Tuesday, August 30, 2005

How to Make a Lateral Move

A reader writes:

There is much talk about the AALS and the entry level market, but what about lateral hires? What is the process that younger scholars must go through in order to move to a more prestigious or geographically desirable school? Is a semester as a visiting professor required? I would love to see a post on this.

We have addressed the visiting issue previously, noting that many schools now waive the visiting requirement that was the norm a decade ago, at least for the candidates they really want.  But perhaps the more important issue is how does one become the candidate that other schools really want

The obvious, and useless, answer is:  do brilliant scholarly work!

But suppose one is doing good work, how does one "get known"?  Here's my sense of how this works; I've opened comments, and would welcome other opinions, anecdotes, experiences, etc.:

(1)  Occasionally, faculty will make a lateral move through the AALS faculty registry process.  The drawback of this, of course, is that it advertises to all your current colleagues that you are interested in leaving.  I don't recommend it, but it occasionally happens.

(2)  More common is to write targetted letters to the chair of the appointments committee (or the Dean) at law schools the candidate is particularly interested in.  Keep the letters short and sweet:  indicate interest in being considered for appointment, and briefly summarize recent accomplishments, teaching areas, and indicate what is enclosed with the letter (reprints, chapters of a book, teaching evaluations, etc.).  Be aware, of course, that the more desirable the school, the more of these letters they get, and the less likely they are to get any real attention.  My impression, purely anecdotal however, is that the yield from this approach is very low.  When I Chaired Appointments, and then Lateral Appointments, in two different years, I received two dozen of these letters, and not a single one led anywhere.  On the other hand, some schools do advertise through the AALS that they are interested in considering lateral candidates in particular areas; I would imagine targetted inquiries in response to such ads have a higher yield, but I simply don't know. 

(3)  The best way, it seems to me, to get hired laterally is to have a champion "on the inside" at the school you are interested in.  So the best, first line of approach is to let your professional friends and intellectual colleagues elsewhere know that you are interested, and ask them to help, if they can.  The more indirect approach--which accounts for the voluminous mailings of reprints we all receive--is to get your work into circulation.  I am actually happy to get reprints in legal philosophy, and every now and then something shows up that I hadn't seen or didn't know about.  Mailing reprints to those who work in your areas, especially those at schools you're interested in, is probably a good idea.  Again, the yield from this is low, but there are, sometimes, results traceable to these mailings.


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Brian has it exactly right. There's little directly one can do to get oneself into play as a lateral candidate beyond the obvious things to increase one's visibility (publishing, mailing reprints, and presenting at conferences) and old-fashioned networking. But to describe the process a bit more from the hiring side, here are some strategies we've used recently at W&L to search for laterals who won't turn up if we merely depend on ourselves to notice good prospects in the normal course of reading, conferencing and the like. We search recent top journals for good work by people who are at schools from which they might plausibly want to move to W&L, and we query leading scholars in a given field for names of up-and-comers in the field who might plausibly want to move to W&L. Both depend on Brian's key points--publishing well and coming to the attention of leading folks in the field. But it's a bit more systematic than merely hoping someone on our committee or faculty has noticed a lateral prospect by receiving a reprint or meeting them at a conference.

Posted by: Darryl Brown | Aug 31, 2005 6:15:11 AM

I am untenured law professor who would like to know from Brian Leiter and his readers whether one's chances of moving are greater before or after obtaining tenure.

Posted by: Anonymous | Aug 31, 2005 12:33:49 PM

I agree with Brian's comments. An internal champion is very important. But, I also wanted to mention the SSRN Young Scholars Law Abstracts (which I co-edit). As the SSRN documentation reflects, it provides a tool "for senior scholars and appointments committees considering lateral candidates in a particular area to identify young/untenured scholars in those areas." So, post your work on SSRN, and designate the Young Scholars Law Abstracts.

Posted by: David Hyman | Aug 31, 2005 5:29:53 PM

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