Brian Leiter's Law School Reports

Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Advice on "Fly-Back" Interviews at Law Schools

A colleague elsewhere writes with some useful (and timely) advice for those seeking law teaching jobs:

One subject on which there is relatively little advice out there (compared to the meat market and most relevant qualifications) is the flyback interview.  I've seen a good number of candidates come through my school now, and it seems that some advice might be helpful, especially to those who are interviewing at lower-tier schools (and those who don't have great institutional support from the law schools from which they graduated).

First, the competition is fierce for all law teaching jobs, regardless of the tier of the school.  The math is straightforward: there are hundreds of candidates, most of whom meet basic qualifications, and perhaps dozens of spots.  This is not like the law firm market.  Even
if you've never heard of the school, you are fortunate to get the initial interview, much less the flyback interview.  Thus, do not act like you're doing us a favor by deigning to talk to us, or that we'd be lucky to get you -- even if you think it's true.  Don't believe it?  Go find the lowest-ranked school you got an initial interview at and check out the qualifications of the people on the faculty, especially the people hired in the last few years.  You will likely find that you aren't slumming by talking to us, and we'll notice if you think otherwise.

Second, the job talk should not be you reading a paper to us.  At most schools, you're likely to be interrupted with questions or comments, some challenging your basic assertions, within a few minutes of starting.  "That's not the part of the paper I'm at" is not a good response to such questions.  This is a chance to show your facility with your subject matter and your ability to work questions into your presentations.  Hey, that sounds a lot like what you do in a classroom!

Third, while there may be exceptions, don't assume that the lower ranked schools are uninterested in your scholarship.  Again, check out the publications by recent hires; you're likely to see productive folks doing interesting and high-level work, and many lower-tier schools are seeking to improve their ranking by improving their faculty's publication records.  Just like when you're at the top schools, have a coherent answer to the question "What is next on your scholarship agenda?"

Finally, don't blow off the student interview if you have one.  They can't get you hired, but they may be able to put enough doubt about your ability to work with students to put you below another candidate.  You should know something about the student body (say, how big it is and what the active student groups are) and have nontrivial questions to ask them.

Comments are open if others have further advice and suggestions for fly-back interviews.

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Comments

This is great advice. I have seen all these mistakes made at the callback stage (i.e., after the hiring committee went out on a limb to authorize the callback). Big egos and poor job talk preparation submarine lots of candidates. And don't alienate the students; many of them are destine to become accomplished lawyers--and they are financing the job you are applying for. Their comments on arrogant attitudes or insensitive remarks can really hurt a candidate. I am amazed some candidates need this reminder--but a fair number do.

Posted by: William Henderson | Nov 29, 2005 6:00:39 AM

I agree it is great advice. My school alternates between second tier and third tier on the egregious US News rankings but our last six hires included three magnas from Harvard LS and three others from NYU and Stanford with equivalent records. Before that, we did hire one who was "merely" cum laude at Harvard, but was also a senior editor of HLR. The person had also been a very successful faculty member for several years at a law school with a similar rank as ours.

Posted by: PLM | Nov 29, 2005 11:01:49 AM

Finally, don't blow off the student interview if you have one. They can't get you hired, but they may be able to put enough doubt about your ability to work with students to put you below another candidate. You should know something about the student body (say, how big it is and what the active student groups are) and have nontrivial questions to ask them.

I can back this up from my undergrad experience. I was on the student committee that interviewed prospective hires in my department. There was only one candidate we ever interviewed (out of about 20 for two positions) who didn't take the student interview portion seriously. Although he was the most qualified for the position, his dismissive treatment of us resulted in a unanimous thumbs down from the student committee. The faculty hiring committee, based purely on our negative reaction, extended an offer to the #2 candidate.

Posted by: CL | Nov 29, 2005 2:43:14 PM

All good advice, but be aware that untenured junior members of the faculty don't want someone who is going to make them look bad, so don't talk about how plan to write three or four articles a year. Similarly, older faculty who haven't published in years may resent the younger guns who are trying to push "productivity" as the basic criteria of merit, so try to be aware of such political dynamics.

Posted by: Anonymous for a reason | Nov 29, 2005 7:03:55 PM

Pace anonymous, I don't think it makes any sense to try to play to whatever constituency might want unproductive junior faculty. You're not going to lose a job because you look like you'll be too productive. That said, you shouldn't say you plan to write three or four articles a year, because nobody -- especially nobody just starting out -- can write three or four good articles a year. Any entry-level candidate who seriously thinks he or she can write three or four good articles a year has such a lack of understanding of how hard this business is that I would start to be very skeptical.

Posted by: Sam Bagenstos | Nov 30, 2005 6:56:16 AM

I have no doubt as a general matter that my former supervisor (Hi Sam) is correct. And I am grateful to live in a country (Canada) where law review articles on average are *much* shorter, many law journals are peer reviewed by academics not JD/LLB students and the arguments are actually contained in the main body of the text rather than in 700 lengthy footnotes. But I must say in reading US law school web sites (hardly scientific), I have noticed more and more faculty with absolutely scary/incredible publication records including people who seem relatively junior but just publish non-stop. I guess, as Brian would no doubt agree, we need hard data and hard empirical facts but this doesn't seem to be a phenomenon confined to say just Judge Posner (who seems to write four articles a month; not a year). I gather after a while, the time to put out a piece sharply declines as an author develops the concept in her/his head.

Posted by: Ravi Malhotra | Nov 30, 2005 1:05:06 PM

Now in my third year on our hiring committee, I am still amazed at the clip at which some folks are publishing when they're just getting started. But I side with Sam B. that many of these people (and our profession) would be better served if they would write fewer pieces that reflected more thought than they do presently (apparently just to gather citations on a CV). Without naming names, some of the people hired in recent memory are at the intellectual pay grade to do deep stuff--you can tell--but are wasting it by writing to the "optimum publishable unit" mantra. Of course, where this figures as advice about flybacks I wouldn't presume to say--except perhaps that those with only one or two (good) pieces shouldn't worry about putting on airs!

Posted by: Jamison Colburn | Dec 12, 2005 6:32:49 PM

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