Law Professor Lateraling 101: Part 2 (Where Does One Find the Lateral Market Exactly?)

stock exchange.jpgOk, so yesterday I introduced this law professor lateraling series and started with some thoughts about what it might take to make you lateral material. I might have added BTW that there is much disagreement over whether it is better to go on the lateral market pre-tenure or post-tenure. I think post-tenure for reasons I’ll explain when I get to the offer phase of this series.

The next issue to consider is: where in the heck does one find this mythical lateral market? Especially during my first year on the lateral market, I received conflicting advice about how one puts oneself “out there” to be considered. Should you send letters to school appointment committees you wish to target? Should you fill out a FAR form and relive glorious meat market days? Or should simply wait to be called by those who are interested in having you come to their schools?

Unfortunately, there is no right answer on this one both because lateral candidates have succeeded in following all of the above methods and because there is no obvious meat market the way entry-levels have the AALS meat market.

So here’s my best advice.

Step one: get to know the people you need to know in your field and in other forums in which you participate. I know that is oblique, but really what you should do is find out who are the movers and shakers in your field and overall and get to know them and have them get to know you. Why? Because when hiring committees start lateral searches, they not only canvass people on their committee about prospects, but also reach out and call those whose opinion is most respected on these matters. When that call is made to Madame Mover and Shaker in your field or to Monsieur Big Wig Blogger and they are asked who is good and upcoming in their field or in general, you want your name to be one of three or five names on their lips. And preferably the first one they mention with some enthusiasm and knowledge.

Unfortunately, it is hard today to get people to recognize junior scholars merely by publications alone. Again, it is important to self-promote (hopefully in a tasteful way) by blogging or guest-blogging, asking scholars in your field to give comments on your articles (don’t be shy, only one person has ever told me no), and by attending and speaking at conferences and symposia with adequate time to get to know your elders. Nothing like a one-on-one lunch with someone whose writings you used to admire in law school. This is especially important for those of you who wish to lateral from lower ranked schools. No offense against Mississippi, but sometimes you need to shout to let people know that you exist outside of Dixie. My blogging at Workplace Prof Blog was key, but also was my friendship with fellow bloggers here and at other blogs like Volokh Conspiracy, PrawfsBlawg (where I guest blogged in August 2006), Feminist Law Professors, Leiter’s Law School Reports, Conglomerate, Legal Theory Blog, and TaxProf (home of the Blog Emperor).

Having said that getting known is really the most important way to get on the lateral market and so people will contact you instead of vice versa, there are other ways that junior professors have found their way to the Promise Land.

I know of a number of professors who have filled out the FAR form and gone back to the meat market. Of course, the downside of this is for those of you who do not want their home schools to know that they are looking (and, of course, the lack of comments to my last post by people tends to suggest that a lot of people care about this). In my second year of looking to lateral, I had a good reason to be looking as there was a sickness in the family and we wanted to move for geographical reasons. As a result, I told my Dean and Associate Dean that I was looking and they were extremely supportive. Interestingly, although I received about 5 or 6 meat market interviews, I did not go to the meat market that year. Instead, I visited some of those schools in person and declined interviews that were not good geographical fits. As it turned out, I did receive a lateral offer in my second year of looking, but not through the meat market, but because of being known to a big name in my field and because I reached out to friends in the blogosphere on that faculty.

On the other hand, the person we hired this year at Mississippi while I was on the appointments committee was a lateral who we knew of both inside and outside of the FAR process. We actually reviewed her FAR Form and did an initial interview in Washington. I know another person who used the FAR process to move from a Fourth Tier school to a First Tier school this year. All this seems to suggest that as long as you do not have concerns about people knowing your looking, you might as well go forward with all the approaches: get known, file a FAR, and target letters/emails to appointment committees. Although I think letters are by far the least effective method (no one wants to be added to a long stack of paper), you just never know.

And that, my friends, sums up the lateral market in general: you just never know – sometimes you try to put yourself “out there” without actually being “out there,” and other times you do nothing proactive and are “out there” anyway.

Go figure.

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6 Responses

  1. j says:

    Great series!! Thanks for the info!

  2. Chad Oldfather says:

    Some advice I’d add from my days as an aspiring lateral, which has been reinforced by my view of the appointments process from the other side: if there are certain schools you’re really interested in, don’t assume that your unsuccessful application in Year X means that you won’t be successful in Year X+1 or X+2. Curricular needs change, the composition of hiring committees change, and all sorts of small things can break differently from one year to the next that can lead to a situation where a candidate who got virtually no attention the first time through can get an offer in a subsequent year.

    Happily that approach worked for me, though I also went the reliving-the-meat-market approach. I can’t say that was fun, but I certainly had a better sense of how to present myself as a candidate after I’d been in the business for a couple years.

  3. Aspiring Prof says:

    “Again, it is important to self-promote (hopefully in a tasteful way) by blogging or guest-blogging, asking scholars in your field to give comments on your articles (don’t be shy, only one person has ever told me no), and by attending and speaking at conferences and symposia with adequate time to get to know your elders.”

    Related to asking scholars to give comments on your articles, I am curious about inquiring with professors about co-authoring an academic paper. I have an excellent idea for a breakthrough-type article relating to a topic that is admittedly outside of my realm of expertise. Additionally, I am constrained by already working on a couple of other articles this semester. If I want to get this potential article out in time, I know that I would need to solicit a co-author. Does anyone have any experience in soliciting co-authors whom you do not already know? Any advise on how to do so?


    Aspiring Prof

  4. Joan Shaughnessy says:

    From the appointments committee side of the table, this post rings true. So does Professor Oldfather’s comment about YR+1, YR+2. I would add that academic contacts outside your field (friends, former professors, fellow former clerks or law firm associates) can also be helpful if they know you are looking to move. We generate names in all kinds of ways, and it is helpful to us to know that a potential candidate has a genuine interest in moving.

  5. Orin Kerr says:

    Pretty good advice, Paul. Here are a few thoughts.

    First, having been in charge of lateral hiring at one school for one year (2 years ago, at GW), I tend to think that the biggest difficulty is informational: It’s really hard for appointments committees to know who is good and who is available. If the Dean tells me that we need a lateral in (say) Space Law, and I’m put in charge of finding the country’s best Space Law Scholar that will come to my school, the chances are that I don’t know anything about Space law, who is in it, or who would be interested in coming to my school to teach it. It’s a serious problem.

    In that environment, relying on the recommendations of bigwigs (themselves usually at top schools) is an easy shortcut to identify talent. This approach has a major downside, though: bigwigs often recommend their friends, former students, or those who genuflect in their general direction rather than the people that are really the best out there. But in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King, so it’s natural for committees to at least seriously consider people who recognized bigwigs say are great.

    In terms of letting committees know of lateral interest, I think casual conversations at conferences are the best way. Get a bunch of law profs in a room over some beers after a long day of panels, and the lateral market is going to come up. And the potential hire-ors are just as interested in finding out who is available as potential hire-ees: If I’m at a conference and I’m having lunch with a junior person who is writing good stuff and who i think is underplaced, I may simply ask them if they’re interested in moving at some point. I may not know of an opening right then, but I occasionally get inquiries (either from my own school or from other schools) asking who is good and available; if a candidate is open to moving, I’ll file that in the back of my head for the next time I get a call.

    Finally, I want to emphasize something Paul says: don’t hesitate to send drafts to big wigs in your field asking for comments (if they happen to have time, obviously — some do, some don’t). While I can’t say I’m a big wig, I know that from my medium-wig perspective I always appreciate receiving drafts in my area. It’s flattering to be asked. And I’m going to be interested in these papers and will be reading them anyway; commenting on the draft is a fun opportunity to engage with it when it’s still being shaped rather than when it comes out. And if the draft is good, I’ll certainly come to think more highly of the author.

  6. Orin Kerr says:

    Oh, and for Aspiring Prof —

    There’s no harm in just asking someone if they want to be a co-author. On the other hand, the trick is finding someone who will do the work you want them to do; it sounds like you have an idea that you want them to develop outside your area, and it may just be difficult to find someone who wants to do that. I suppose it depends in part on whether your idea is really “an excellent idea for a breakthrough-type article,” or is not quite as significant as you think. But I think there’s no harm in asking.