Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A couple of thoughts on FAR forms

It's that time of year when I spend a lot of time looking at draft FAR forms and learning about the sometimes strange advice others in the profession are giving to candidates.  Let me set out a few of my own thoughts, and invite readers to comment:

1.  My rule of thumb is that in a given year about 10% of schools are looking to hire "best athletes" and about 90% are doing curricular-driven hires.  Those are rough estimates--many of the 90% want "best athletes" too, of course, assuming they can plausibly meet the curricular need.  That means the curricular listings on the FAR form are crucial.   Under the new FAR regime, there are two lists of five:  the left-hand list is the most important, signalling both the candidate's primary teaching and research interests.  It is crucial, in my view, to fill all five slots on the left.  It is also crucial, in my view, for candidates not to pretend to be someone they are not.  True story, from a couple of years ago, though I've changed a few identifying details:  we had a candidate, call him Mr. C, who was clearly a specialist in XYZ, a course that all law schools offer, but which they don't often advertise in.  Mr. C was advised by faculty not at Chicago to list XYZ fifth in the left-hand column, or perhaps move it to the right-hand column, and instead list two or three 1L courses at the top of the lefthand column.  I said this was horrible advice, Mr. C followed my advice and listed XYZ at the very top of the left-hand column, followed by areas in which Mr. C was genuinely interested, including one or two bread-and-butter courses.  Mr. C had no trouble getting a job.  My advice:  be who you are, and not someone else.  Strategic decisions about what courses to list stand out like a sore thumb.  The courses in the lefthand column, your writing, your recommenders, your practice experience should, ideally, form a coherent and mutually reinforcing package.

2.  With regard to the right-hand list of courses, I think it is less crucial to have five, and it is reasonable to treat these as "courses you'd be willing to teach if asked," but which you are unlikely to be questioned about at interviews in any detail.

3.  I generally disfavor adding "comments."  My basic attitude is:  you don't list yourself as a reference, don't recommend yourself in the comment sections.  Sometimes factual information can be added to comments:  e.g., specifying what your litigation practice focused on; or listing additional references beyond the "big three."  Comments of the form, "My practice experience complements my research, and will allow me to bring a unique perspective to the classroom" are an embarrassment and should never appear anywhere on a FAR form.

4.  Speaking of the "big three" references:  my general advice is to list them alphabetically, unless it is really important to signal that some really knows you much better.   Do not list the judges you clerked for, schools will assume they are available as references.   If you are in a VAP or Fellowship, at least one academic reference from the VAP/Fellowship school is highly desireable.  

5.  In general, do not list works-in-progress under "publications" since they are not; the exception is for someone who has no other publications, or few publications, or publications a bit unrelated to the candidate's current area.  And in that case, make sure to clearly identify it as a work-in-progress.

6.  Needless to say, don't list any "work-in-progress" you aren't prepared to share.  If it's on the FAR, it's fair game for a school to ask for it.

What do readers think?  Signed comments only, full name and valid e-mail address.


Advice for Academic Job Seekers | Permalink


I'm an IP and internet guy, but I listed commercial transactions on the FAR because my practice included that subject and I knew it well. Probably 40% of my meat market interviews were for folks looking for commercial transactions folks. I never tried to hide who I was, and I got no callbacks (must have been a rich market for that). I remember one school asking about my research focus, me telling them for a bit, and THEN them saying, "well, we're looking for commercial transactions." The funny part is that they had such a person on the committee, so I had my hopes up. But I did meet a lot of nice people that I still have contact with.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Aug 12, 2014 2:57:21 PM

Don't list client alerts under publications or similar works that are not more than summaries of recent cases.

On publications - I don't believe that works in progress are publications. The exceptions you listed don't suggest that they are either, just that someone doesn't have publications.

Ideally the FAR form should have a separate section titled "job talk paper", which would allow people to discuss an accepted work or work in progress.

Posted by: D. Daniel Sokol | Aug 12, 2014 5:42:08 PM

Pretty much agreed all around. The FAR form says both Be Yourself and Give the Customers What They Want: different people will come down differently on questions like how to characterize teaching interests. I do feel sure that the Comments box should either be left blank or filled with strictly factual information (e.g. "two op-eds about climate change," "CLE lecturer on financial instruments").

My two cents' addition to Brian's advice is that even though the FAR form exists mainly for entry-level candidates, it ought to put a reader in mind of a mature scholar. That means conveying subject-matter expertise, even if it makes you feel like an imposter, and not trying to come across as someone who will teach or write anything an employer might want.

Posted by: Anita Bernstein | Aug 13, 2014 9:29:21 AM

Does the FAR form still limit the number of publications you can include? I seem to recall that it did when I was on the market. For PhDs, VAPs, and others who have had lots of time to write, that's a good use of the comment field.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Aug 17, 2014 5:09:18 PM

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