Sunday, June 14, 2009

Using the AALS Process & "Meat Market" for a Lateral Move?

A reader, a tenured professor, writes:

What is your opinion on a midlevel, tenured faculty at a 3rd tier law school registering for the “Meat Market” in an effort to lateral to another school?  I have received mixed opinions from friends and colleagues (and my wife) and am debating the pros and cons – among others, the possible appearance of desperation and having your colleagues and dean find out your desire to leave, versus greater exposure and making it easier for law schools to interview you. I read recently Paul Secunda’s “Tales of a Law Professor Lateral Nothing” where he seems to suggest that the benefits outweigh the harms. But I would greatly appreciate your advice on this matter.

I'm not sure what I think--the candidate is probably in the best position to assess the local costs (i.e., how colleague and Deans will react etc.).  It is certainly the easiest way to communicate very widely one's openness to a new position.  What do readers think?  Comments are open; post only once, comments may take awhile to appear.  Signed comments strongly preferred; at a minimum, you must include your actual e-mail address (which will not appear).

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I may be very old school, but I think that the efficiency of the meat market is outweighed by negative inferences that might be drawn, at home and in the schools you might be interested in. It seems to me the best way to go is for you to "write [and present, confer] myslef out of this p---hole."

Posted by: Mike Zimmer | Jun 14, 2009 9:59:36 AM

Law schools have to appreciate that faculty members may have a desire to move laterally for any number of reasons. And the departure can have at least two benefits: 1) the departing colleague can be a goodwill ambassador for the school, and 2) the departure creates a hiring opportunity.

I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that many law schools won't seriously consider laterals who don't attend the AALS hiring conference until after the committee has completed its hiring process with respect to those candidates who do attend the hiring conference (by which time [December/January] fewer slots may be available). So my recommendation is to throw your FAR form into the ring.

Posted by: Tim Zinnecker | Jun 15, 2009 7:38:40 AM

The problem is that, at least until very recently, many lateral candidates in the AALS FAR pool have been either tenure denials or persons in danger of tenure denial of tenure at their current home institution. Thus, as a matter of practice, strong lateral candidates generally have not filed a FAR form, but have written to schools directly. My advice would be to subscribe to the AALS Faculty Appointments Bulletin and to write law schools directly if you wish to be considered. I also would suggest writing both the appointments committee chair and the dean, and possibly even cc'ing the associate dean. Why? Many associate deans maintain c.v. files for possible visitors; even a straight visit can "morph" into a lateral posting if the circumstances come together. In any event, my view is that direct contact with targeted schools constitutes a more effective strategy for a lateral candidate with a strong publishing and teaching record.

Posted by: Ron Krotoszynski | Jun 15, 2009 9:25:51 AM

On reflection, I'm with Professor Krotoszynski's proposal: that's probably the best way to proceed--as well as networking through colleagues in your field etc. (as Professor Zimmer suggests).

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Jun 15, 2009 11:54:41 AM

Why haven't headhunters entered this market? Is the volume too small to make money? Many schools hire search firms to look for deans -- why not for lateral faculty?

Posted by: Evan Lee | Jun 15, 2009 11:59:54 AM

I agree with Ron Krotoszynski--almost every advantage of being in the FAR book can be replicated or exceeded with direct content. Tailored letters are a bit more work, but not much, and people at the buyer schools expect this degree of attention. In these letters it's probably a good idea to add a few words about one's particular interest in the school (beyond mere climbing, I mean), even something brief like "for family reasons" or a reference to geography.

Posted by: Anita Bernstein | Jun 15, 2009 10:59:02 PM

I am writing to agree with Ron Krotoszynski and Anita Bernstein. As a 3rd year lateral, I wrote directly to schools but did NOT register for the AALC FRC.

Some schools were surprised that I was NOT participating in the AALS FRC. They wanted to gain the efficiency of screening me along with the other candidates (who were part of the FRC). To accommodate that desire, I met with several committees in DC outside the formal venue but during the same time frame as FRC. I ultimately stayed at the school at which I was visiting. But I got some nice offers.

Posted by: Thaddeus Pope | Jun 16, 2009 6:25:32 AM

In my experience, it's rare for anyone to move to a higher-ranked school by applying, either directly or through the FAR process. Put up big numbers and they'll call you.

Posted by: Bill Page | Jun 16, 2009 10:34:55 AM

The original inquiry was about lateralling to another school, not necessarily about moving to a higher-ranked school. The FAR process probably would work for a tenured lateral move. But I agree with the general trend of posts here that you might as well just contact admissions committees directly and let them know about availability to interview at the AALS Meat Market. Generally, however, interested schools will contact you, especially for lateral moves-up. Many schools have two committees, one for laterals and one for entry and the two operate very differently. If I were the original poster, I would start contacting folks you know at targetted schools as well as any relevant mentors and start getting the word about interest in moving. It may not be a bad idea to also have a conversation with the current dean about the interest in moving, unless the situation at the current school prohibits that for some reason.

Posted by: Shubha Ghosh | Jun 16, 2009 4:22:41 PM

Back to Evan Lee upthread: I think the jury is still out on whether search firms add value with respect to the hiring of deans. In my experience, these consultants get hired when the central administrations of universities want to use them as a buffer to protect them during negotiations, rather than because law professors think these firms can recruit someone extra good to run their own schools.

Given this uncertainty about value added--not to mention fees that get passed on to tuition-paying students or state governments--it's fine with me that, so far, law schools haven't used search consultants to fill faculty vacancies.

Posted by: Anita Bernstein | Jun 17, 2009 10:03:35 PM

As a once aspiring clinical instructor, I find most of the comments referenced above dismaying. It's all about the politics, the conferring law school, and nothing about teaching and the student. I sought refuge in the clinics while in law school because I became leary and weary of being taught by brainiacs with no practical experience at my Ivy League institution.

Now I hear that clinics are being told to hire "academics" whose practical experience must be stretched to amount to something.

If that had been the case when I applied to law school, I don't know that I would have applied or matriculated.

All I can say is that law schools are headed in the wrong direction to the extent that law schools truly care about would be public defenders, legal aid lawyers, and first generation professionals.

Posted by: E. M. Atteberry | Nov 11, 2009 3:09:58 PM

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