A recent law school graduate, now clerking, and who is thinking about law teaching, writes:
It's been suggested to me that as these programs become more and more competitive, it's increasingly important to have not only a proposed research project but a post-note publication in order to be seriously considered. Does that sound right? I have a project in mind...and perhaps it would make more sense for me to spend this year turning that into an article and getting it published, and to reapply next fall - rather than applying this year with only a proposal. Do you think there would be a risk to applying unsuccessfully - in other words, would an unsuccessful application this year diminish my chances in following years? Or is the risk slight enough that it would be worthwhile putting applications in on the strength of a proposal, and re-submitting with (hopefully) a published work next year if things don't work out?
Here's my sense, but I am opening comments here, and would really like to hear from others, both faculty and applicants, about their impressions. My sense is that, alas, successful applicants for VAP/Fellowship positions increasingly do have post-Note publications, in additional to a research proposal. I also have the impression that selection committees for these Fellowship programs have fairly stable memberships over time, meaning that a relatively weak application one year might handicap applications the following year, even if the dossier is much improved, e.g., by publications.
Readers, do you share these impressions or are they idiosyncratic and based on limited evidence? I'm sure my correspondent's questions are shared by many aspiring law teachers, who would appreciate candid feedback on these matters. Post only once; comments may take awhile to appear. Non-anonymous comments strongly preferred, for obvious reasons.
UPDATE: I want to highlight the remarks of Orin Kerr (George Washington) from the comments section, below:
More broadly, I think we're seeing a shift in the role of VAP-type programs. Just a few years ago, the purpose of a VAP was to give a lawyer who wanted to teach some time to write an article and become immersed in the academic culture. Increasingly, however, I think VAPs are giving already-strong teaching candidates an opportunity to create an even stronger application.
What happened? My sense is that the graduates of the major Teaching Fellows/VAPS/Bigelows/Climenko programs have had a lot of success on the teaching market. They've not only gotten jobs: A lot have found jobs at top, top schools. Their success has been wide enough that many applicants see Teaching Fellows/VAPS/Bigelows/Climenko programs as one of the best ways to get a job at a top school.
Enough candidates are willing to put off starting a tenure-track job in to boost their chances at getting a tenure-track job at a top school that the VAP-type programs are now getting applicants that 5 years ago would have just gone on the market.
This, I'm afraid, rings true to me too. We are, I suspect, gradually moving to something like the system in the sciences, where one always has a post-doc prior to a tenure-stream position. But why is this happening in law schools? Thoughts on that in the comments section welcome too.