The Mechanics of the Academic Job Market in Law

Read the earlier sections of this article:

I. Paths to Law Teaching
II. Chicago Alumni in Academia

III. The Mechanics of the Academic Job Market in Law

Most jobs teaching in law schools are secured through participation in the Association of American Law Schools annual hiring conference and directories. By early August (at the latest) of the year you plan to be on the market, you should register through the AALS ( in the Faculty Registry:  make sure you meet the deadline to be part of the “first batch” of resumes that the AALS sends out to member schools in August. The one-page "resumé"--yes, it is only one page--is now filled out on line, and then made available to all member law schools. (You can upload a longer CV as well [see Appendix B for a model], but the one-page form is what schools first see.) Law school hiring committees look through these resumes, identifying candidates they want to interview at the hiring convention held in mid-to-late October (sometimes early November) each year. If a school wants to interview you for a possible teaching position, you will hear from them some time between late August and a week or so before the hiring convention.  Interviews at the convention are conducted in hotel rooms retained by the interviewing school, and last about 30 minutes typically, though some schools interview for an hour. I'll have more to say about interviews below.
A few words on the one-page resumés you will be asked to fill out. Remember that the goal on this one page is to make yourself as attractive as possible as a potential law teacher. That means:  don't list any (or many) geographic restrictions on where you would be willing to teach; provide a generous (but realistic) list of subjects you would be willing to teach; be sure to list any legitimate publications you have to your credit, including student notes. (Some people list works "in progress" under publications:  if that is all you have, it is advisable to list at least that.) Where the sheet asks for "references,” you should list, ideally, three reputable legal academics. (Of course, you must check in advance with any reference to see that he or she is willing to serve; it will be a disaster to list someone who, in fact, is not keen on recommending you.) If you do not have three law professors as references, you can list a scholar in another discipline or a judge for whom you clerked. But, presumptively, hiring schools will contact judges for whom you clerked, so listing them as references does not add new information. If you have more than three legal academics to list as references, you can add others in the “Comments” section:  e.g., “Other references available upon request” or “Other references include Professor John Smith, Cardozo Law School and Professor Rebecca White, University of Florida.”

In addition to other references, the "Comments" section might also be used to list other publications, a serious work in progress (i.e., a work you could provide to hiring schools), or other relevant professional accomplishments/awards that did not fit elsewhere. Do not use the comments section to offer your own evaluation of yourself:  no one cares. I've seen too many otherwise good one-page resumes undermined by "Comments" like:  "I believe that my varied experience and educational background will make me a successful law teacher." You don't list yourself as a reference; don't write a reference for yourself. It looks silly.
At the law-school hiring convention, try to attend the session (usually scheduled at the beginning of the conference) on interviewing:  it may have useful advice. The typical interview proceeds as follows:  (1)  a couple of minutes of chit-chat when you enter (e.g. "Did you have Douglas Baird?" "So, how was it working for Cravath in New York?"); (2) a question either about (a) something you have written (e.g., a student note, your published article) or (b) a more open-ended question about your scholarly interests, plans, or research; depending on how effectively you respond, the ensuing discussion can last for the next 10-15 minutes; (3) perhaps some questions about what you would like to teach/what you are able to teach; and (4) "Do you have any questions for us”  Some good questions to ask are:  Is there a writing requirement for students at your school? Are there opportunities for faculty to work with students on independent studies? What sort of research support is available to faculty? Is there summer research support? Are there summer teaching opportunities? How often do you have colloquia with faculty from other schools? What are your school's goals over the next five years? What is the length of the tenure-track, and what are the expectations?
For the better schools, question (2) is the make-or-break moment in the interview. If you can talk intelligently and clearly for 10-15 minutes about a research project or a scholarly interest, you will quickly become a standout candidate. (Usually, candidates present an outline or "precis" of a project or thesis that they plan to develop in a job talk, if they are invited back to the school for further interviews. Be prepared to defend your "precis" in some depth.) It used to be that far too many job candidates arrive at interviews having never thought seriously about scholarly issues related to law, and thus were completely unable to speak about any when asked; this is now less common, making it all the more important that you be ready to talk intelligently and analytically about a research project. This is your moment to shine:  you show the interviewers that you're serious about scholarship and a scholarly career (that you're not just tired of long hours at your law firm, and that you're not just looking for a "cushy" academic post to retire into); you impress them with your clarity of thought and expression; you demonstrate your potential as a teacher by your effective communication of ideas and arguments. Ideally, you should rehearse this part of your job interview with faculty advisors prior to the hiring convention (though don't over-rehearse, or you're likely to sound wooden).

After the convention, you will (hopefully) start to hear from schools that want to invite you back to campus for further interviews. You will start to hear from schools as early as the week after the convention, and as late as January--though by then it gets less likely that you are still under consideration at schools you’ve not heard from. The "fly-backs" are usually scheduled between December and March. A standard part of every "fly-back" is a 20-30 minute presentation to the faculty, followed by questions for another 20-30 minutes. The rest of the time is generally spent in office interviews with faculty, administrators, and sometimes students. We should discuss this on an individual basis when the time comes.
A few miscellaneous final points about what to expect.

First:  If you have a half-dozen scheduled interviews going into the hiring convention, you are in good shape. The economic crisis has put severe pressure on the academic job market, so competition is especially fierce right now. Be prepared for disappointment. When you get calls requesting interviews, do the following:  (1) express your delight and pleasure; (2) ask how long the interview will be; (3) ask if they know what faculty members will be at the interview; (4) ask that they send you information about the school (which they will probably do anyway); and (5) schedule the interviews strategically--e.g., perhaps put a school you're perhaps less interested in very early on, so that you'll get practice interviewing; try to schedule the schools you're most interested in either in the early mornings or right after lunch, when interviewers are typically freshest.
Second:  Starting salaries at law schools typically range anywhere from $80,000 to $150,000 depending on the caliber of the school and the location. (Schools in the New York City area tend to pay the highest salaries, unsurprisingly.) Many law schools also offer summer research grants on top of the base salary:  these can range anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000, depending on the school and its salary structure. Most law schools also offer financial support for research, including student research assistants ($1,500-5,000 is the typical range) and discretionary funds for travel to conferences, purchase of books, and the like ($1,000-3,000 is again the range). Some schools commit these monies up front in specific dollar terms; some schools leave it discretionary but assure you that it is available for productive people who need it. Some discretionary schemes are quite reliable; however, you might ask faculty at the school how it works in practice.
Third:  Some schools will phone your references prior to interviewing you at the hiring convention; others will phone them after the hiring convention if they're now interested in you. Note, however, that your references typically won't have to write formal letters of recommendation for you until fairly late in the process (e.g., January or February), when a school is thinking of possibly making you an offer, and needs to put together a file on you for its central administration. (Sometimes, though, having an unsolicited letter sent to a school can move your candidacy forward. This is a strategic matter, that you should discuss with the potential reference.)
Fourth:  It is appropriate and common for job candidates to write directly to the hiring chairs at schools in their area or that they are especially interested in. Those letters should be sent by late August. If you are in Houston, and would like to stay there, you might call up the University of Houston Law Center, find out who their hiring chair is, and write that person a letter: "Dear Professor Smith:  I am a 2002 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, where I was Articles Editor of the Law Review, and am now practicing with Vinson & Elkins. I am planning on entering law teaching, and am especially interested in teaching at Houston. I enclose a current resume for your consideration." You might go on to mention some of your teaching and research interests, some of your strengths or distinctions, and perhaps some references. Such letters don't often yield results, but sometimes they do:  e.g., Houston may invite you in right away for "lunch" with the hiring committee. It can't hurt for schools in your area to know you're available locally.
Fifth:  There are other resources available to job candidates that you should know about. Each year, the AALS, in conjunction with West & Foundation, publishes a "Directory of Law Teachers." You can use that to find out something about the background of faculty who may be interviewing you from various schools. Again, the library has a copy. Of course, throughout the process, you should seek advice from faculty here at Chicago; it is certainly within the scope of our "duties" as faculty members to provide counsel and guidance to those students interested in entering law teaching. Take advantage of the rich repository of information about the profession that the faculty has to offer.
Sixth:  Throughout the process, remember that the great German sociologist Max Weber remarked nearly one hundred years ago that he knew of no career in which "chance" played such a great role as the academic career. It will often be utterly mysterious what is going on within the Black Box of some school's hiring committee; you must learn to live with that. You simply have no control over the animosities, biases, internal faculty politics, or laziness that may be affecting a particular school's job search in a given year.  Hopefully, luck will be on your side.

Continue to the next sections of this article:

IV. Ranking Law Schools
V. Upward Mobility

Appendix A: University of Chicago Law School Alumni in Academia

Appendix B: Model Resume for On-Campus Interviews (PDF)