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Kerr on Law Faculty Appointments

Orin Kerr is at Prawfsblawg this week blogging about law faculty appointments. Faculty wannabes seeking wisdom would do well to surf over to Professor Brad Wendel’s page of advice and links, which I’ve linked to myself.

Right now, the Comments to Orin’s posts are particularly interesting. Like Orin, I’m on our appointments committee this year. Thoughts in anticipation of the process:

1. There is no magic formula for getting a faculty appointment — no perfect pre-academic job(s), no “right” number of previously-published articles, no “optimal” amount of geographic flexibility. There are some excellent candidates with no practice experience and many excellent candidates with no law firm practice experience. Since I practiced law-firm-law for close to ten years, I can confirm that it’s possible to find even a few good candidates with a *lot* of practice experience. Rule of thumb: the longer you’ve practiced law, the harder you’ll have to work via publication and references to convince appointments committees that your intellect hasn’t turned to mush.

2. Many — perhaps most? — candidates for faculty appointments will go through the market more than once. My view is that if you feel that you’re ready to make the jump, go for it. The worst that can happen is that the market sits up and — yawns. If you get an offer you don’t like, don’t take it; the odds are that if you’ve done well enough to get this offer, then you’re likely to get an offer that’s at least as good, and perhaps better, next year. If you’re really serious about law teaching as a career, you’ll go back again in a year.

The AALS FAR form doesn’t ask you if you’ve done this before. Most of the membership of most appointments committees turns over from year to year, so you’re likely to be a new candidate to most schools. If you don’t get an offer you like right away, repeat play can help the candidate in a couple of ways. FWIW, my experience was that I was a stronger candidate after going through the process more than once. Stronger references, better publication record, clearer sense of what “being” an academic lawyer involves and how to present myself as one. As a faculty member, I’ve seen people in my field (IP) come through the market in past years and not get jobs, even though they’re talented people. If they stick around academia, I’ll keep track of them, and if they go back on the market, I’ll try to spread the word that they deserve another look.

3. Make the most of the limited space on the AALS FAR form. List academic references, not practitioners. List academic publications, not bar journal articles. Don’t include cute or flaky comments; this is the place to show off your academic credentials, not what you think is your sparkling personality. In your list of courses you’re willing to teach, don’t be so broad that you sound desperate; don’t be so narrow that you exclude yourself from all but a tiny handful of schools; don’t list a specialized seminar as your first choice; include at least one first-year course, preferably *not* Constitutional Law, unless that’s your core competence. Everybody wants to teach Constitutional Law, including a lot of my colleagues. I want to talk to the person who’s willing to get excited about teaching Torts, or Civil Procedure. Your group of “first choice” courses either should have some coherence to it or should be backed up by your record, and preferably both: Criminal Law and Professional Responsibility is coherent; Criminal Law and Commercial Paper sounds strange (at least to me), but maybe your background backs it up.

4. A note on my field: Lots of schools are still looking to hire IP and cyberspace law faculty (many schools hired their first full-time IP person during that last 10 years; now we’re seeing a wave of second full-time IP hires). If that’s your thing, combine it in a teaching package with something that’s not quite so sexy or potentially off-putting to more traditionally-minded faculty. Commercial law. Criminal law. Securities regulation. Corporate law.