Law Professor Lateraling 101 – Part 4 (The “Nothing” Interview)

interview.jpgOf course, when I call this part of the lateral process the “nothing interview,” I mean that somewhat figuratively and I am speaking from the candidate’s point of view. But really, I don’t know anyone who has been hired based solely on one of these initial interviews.

The “nothing interview” can literally mean no preliminary interview at all, as when you are invited directly back to the school for your fly-back/job talk interview. This situation is somewhat less frequent, but I have done interviews this way with at least three or four schools. And that “supremely important” interview process will be the subject of my next post.

More common is some sort of preliminary interview. This can take place in person or over the phone. I personally have not done a teleconference interview, but I know others who have, and those people are mostly universal in the discomfort they felt going through this disembodying process. There is nothing quite like having questions thrown at you by four or five people thousands of miles away and having to answer those questions without getting the sense of whether they are laughing silently at your responses or are making outrageous, googly faces to their colleagues. Appointment committee people out there, if you are listening, please do us all a favor and stop the madness. Just say: NO MORE TELECONFERENCE INTERVIEWS!

Preliminary interviews are usually held at the AALS meat market or at the school itself. Again, even though I did fill out the FAR form one year, and was invited back for interviews (I swear), I did not go as a candidate.

I did, however, interview 3 or 4 lateral candidates from the other side this year as a member of an appointments committee. I personally think law school appointment committees should separate lateral interviews and entry-level interviews at the meat market. Otherwise, it is like comparing apples and oranges. The committee should decide what it is looking for and go from there. In any event, as some of you know, there is only so much you can learn from a candidate in 20-30 minutes and if you are the candidate, you want to radiate energy, enthusiasm, and intellectual curiosity and engagement. There is some to gain and much to loose in this environment, but you want the committee members yearning to learn more about what exactly makes you tick.

One other point: some schools might invite you to a meal rather than a sit-down, in-hotel room interview as a lateral. I think these are actually better methods for gaging the personality of the candidate and whether they will fit into the law school culture, which is of course very important. But it may be harder to explain your latest theory why interdisciplinarity is ruining the academy if you have juice from your Filet running down your chin.

Finally, you may be asked to come directly to the school for a preliminary interview. Appointments committees: I think these are a waste of time. I did two of these in my second year of looking and kept thinking to myself: ” Why don’t I just stand up and give a job talk,” and then they can feed me lunch. It makes no sense to do an hour interview while sitting around a table with somewhere between 6-8 people who ask again whether I was REALLY interested in lateraling. (And although I wanted to be polite as possible, I felt like saying that I don’t usually travel close to 1000 miles to meet new people). Interestingly, from these two interviews on campus, two different things happened. One school decided not to invite me back and the other school decided to hire someone else before deciding to call me back again (I guess in retrospect I didn’t answer the genuine interest question so well). In short, it behooves the appointments committee and the candidate to get on with it and skip this nothing interview part of the process.

So, in sum, there are a lot of ways that your “nothing interview” may occur, but your job as a candidate is to come across as an enthusiastic person that the appointments committee is dying to learn more about.

BTW, before I sign off, I must say that I thought at least Moss or Slater would have commented on my bizarre use of the semi-word “entropotic” in the last post. Maybe they really are as off as I am.

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3 Responses

  1. Sounds similar to the advice I used to give my litigation clients: “You can’t win your case in a deposition, but you sure can lose it.”

  2. David Case says:

    “[J]uice from your Filet running down your chin”? Wow. I only got a bologna sandwich at my last lateral interview. I wonder if that was a bad sign?

  3. Scott Moss says:

    Paul, I just figured that your use of the word “entropotic” was a preview of Part 17 of your series on lateraling, “using big words to impress hiring committees.”