Law Professor Lateraling 101 – Part One (Are You Experienced?)


Before I start this series of posts on the process and mechanics of law professor lateraling, let me first give a shout out to Dan, Dave, and the other girls and boys of CO for letting this Workplace Prof talk about things non-labor and employment.

So, I was thinking that I should blog on a topic that I enjoy myself the most reading about when I read various blogs and that I know something about. And although I do enjoy an occasional post about the latest academic article or trend, I always find myself intrigued by the comings and goings of law professors at the entry-level and after.

Indeed, I’m not alone in this guilty pleasure as witnessed by the vast amount of advice given to entry-level professors by law professor luminaries like Brian Leiter, Orin Kerr, Eric Goldman, and Brad Wendel. I do not attempt to duplicate that advice here, but instead want to spend some time on the less-discussed and more mysterious law professor lateral process.

And just to be clear, this post is not about why law professors are lateraling or whether the hiring of laterals is a good way for law schools to rise in the rankings (two topics which have been ably covered by other bloggers here and elsewhere), but instead is about the nitty gritty of what it takes to lateral and how the process and mechanics work. It is amazing the number of times law professors have asked me to share with them my lateraling experiences. So I offer these humble observations as someone who has been on the lateral market for the last three years and who has been turned down by numerous schools (including two after fly backs), turned down a lateral offer, and finally, accepted a lateral offer to Marquette this year. I have also served on my school’s appointments committee which hired a lateral this past year.

Each post in this series will attack a different part of the lateral process and hopefully will act as a clearinghouse for those of you who now or someday may want to know what it takes to lateral.

But first a disclaimer.

There may be as many factors beyond your control about whether you obtain a lateral job as those that are within your control. These factors include whether you are a junior or senior faculty, whether you are tenured or not, what curriculum slot the school is looking to fill, what demographic diversity you bring, the crazy politics of a place, or even just the crazy interior world of one faculty member who has made it his or her life goal to get you for reasons not apparent to anyone (including maybe even said law professor).

So with that as an aside, how do you know if you are a potential lateral material? Most seem to agree that the number one factor is how prolific of a legal writer you are (of course, this is true to a lesser extent on the entry-level market). Not surprisingly, most schools want an objective way to determine whether you will be a ongoing, contributing scholar on their faculty. Good teaching and being a good contributor on faculty committees may also help, but I do not know of anyone who got a lateral position for winning teacher of the year or for taking one for the team and chairing the Admissions Committee.

Also, it is not enough that you write a lot. A lot of people these days write a lot. There needs to be quality measured by who publishes your articles, books, and other writings, and increasingly, how many times your articles are downloaded on SSRN or featured on blogs or other on-line resources. Also, among different types of publications, treatises and casebooks are OK, but most schools want some sign that the person is an original, creative thinker whose ideas help to advance or change their discipline in significant ways.

What else besides publications? People may disagree on this one, but a national profile is normally essential. Scholars no longer achieve that profile just through law review articles, but also through blogging and networking at national conferences like AALS, SEALS, and Law & Society. The more people who know you, the more likely you will be invited to symposium and conferences where your work will be spotlighted. And, of course, the more your work is spotlighted nationally and virtually, the better chance you will make a name for yourself (though some people have achieved this notoriety in exactly the wrong way – no names please in the comments).

Finally, even at this initial point of determining whether you would be a good lateral candidate, you should consider whether you have been someone who has taken the initiative in doing projects outside of your institutional responsibilities (though for some schools it may be important if you are dedicated to institutional building, especially with newly-founded law schools). Schools will likely be interested in knowing whether you have been an officer in an organization like the ABA or AALS, have helped put together symposium or conferences in your discipline, or have written op-ed or articles in major newspapers and magazines. All these are indicia that you will bring welcome attention to your new institution and will help that new institution sell itself to the greater legal academic community.

So, that is my two cents on what it takes to be a candidate with some likelihood of actually landing a lateral spot. No one will probably ever know how many professors consider lateraling, go through the interview process, etc., but we do know that even with increasing numbers, the overall number of professor lateraling in any given year is still relatively small. Maybe 125 out of 5000 last year? So it is important to have your ducks in a row before going through this exhausting process.

Next post will be on the mechanics of how to actually put yourself out there in that hard-to-find, Cheshire-like, lateral market.

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