December 02, 2012
What do you need to find out now that you've gotten a tenure-track offer?
MOVING TO FRONT FROM JANUARY 8, 2012 (ORIGINALLY POSTED NOVEMBER 24, 2009)
With luck (and luck will help more than usual in what is a very tight year on the academic job market), some of you seeking law teaching jobs will get offers of tenure-track positions in the next couple of months. What then? Here's roughly what I tell my Texas and Chicago advisees they need to find out, and in the interest of having it written down in one place and for the benefit of others too, here it is (not in order of importance):
1. You will want to get (in writing eventually) the basic salary information, obviously, and the nature of summer research support and the criteria for its award (is it automatic for junior faculty? contingent on prior publication [if so, how much?]? awarded competitively (if so, based on what criteria/process)?). You should also find out how salary raises are determined. Are they, for example, lock-step for junior faculty? Fixed by union contract? (Rutgers faculty, for example, are unionized, a huge advantage and why they are among the best-paid faculty, not just in law, in the country.) Is it a 'merit' system, and if so is it decanal discretion or is their a faculty committee that reviews your teaching and work each year?
2. You should ask for a copy of the school's tenure standards and get clear about the expectations and the timeline. Does any work you have already published count towards meeting the tenure standard?
3. What research leave policy, if any, does the school have? A term off after every three full years of teaching is a very good leave policy; some schools have even better policies, most have less generous leave policies. (If there is a norm, it is a term off after every six years.) Many schools have a special leave policy for junior faculty, designed to give them some time off prior to the tenure decision. Find out if the school has such a policy.
4. One of the most important things to be clear about is not just your teaching load, but what courses you will be teaching precisely. You should ask whether the school can guarantee a stable set of courses until after the tenure decision. Preparing new courses is hugely time-consuming, and you also get better at teaching the course the more times you do it. As a tenure-track faculty member, having a stable package of, say, three courses (plus a seminar) will make a huge difference in terms of your ability to conduct research and write. In my experience, most schools will commit in writing to a set of courses for the tenure-track years (and do ask for this in writing), but some schools either won't or can't. In my view, it's a good reason to prefer one school to another that one will give you the courses you want and promise them that they're yours, while another won't--a consideration that overrides lots of other factors, including salary.
5. You should ask for the school's materials on benefits: retirement, life insurance, disability insurance, health insurance, and so on. The biggest, and certainly the most easily discernible differences, are often in the retirement and life insurance categories (sometimes longterm disability insurance too, though unlike life insurance, you're hopefully less likely to utilize this!). What is the university's contribution to retirement? At the low end are schools contributing only 5-6% of your base salary to retirement; the more competitive schools will be in the 8% range, and some will be higher. The big issue on life insurance concerns the amount you are guaranteed irrespective of your health history. 500-600K increasingly seem to be the norm. And, of course, if your health is perfect, this doesn't matter, but I've worked with plenty of candidates where this was a serious issue. (Life insurance companies have no incentives to insure faculty beyond the base amount they have to provide, so even health matters that strike you as trivial may disqualify you from more coverage.) A final benefits issue concerns education/tuition benefits for children. State schools don't offer these; the wealthier private schools do, and if you have kids or expect to have kids, this is worth looking into. At the high end is Chicago, which pays up to 75% of Chicago tuition anywhere for each child. Most of the wealthier private schools will pay 30-50% of the home school tuition for faculty children, wherever they go. Some will offer a larger benefit if your kids go to that school. But there are differences, and they don't track your ordinary expectations about prestige (e.g., last time I looked, the Wash U/St. Louis benefit was much better than the benefit at Penn or Cornell). In any case, get the information. But remember, university-wide benefits are rarely a subject for negotiation--the law school can't give you a higher benefit. Of course, if you have a competitive offer, they may be able to compensate for a significant benefits differential.
6. Finally, once you have an offer, this is a good time to raise issues about the employment prospects for a spouse or partner. Sometimes you may just want help: can the Dean help the significant other make relevant professional contacts in the area? Sometimes you may be hoping for more: e.g., a position in the law school, or in another university department, for the significant other. It is certainly fair to explain the situation and ask. Schools vary in their ability to response effectively to these situations, but many have formal universities policies pertaining at least to spouses who are academics. Raise the issue, and see if the school can help. But realize that the school made you the offer, and they may be able to hire you, and that's that.
The last point relates to a more general issue. If you don't have other offers, you are not in a position to bargain. Period. You may certainly ask about things, raise concerns, etc. But unless you're going to walk away from a tenure-track offer (not a wise thing to do in this market), don't make demands. And even then, a collegial discussion about issues of concern is far better than demands. Even if you have other offers, this advice applies: proceed with caution and respect for the institution. You can report that School Y is offering you a salary 20K higher, and ask whether the Dean of School X, to whom your talking, has any flexibility on this front. But remember: you may end up at School X (because of location, or colleagues in your field, or a better teaching load etc.) and living with that Dean and the other faculty for many years to come. Don't poison the well by displaying a sense of entitlement and self-importance before you even get through the door. Remember: no matter how good you are, you're quite dispensable--in almost every instance, you need the job more than the school needs you. Approach any 'bargaining' or discussion of the package in that spirit. A good school has every reason to want you to succeed and to try to help fashion a package of professional duties and support in that spirit. A good school doesn't need a prima donna.
I invite signed comments from faculty or deans on these issues. A comment without a full name and e-mail address won't appear. Post your comment only once; comments are moderated and may take awhile to appear.
Good luck to all job seekers!
November 29, 2012
The Academic Job Market in Law: Looking Forward
As Dan noted last week, there was another nearly 20% drop in the number of LSAT takers in October. That will almost surely translate into another decline in the total number of law school applicants and then law students, which will put further financial pressure on two-thirds or more of law schools in the United States. And that will, in turn, translate into fewer jobs for new law teachers next year. Already this year, we saw 20% fewer schools at the "meat market" than in 2007; we don't have a clear read on how many fewer positions even those schools that went are filling. A number of schools that went are not sure whether they are really hiring this year. In all the cases I know about, these are schools that are being affected by the declining pool of applicants, including the most highly-qualified applicants.
Given all this, my expectation is that next year, 2013-14, will be an even tougher year for aspiring law professors. The fiercer competition will exacerbate the credentials inflation that has taken place over the last decade (more publications, more Fellowships/VAPs, etc.). Some colleagues think they've seen slightly more emphasis at some schools on candidates with practice experience, but I'm skeptical: it still seems that the bulk of candidates doing well have the traditional academic credentials, plus the usual 2-5 years of experience. But we won't have a clearer picture on that score until the hiring season is over. My own impression is that curricular hiring is dominating more of the process at more schools than usual this year (and it usually dominates in a normal year, but this year seems to be extreme--that, of course, creates fabulous opportunities for schools doing "best athlete" hiring).
Until the application pool stabilizes, law schools are going to postpone or forego hiring. There will probably be an increase this Spring in VAP hiring, but this will be driven by curricular needs, rather than presenting opportunities for scholarly and professional development for those seeking tenure-stream positions. Still, now that the recession has really hit home for law schools, job seekers would do well to take those VAP positions seriously as well.
November 06, 2012
"Fall" submissions data from one student-edited law reviewInteresting, and probably not unrepresentative.
October 18, 2012
Useful NLJ Piece on This Year's Hiring Convention ("the meat market")
Here. An excerpt:
Sad to say, my prediction during the summer has been borne out. Dean Wu at Hastings is clearly correct that this year is a buyer's market, though, based on the candidates we are working with, there will still be candidates for whom the schools will be competing. But it is definitely a great year to be able to hire new faculty.
Approximately 142 law schools registered to attend the AALS hiring conference—a 14 percent decline from the 166 that attended last year and a 21 percent decrease from the 179 schools that participated during pre-recession 2007. The schools that do attend won't necessarily hire—some use the conference to scout teaching talent for the future. (It's difficult to tell how many open teaching spots actually exist, as some schools advertise specific positions in an AALS-published bulletin but many do not.)
At the same time, the number of aspiring law professors has held fairly steady during the past five years. Thus far, 750 candidates registered for the AALS' faculty interviews, although that number does not include the final list of candidates, which will come out in February. The total number of registrants has fluctuated between 824 and 901 in recent years, according to the AALS.
October 15, 2012
A potted history of American legal education and scholarship in the 20th-century, with special reference to why there is no longer a scholarly Wissenschaft in law
MOVING TO FRTON FROM JULY 11, 2012: THIS APPEARED IN THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER WHEN SOME READERS WHO MIGHT FIND IT INTERESTING MAY HAVE MISSED IT
Christopher Columbus Langdell, Dean of the Harvard Law School in the late 19th-century, set the paradigm for what law schools and legal scholars should do, a paradigm that lasted for nearly a century, until Richard Posner upset it in the 1970s. That gloss perhaps exaggerates the influence of these two individuals, but only slightly.
In the 19th-century, the idea arose, beginning in Germany of course, that a subject fit for and requiring university study should be a Wissenschaft, a "science," though the Anglophone connotation of natural science is misleading. A Wissenschaft was a body of knowledge characterized by distinctive methods and tools that, when deployed correctly, would lend epistemic credence to the results. If law was to be a subject for university study, then it had to be a Wissenschaft, an idea shared by Langdell and the Legal Realists, and many others.
For Langdell, the body of knowledge constituting legal knowledge arose from a careful study of the opinions of the courts as they analyzed legal problems--not a crazy view for a scholar of the common law to have, of course. Carefuly study of these opinions could elict the general principles and rules of law that explained the particular opinions. The task of legal scholars was to articulate these general principles, and the obligation of the law students was to learn them, so that they could then understand what the courts will do.
The American Legal Realists interrupted this pedagogical and scholarly narrative in the early 20th-century, noticing that the doctrinal categories the Langdellian scholar latched on to were often pitched at a level of abstraction from the particular problems the courts were confronting that actually obscured what was really going on. Sensitivity to economic and social context was often necessary to make sense of the decisions; there was no "law of contracts" or "law of torts," per se. As the great Legal Realist Leon Green's torts casebook of the 1930s suggested, what there really was were principles of tort law for railroads, for hospitals, for factories, and so on. The American Realists accepted Langdell's ambition to make the study of law scientific; they just thought Langdell's science was shoddy, and their view prevailed.
The merged Langdell/Realist paradigm became dominant for a good half-century. To take a prominent example of how the agenda became mainstreamed: my late Texas colleague Charles Alan Wright understood himself, correctly, to be a Legal Realist, and his renowned treatise on Federal Practice and Procedure reflects that self-understanding: Wright and his colleagues carefully parsed the opinions of the courts, in order to elicit the situation-sensitive rules the courts actually were deploying in deciding procedural issues. The treatise writer continued to be the pinnacle of academic excellence for another generation after WWII.
Richard Posner is, like Langdell, the other decisive figure in the history of American legal scholarship and education. He did not invent economic analysis of law--such credit goes, if it goes to any one person, to his Chicago colleagues Ronald Coase and Aaron Director--but he had the intellectual energy and ingenuity to show in the course of the 1970s how the economic way of thinking could both explain what the courts were really doing and upset what almost all the scholars were saying about it. The economic approach started from a simple assumption: individuals are instrumentally rational in trying to get what they want. Their interactions with the law, so the economic story goes, are no different. If the law imposes penalties on certain conduct, they will adjust their behavior accordingly, in order to get what they really want, even if the law prohibits it or burdens the pursuit of it, unless, of course, the burdens become too costly. Those simple "rational choice" assumptions had radical consequences, or so Posner and Posnerians argued. And here they pierced the vulnerable underbelly of the Realist attack on Langdell's doctrinalism. For the Realists operated with "common sense" assumptions about how law would influence behavior, a "common sense" that hadn't really taken account of how actors in market systems tend to think, namely, in terms of the self-centered costs and benefits of different courses of conduct. The greatest success of economic analysis was, of course, in those commercial domains where actors really did think the way the economic analyst supposed.
The victory of Realism and Posnerian Realism means, of course, there is no science of law--no distinctively legal methods or tools--beyond the ones Langdell envisioned. But that's the Wissenschaft law schools have been teaching for a century now, and, arguably, students master it within two years, at least when well-taught. Once a student has learned the Langedellian Wissenschaft, what's needed is something else, at least for a post-Realist, post-Posnerian legal scholar: history, economics, political science, sociology, and so on. That's why the idea of a PhD in law is so bizarre: it's either Langdellian Wissenschaft fetishized (Legal Realism and Posner be damned!) or its history-lite, economics-lite, political science-lite and so on. (The worry is that the latter is really what Yale's new "PhD in law" will be.)
In the UK, Langdellian Wissenschaft still reigns supreme--hence the PhD in law there really is a graduate degree, one that complements the undergraduate training students have had in "dcotrinal" analysis. (There are exceptions, of course, in the UK for those who do a doctorate in jurisprudence or legal history, which are well-developed specialties, which operate in tandem with, not as lite-versions of, the cognate Wissenschaften.) But as American law professors often jest, if you want to know what law school was like in the 1950s, spend a term at a leading English law school. Maybe doctrine really does explain the behavior of courts in the UK, and maybe English citizens are even more infrequently maximizers of their satisfactions than their American cousins. But the Langdellian legal Wissenschaft exhausts its intellectual utility within two years of JD study, and that is, as far as I can tell, no longer controversial on this side of the Atlantic. So what could a PhD in law really be about? Especially at Yale, where even the craft of the Langdellian paradigm has largely vanished, it is especially puzzling. Although Yale has smart historians, psychologists, economists, and philosophers on the faculty, the Law School clearly does not have the resources to mount a serious "law-and-X" Wissenschaft in any of these fields, certainly not when compared to a JD/PhD in history, psychology, economics etc. The real worry about Yale's PhD in Law is that it's going to be a PhD imprimatur on even higher-level post-Realist dilettantism. Only if law schools generally acquiesce to this will it be successful.
October 12, 2012
A travel tip to keep in mind, esp. for job seekers
One of our graduates on the market writes:
[F]or callbacks in the coming weeks, you might want to suggest that folks not book flights on American Airlines. Many folks might not have internalized the news coverage of American's ongoing problems -- flying American in the coming weeks almost certainly increases the odds of delayed flights and missed connections by a statistically significant margin. Given the tight scheduling of callbacks, I can't see any good reason to risk flying American unless it's the only option, or any good reason that a school wouldn't cover a (reasonably) more expensive ticket on another airline.
October 02, 2012
Do you think any ABA-accredited law schools will actually close over the next decade?
There are about 200 of them, and the belief certainly seems widespread in the bowels of cyber-space that half of them are destined to disappear, or something like that, due to the cost of legal education relative to the actual professional outcomes in the current market (indeed, in some cases, even before the current economic crisis). Of course, we've already seen some law schools reduce enrollments, and others withdraw from the market for new faculty--so 'shrinkage' is already happening. But will accredited law schools actually close? Assume that there are no changes to the current student loan structure (i.e., the federal government still backs them), and assume that there is some improvement in the legal market in the years ahead. How many of the 200 accredited law schools do you think will close their doors over the next decade? UPDATE: So with 140 votes cast, here's the breakdown: 12% think no law schools will close in the next decade; 68% expect 1-10 to close; 14% expect 11-25 to close; 4% think 26-50 will close; and about 1% think more than 50 will close. So an overwhelming majority of respondents so far, 88%, expect at least one or more law schools to close, and nearly one in five expect a non-trivial number to close, i.e., 5% or more.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Several hours later and 209 votes, here's the breakdown:
POLL IS CLOSE and the results and discussion are here.
September 19, 2012
On "Joint" Appointments Prior to Tenure
The proliferation of JD/PhDs over the past generation has resulted in many junior faculty candidates facing the question: should I seek a "joint" appointment between the Law School and the cognate PhD discipline?
"Joint" appointments come in various forms, of which the two main ones are: (1) tenure-track status in two units, with two separate tenure reviews, and two separate tenure decisions; and (2) a "courtesy" or "secondary" appointment in the cognate department, with the tenure home residing in the Law School. The former is, I suppose, a fully "joint" appointment, but it is also to be avoided (perhaps even after tenure, since it is likely to increase your administrative burdens [committee work, faculty meetings etc.]). Although it's still easier, alas, to get tenure in a law school than in most academic departments, the bottom line is having two different tenure masters is a bad position to be in. (There are cases of faculty who didn't get tenure in the non-law department, but did get it in the law school, and those situations are unhappy ones all around.) On the other hand, (2) can have benefits for the faculty member (perhaps teaching in the cognate department, involvement with PhD students and the like) without any of the costs.
But a JD/PhD on the rookie law market should be careful about raising the question of courtesy appointments. Law schools understand full well that they offer better terms of employment (in teaching load, salary, and research support) than almost every academic department in the humanites and social sciences, and so a key question for them in hiring JD/PhDs is: why do you want to be in the Law School rather than in the cognate field? The answer had better turn on intellectual and pedagogical considerations. After a JD/PhD has an offer, you can raise the question about courtesy appointments (assuming they exist, not all schools have them), but if you're hired by a Law School, do understand your primary obligations reside there.