Over at Prawfsblawg, Dave Hoffman and various commenters offer some last-minute Q&A to candidates travelling to next weekend’s AALS hiring conference. Group that with a couple of recent posts at Conglomerate — Gordon Smith on what makes a law school’s reputation (publish, publish, publish!) and Christine Hurt on what to look for in a law school’s interviewing style (chit chat about teaching, or questions about scholarship?), and candidates can learn something about how to prepare for interviews:
Tip #1 — Be prepared for the interview team that barely lets you say “hello” before it asks you about some detail of your published work, and then cross-examines you for 25 minutes. Or, if you have no published work, that team may cross-examine you about some current law or policy issue. Depending on your field, be sure to glance at the New York Times or Wall Street Journal before going to your first interview of the day. These “hot seat” schools may ask you about well-publicized legal developments that hit the papers only the day before.
Tip #1-A — Be familiar with the scholarship of faculty members of the interviewing school who write in your field, especially if those faculty members are on the interview team. Know what buttons you’re pushing when you make certain arguments, because you may get push-back from the author of the responsive argument, who is sitting in the room with you.
Tip #1-B — Be familiar with the work of the leading scholars in the field generally. That includes both current scholars and the brightest lights of the past.
Tip #1-C — Do not get defensive if someone attacks your work or your ideas. Engage! These interviews are often tests of your ability to have a charged but thoughtful scholarly dialogue, not tests of who is right and who is wrong.
Tip #1-D — Anticipate the inevitable academic’s question: “So, what are you working on now?,” and know that it refers not only to the draft that you mentioned on your CV, but also to the piece that comes next, and why.
Tip #2 — Be prepared for the interview team that spends 15 minutes asking questions about your CV (why are you leaving practice? etc. etc.) before getting to a topic that relates to law teaching — and then asks you to describe your four course wish-list, what you learned about teaching when you visited or had a writing position at XYZ law school, and whether you have any questions about their school.
Tip #2-A — The softball interview can be deceptive. Social fit matters to a lot of law faculties just like it matters to law firms. Stay on your toes, and don’t undersell your scholarly interests even if you’re not asked about them directly.
Tip #2-B — Law schools are there to sell, as well as to buy. Especially in the softball interviews, listen for cues to the real intellectual and cultural life of the institution.
Tip #3 — Despite the fact that this is a ruthlessly competitive environment, be courteous to absolutely everyone you meet. In the best of all worlds, you will get the law faculty appointment of your dreams, and you can put the meat market unpleasantness safely behind you. Still, your scholarly reputation across the profession will begin at the Marriott Wardman. You will encounter many of your interviewers and many of your fellow candidates in the future, as colleagues at other law schools. Give each of them every reason to respect you when they see you or hear about you again.
Tip # 4 —
Don’t bring a briefcase to the interview, and don’t bring a bookbag or messenger bag, either. Nice-looking shoulder bags — fine. Portfolio (with copy of cv and recent publication or draft) — great. This is probably my most idiosyncratic observation, so I expect disagreement on this point. To me, a briefcase says: the candidate is still mentally in the law firm. I don’t know many law faculty who carry books and papers around in briefcases. I know a few, but not many among the junior ranks. I’m looking for candidates that have their heads at least partly in academia, even if their bodies are still in practice. Nonverbal cues matter, and to me, and even if it sounds or seems arbitrary, this is one of them. [Long after this was first posted (this edit is dated July 2019), I am getting around to deleting this “tip,” per the better view expressed in the comments below. Just in case anyone is still reading this.]