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Meat Market Blogging

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.]

11 thoughts on “Meat Market Blogging”

  1. I’m not 100% sure I get all of tip 4- I certainly don’t see many people carrying around a portfolio at the law school. Is the idea just _not_ to look like one is “stuck in practice” but then to look as sharp as possible after that?

  2. Great post. As you said, Tip #4 is idiosyncratic, and I think it would be a mistake for folks to go out and *buy* a shoulder bag between now and the MM if they don’t have one already. The point of having a bag is to carry around the brochures that schools give you (so it isn’t quite so obvious where you’ve been) and, if you like, a binder that you’ve made with tip sheets about who you are seeing next. I took a briefcase, I doubt anyone noticed. I still take a briefcase to class. I doubt anyone notices now either.

    I agree 110% with Tip #3.

  3. Matt,
    As Dave points out, it’s useful to have something to carry papers and brochures in. My point was that whatever you use, don’t use something that signals “law firm.” But I expected different views, and Dave offers one.

  4. Great advice. Re: point number 2 – this may also be idiosyncratic, but I would put this even more strongly: if you have spent 10-15 minutes talking about pleasantries or your CV without getting to academic substance, some warning lights should be going off in your head.

    It’s certainly possible that the school is so taken by your record that they are in pure sell mode. However, if that isn’t the case, then an interview that doesn’t touch on your academic interests won’t give them an adequate basis for calling you back, even if it’s not your fault that the interview went that way.

    Sometimes, for whatever reason (e.g. interpersonal dynamics, fatigue, lack of social skills, etc.), interviewers may not get to the substantive materials that they care most about. If 10-15 minutes have passed, you should probably try to steer the conversation gently to your substantive interests. In other words, don’t be passive.

    Of course, you need to do this tactfully. Don’t charge in, ignore their questions, and start talking about your most recent paper. For the first several minutes, let the interview develop its own rhythm, etc. But after about 10 minutes or so, if your academic interests haven’t yet come up, start looking for opportunities to raise the issue. (E.g. “Actually, that touches on one of my current research interests …”). If they still show no interest, then maybe this is a pure selling interview, but at least you gave them an opportunity to engage.

  5. What are you feelings about matching your bag with your shoes? Yeesh, Madison! It’s hard to find women’s suits with pockets big enough for wallets and keys, so most women need to tote something, and a briefcase is nice and gender neutral, plus as Hoffman correctly points out, it gives you a handy place to store (and hide) the printed material you accumulate throughout the day.

  6. I’ll plead guilty to idiosyncrasy but not to sexism. Read the post again: Shoulder bags are just fine, because there are good reasons to want to lug paper around, and I’m not talking purses (which are also fine, but are often not convenient for piles of paper). The point isn’t sartorial (matching shoes? I don’t care. I also have no opinions on hair length, eyeglasses v. contacts, nail polish, earrings (for men or women), or facial hair.). The sole point was, and is, that nonverbal cues may send an “I’m one of you already” message. I wrote about this earlier. Be the ball.

  7. I think 2-B is quite important actually. Not only should you listen for cues about the school, but you should act like an active and informed buyer as well. Do not go overboard; you do not want to be perceived as overconfident. But don’t be afraid to ask questions and make comments that reflect an awareness that you are looking for a school that fits your needs and interests. I think this also sends the “I am one of you already” message as well.

  8. But isn’t a “shoulder bag” that is large enough to accomodate your CV and reprints (without squashing them), along with personal crap, and publications you are given by interviewers, pretty much a briefcase? And doesn’t a briefcase do a better job of signaling “I am one of you” to a roomful of mostly men than a purse? I’m guessing you’ve never interviewed for a job as a women, though feel free to correct me if I am mistaken on this point :>)

  9. Nice advice. Most of it’s definitely applicable to other subfields. I’d particularly stress #3 – most academic sub-fields are pretty small, so everyone knows everyone. Come off like a jerk, and word spreads pretty fast.

    On the other hand, handle things well, and you could find yourself making contacts that stay with you for years to come. I just had an interview at our recent national conference that came about because of my friendship with a faculty member that was a “competitor” several years ago when I first “came out”. We both got good jobs, and he’s now one of my closest friends.

    So it pays to be nice.

  10. Oh yeah, and have fun!

    Seriously, the whole process can be enjoyable if you have the right mindset.

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