Law Professor Lateraling 101 – Part 3 (Contact)

phone call.jpgSo while my soon-to-be esteemed colleague, Bruce Boyden, blogs away on an important civil procedure topic, I continue my random thoughts on the lateral hiring process.

Having decided that you have what it takes, and somehow finding that elusive lateral market, you have started to receive calls, emails, letters, and even a text message or two. Thank goodness for Blackberries.

Not surprisingly, the first question one is normally asked when contacted is some version of: “Are you really genuinely interested in coming here or are you just pulling our chain?” I’m not sure if the question is completely rhetorical, but, in any event, it is important to state enthusiastically for the record that you would give your left arm and perhaps the naming of your next child to be deemed worthy of the institution calling you (just kidding, kinda of).

Some obvious points and some not so obvious points about first contact. Obvious: don’t say you might be interested depending on how other schools work out (even if this might be true) and you would be happy to consider said institution as a “safety” or “back-up” possibility.

Not so obvious: don’t act desperate.

I will repeat this crucial point in later posts in this series, but the worse thing you can do is make the inquirer believe you need to leave your institution because you did something wrong there or you are just a malcontent. The lateral process represents a pulling-and-pushing dynamic. You never want to be too far on either side – pulling away too much or pushing too hard to get in the door. So saying: “This is my dream job. I would leave my spouse for it,” even if true, is something better to keep mentally in the upstairs compartment.

One’s real or faux enthusiasm is sometimes hard to moderate, especially when most people who call you from the appointments committee will heap praise on your credentials and make it seem that you just successfully lateraled over the phone. Don’t buy into it. This is a long process and the first contact is essentially a feeling out process where the interested school wants to express the genuineness of its interest, explain to you, preliminarily, why their school rocks, and also to make sure you have basic social skills and won’t have to be stuffed in a closet once they hire you. On your side, you must act appropriately flattered by the professed interest, ask not too sensitive questions at the outset (like: so how are you going to solve that student diversity problem of yours?), and talk knowledgeably about the school without giving your hand away. In other words, basically act like a mensch.

During this first contact, some schools will ask to meet you at the AALS meat market in D.C. Some will invite you to do a phone interview or ask you to do a preliminary interview at their school, while others will cut right to the chase and ask you to do a fly-back/job-talk interview. Still others will just chat you up and may never be in touch with you again in this lifetime or send you a polite reason for why they rejected your candidacy when you inquire by email or phone on the progress of your candidacy (here’s a hint: if they don’t contact you again, it is not an oversight or mistake. Rarely does following up (too much pushing) lead to a good result). That being said, I have known some committees to wait months before getting back in touch with a candidate. In any event, if you haven’t heard anything by March or April, chances are you’re looking for nothing more than a podium-filler visitorship (which could be something you might be interested in).

In any event, the take home point for this post is to find a nice balance between pushing and pulling during this early stage of contact and for the love of everything that is sacred on this entropotic earth, DON”T ACT DESPERATE!!!!


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5 Responses

  1. Bruce Boyden says:

    I think exactly this tension is present in lateral associate hiring also — you want some plausible story about why you’re leaving that doesn’t leave the impression that you’re just not very good.

    Paul, I’m currently holed up in your hometown-to-be, riding out a massive blizzard. Welcome to Wisconsin! Bring a snowblower!

  2. Scott Moss says:

    Bruce’s comment reminds me: as a candidate, if you don’t act too fazed by a problem that arises in your interview, that’s a big plus. I apparently scored big points with Marquette in ’04 when I didn’t miss a beat upon getting doused by one of my interviewers’ umbrellas; that incident gave them the mis-impression that I have a lot of poise. And Bruce scored big at Marquette when he wasn’t fazed that we had to cancel most of his interviews — and, if I recall, fly him back for a later callback — due to a class monstrous Milwaukee blizzard.

  3. Bruce Boyden says:

    It was kind of like a snow day, which I recall fondly from high school. Granted, we had a much shorter driveway than I have now.

  4. Chris Green says:

    (Not that I know anything about lateraling (though I do know Paul and Bruce) but I wanted to make a couple of jokes. And yes, Paul, I know I already told you the first one, but I think I can make it work here.)

    One reason not to seem too desperate to lateral might be called the Stanford-Cal worry: if you’ve lateraled once, you might be likely to lateral again. Or you might call it the Nicole-Kidman-Anne-Boleyn worry: if he left someone else to be with you, he might leave you too.

  5. Joseph Slater says:


    If you ever want to move again, I would be happy to “accidentally” dump water on you in front of anyone whom you want to impress with your vaunted poise.