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The Meat Market

Brian Leiter (Texas) and Gordon Smith (Wisconsin) have recent posts for law teaching candidates on what to expect at the upcoming “meat market” of screening interviews in Washington, DC.

I’m happy to add my two cents to this cottage industry, though for completeness I should note that Eric Goldman (Marquette) has a good page of information and links, Michael Froomkin (Miami) hosts a graying but still useful email thread, and Brad Wendel (Cornell) has an insightful FAQ.

Most of this material is extremely useful, but most of it focuses only on the mechanics of the process: What looks best on the resume; how to handle the interview and the call-back; what can you do to enhance your prospects.

My own advice is at a more abstract level. It’s a cousin of Brad Wendel’s “do you think about legal theory in the shower?” self-test for determining whether you have the fortitude to run this gauntlet to a successful conclusion. I christen my advice the Chevy Chase Theory of Getting a Job in Law Teaching:

Be the ball.

Meaning: to get a job as a law professor, in a sense you already have to be a law professor. You have to think like an academic thinks (theorize in the shower!), act like an academic acts (go to conferences and publish papers), talk like an academic talks (know your way around some interdisiplinary jargon, and learn the generic lingo of faculty politics), know who an academic knows (network your way to acquaintances with other academics in your field). Many of us get calls during the recruiting season from friends on appointments committees, seeking inside tips on the “hot” entry level candidates in this pool of 700+ resumes. You want to be the person who comes to mind right away — so that when someone asks me, “Who should we be talking to this year in IP?,” I say, “XYZ is a can’t miss-candidate,” because I’ve talked to XYZ at conferences, heard XYZ present, and read XYZ’s stuff. When XYZ shows up at the meat market and goes to call-backs, XYZ isn’t bouncing with excitement because she’s just happy to be there. Mentally, XYZ is confident — not arrogant — because XYZ thinks of herself as a junior colleague.

If you’re practicing full-time, it is almost impossible to pull this off. That LL.M. program, that Fellowship gig, that clerkship after a few years of practice, a visiting-without-a-home appointment? These are possibly helpful, possibly not, in terms of resume value, getting time to publish, and building an academic skill set. Different schools and different appointments committees will have their own views. But they are most definitely helpful in allowing you to internalize some of the norms of the academic community.

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