A reader writes:
There is much talk about the AALS and the entry level market, but what about lateral hires? What is the process that younger scholars must go through in order to move to a more prestigious or geographically desirable school? Is a semester as a visiting professor required? I would love to see a post on this.
We have addressed the visiting issue previously, noting that many schools now waive the visiting requirement that was the norm a decade ago, at least for the candidates they really want. But perhaps the more important issue is how does one become the candidate that other schools really want?
The obvious, and useless, answer is: do brilliant scholarly work!
But suppose one is doing good work, how does one "get known"? Here's my sense of how this works; I've opened comments, and would welcome other opinions, anecdotes, experiences, etc.:
(1) Occasionally, faculty will make a lateral move through the AALS faculty registry process. The drawback of this, of course, is that it advertises to all your current colleagues that you are interested in leaving. I don't recommend it, but it occasionally happens.
(2) More common is to write targetted letters to the chair of the appointments committee (or the Dean) at law schools the candidate is particularly interested in. Keep the letters short and sweet: indicate interest in being considered for appointment, and briefly summarize recent accomplishments, teaching areas, and indicate what is enclosed with the letter (reprints, chapters of a book, teaching evaluations, etc.). Be aware, of course, that the more desirable the school, the more of these letters they get, and the less likely they are to get any real attention. My impression, purely anecdotal however, is that the yield from this approach is very low. When I Chaired Appointments, and then Lateral Appointments, in two different years, I received two dozen of these letters, and not a single one led anywhere. On the other hand, some schools do advertise through the AALS that they are interested in considering lateral candidates in particular areas; I would imagine targetted inquiries in response to such ads have a higher yield, but I simply don't know.
(3) The best way, it seems to me, to get hired laterally is to have a champion "on the inside" at the school you are interested in. So the best, first line of approach is to let your professional friends and intellectual colleagues elsewhere know that you are interested, and ask them to help, if they can. The more indirect approach--which accounts for the voluminous mailings of reprints we all receive--is to get your work into circulation. I am actually happy to get reprints in legal philosophy, and every now and then something shows up that I hadn't seen or didn't know about. Mailing reprints to those who work in your areas, especially those at schools you're interested in, is probably a good idea. Again, the yield from this is low, but there are, sometimes, results traceable to these mailings.