Tuesday, August 12, 2014
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.