very well lose you the job. This is a competitive market; those who demonstrate excitement for teaching and teaching potential will, on balance, fare better. By the way, how you interact in your interviews and how you present your ideas and engage in give and take during your job talk will provide many clues about your potential as a teacher. But you also should be prepared to answer questions about teaching and pedagogy. For example, you may encounter a question like this: “How would you approach teaching a large first-year course such as Contracts?”

8. Don’t Forget the Law in Law and ___. If you are a Law and ___ candidate, terrific — interdisciplinary work is in demand in the legal academy, and it should be. But both in your scholarship and during the interview process, you have the burden of demonstrating how your work bears upon the law or legal inquiry, directly or indirectly. And because most of your interviewers do not share your expertise, consider carefully in advance how you are going to address this. It is true that those who are not trained in your other discipline may not understand or appreciate fully your methodologies or their limitations. But since you know your discipline and your likely audience, you can find a way to articulate these parameters while illuminating the important ways in which your work informs legal inquiry. At the same time, don’t go to the other extreme and assume your audience consists entirely of those who don’t know what a standard deviation or a quark is.

9. Don’t Be Intimidated or Arrogant. We know you are smart, probably really smart. So you need not focus on that at all. Focus instead on convincing your interviewers of your scholarly potential, your intellectual creativity and flexibility, your collegiality, your teaching ability, and your interest in joining their faculty. Try to view an initial interview or a callback as an opportunity rather than a gauntlet (and I know this is sometimes easier said than done).

10. Don’t Always Take the Advice You Are Given. Candidates sometimes get bad or conflicting advice from friends, colleagues, mentors, and the rumor mill. Determining which advice is sound and which isn’t is not always easy. I can’t help much here. The best I can offer is that, when considering the advice you receive (including mine), fall back on #1, your common sense.

Again, this list is designed simply to help you prepare and focus. I hope it has done that. I wish you the best of luck and, of course, I am interested in what others think.

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1 Response

  1. Student at a Small School says:

    There is one thing that I, as a student, would like to add. I’m not sure about other schools but my school has a session where the prospective teacher meets with students. The students then give feedback to the hiring committee. The committee puts a suprisingly large emphasis on these reports. So my advice is that, if you interview at a school that has a meet students session, don’t blow it off, it was the deciding factor for one professor who was just hired at my school.