An Under-Theorized Component of Law School Hiring

It’s great to be back at Concurring Opinions, especially as a permanent contributor.

As several recent posts have already noted, the faculty hiring process is underway. My first reminder was last week, when I walked past a conference room and saw the Appointments Committee studying sheets from the FAR. Concurring Opinions has always been a great resource for job-seekers; you can find some of our advice here.

But back to the Appointments Committee. They are going to be busy in the upcoming weeks and some of that busyness will occur at the expense of other projects that are related to scholarship, teaching, or both. But most appointments committees don’t talk much about administrative work, and neither will the candidates they interview. This is true despite the lengthy list of potential administrative tasks: serving on the admissions or library or [you fill in the blank] committee, advising a law journal or the Woman’s Law Forum, directing a speciality institute, pitching in when a skills program needs an enhanced faculty presence, supervising externships, stepping up when an Associate Dean’s office is suddenly vacant. And so on. And so forth. And on. And on. Etc.

I want to make clear before the jump that I am NOT suggesting that talking about administrative work is a means of getting an offer. For that, follow the advice in the link above: appear to be an insightful and thoughtful person who will write and teach well. But you should nonetheless give some thought to administrative tasks, both to figure out where you would prefer to work and what you might want to do after you start there.

First of all, despite my tone, not all administrative work is unpleasant. “Institution building” is another phrase to describe administrative responsibilities. At least early in our careers, most of us ride on our institution’s coattails. Later in our careers, many of us care a lot about the fate of the institution we’ve called home. Moreover, some administrative work might be particularly geared to your strengths or likely to produce results you find rewarding. Some individuals who start out as professors like administrative work so much that they become deans.

In the short-term, however, the most defining characteristic of administrative work is that it needs to get done, whether faculty like it or not. So it pays to figure out how willing you are to take on administrative tasks and how much a particular institution is likely to expect. My impression is that all institutions expect faculty to assume some administrative tasks (with quite a lot of variation on how much) and that an institution’s rank is not necessarily indicative of its administrative expectations.

It is difficult to measure institutional expectations prior to receiving an offer. The last thing you want is to come across as someone who is unwilling to do administrative work; at some places, that will count as a significant black mark against you. During the interview process, probably the most you can do (if truthful) is to send signals that you are willing to pitch in. But if you reach the stage where you are trying to decide between offers, start asking questions that are more telling than simply, “On how many committees will I serve?”

Identify a few people on the faculty who have impressed you and whose careers you might want to emulate. Ask them how much administrative work they do in a typical year, what the work consists of, and whether they have had years where they had significantly more administrative work than usual. Ask how administrative assignments differ before and after tenure. Ask whether administrative assignments tend to be lighter in the year immediately before the tenure application. Compare the total number of faculty committees at each institution you are considering; larger numbers may suggest more administrative work.

Once you have a handle on how much administrative work you will be expected to do, think hard about what kind you are most likely to enjoy and then communicate your preferences to the individual in charge of arranging your first year. Do you want responsibilities that increase the amount of interaction you have with students or prospective students? With alums? With the practicing bar? Does your law school have a program that connects with one of your scholarly interests? Remember that at many institutions, faculty divide themselves between scholarship, teaching, and administrative service. Prepare accordingly.

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3 Responses

  1. spelling guru says:

    “busyness” – might want to correct

  2. Curmudgeon says:

    great post. and one other thing: remember that the reward for doing administrative work well is getting assigned more administrative work.

  3. Sarah Waldeck says:

    Thanks, but I did intend to type “busyness.” And I was invoking its primary definition (“the quality or condition of being busy”), not its secondary definition (“lively but meaningless activity”)!