January 07, 2020
A pleasingly candid account of one scholar's experience, by Tess Wilkinson-Ryan (Penn). When I visited at Chicago in Autumn 2006, my kids were 10, 7 and 4, and they, and my wife (who was practicing law in Austin), stayed in Austin, and I commuted roughly every other week back to Austin. (My father lived nearby in Austin, which sure helped in this situation!) It was an ordeal, but the nice thing about the quarter system is it was a short-lived ordeal.
December 17, 2019
Brian Leiter has an extremely helpful post about things that entry level candidates should think about when they receive a tenure track offer. The post below is meant to supplement Brian’s post with additional considerations that are relevant to candidates who are fortunate enough to receive multiple tenure track offers. It may also be of interest to tenured faculty who have offers to lateral to another institution, and to those deciding between a research faculty position and an outside option such as private practice or public service.
The institution where you start your academic career as a faculty member is most likely where you will end it, if you are fortunate enough to earn tenure. Only around 1 to 2 percent of tenured law faculty members per year move between institutions. It is also relatively rare for academics to return to the full-time practice of law after years in the academy. Every job move is a high-stakes decision, because every move will most likely be your last.
- Check the Institution’s Financial Condition and Creditworthiness
- Consider the Institution’s Commitment to Research
- Consider the Institution’s Competitive Position
- Consider your Colleagues
- Consider both the Cost & Quality of Living
- Consider the Ease of Expected Travel
Check the Institution’s Financial Condition and Creditworthiness
Tenure is not an iron clad guarantee of future employment. Tenure is only as good as the financial strength of the educational institution that stands behind it. Moreover, important considerations like research funding and the availability of raises (or even COLAs) are likely to be a function of the financial position of the institution as well as your own performance.
There are two helpful external sources you can consult:
- credit rating agencies such as Moody’s, S&P, and/or Fitch,and
- market-based indictors like bond yield spreads for universities that have debt.
Note that credit ratings will likely be of the university as a whole, not specifically of the law school (bond spreads may reference the university as well), but this is nevertheless useful because the financial strength of the overall university often affects its law school, particularly when either the law school or the university experiences a downturn.
Credit ratings do not track U.S. News rankings as closely as you might expect. In addition to providing important information about an institution’s overall credit rating, rating agencies’ reports will discuss risk factors such as a disproportionately large share of revenue coming from a single line of business, demographic changes in the region, or competition from other universities.
You should also be mindful of the impact that state and local government politics can have on public institutions and on private institutions that either depend on public institutions as feeder schools or compete with them for students to attend graduate programs.
In some states, public institutions have good relationships with both political parties. In others, one or both political parties may be planning to cut education funding per student. Figure out the lay of the land before you move across the country.
The institution’s creditworthiness is also relevant to your retirement savings options. Many universities offer deferred compensation arrangements which enable employees to effectively double their tax-advantaged retirement savings compared to a 403(b) plan alone. These savings plans permit employees to select investments like a 403(b) or 401(k). However, unlike a 403(b) or 401(k), deferred compensation plans do not provide for a segregated pool of assets that individual employees own. Instead, employees who defer their compensation become general unsecured creditors of the university and are owed the account balance. Other creditors would have claims on the same assets if the university were to become insolvent, and not everyone would be paid in full.
To fully take advantage of these retirement savings options as a young professor, you need to be confident that your university will remain creditworthy for the next 50 to 60 years.
Similarly, some public universities offer defined benefit pensions, but the value of these promises depends on how well-funded the pension is and the financial strength of the state government and/or university system. States routinely underfund their public pensions. States and municipalities facing inadequate revenues—typically because of limited political appetite for tax increases or concerns about mobility of taxpayers—have in the past restructured their pensions to make benefits less generous, and may do so again in the future.
The public pension you are promised may only be worth some number of cents on the dollar, with the number of cents depending on which state you happen to be located in.
You can also consult publicly available financial reports for the university and, if available, for the law school going back five to ten years. You may also be able to obtain information about the financial condition of the law school by asking the dean questions such as what the endowment is, debt and asset levels, how much “tax” the law school pays to the central university, what kind of support the law school enjoys from the central administration, etc. However, be aware that Deans, like CEOs, are frequently optimistic in their views of the institutions they run.
December 12, 2019
MOVING TO FRONT FROM NOVEMBER 5, 2019 (ORIGINALLY POSTED NOVEMBER 24, 2009--I HAVE UPDATED CERTAIN NUMBERS)--SEE ALSO THE COMMENTS, WHICH HAVE HELPFUL ADDITIONAL SUGGESTIONS
With luck, some of you seeking law teaching jobs will get offers of tenure-track positions in the next couple of months; a handful of offers have already been extended this season (2019-20). What then? Here's roughly what I tell the Chicago job candidates we work with that 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.
October 18, 2019
This is more detailed than advice I have posted here in the past (and which Dean Dickerson references at several points) and seems to me generally sensible. I would particularly urge candidates to look at pp. 42-43 where Dean Dickerson reports her own preferences and attitudes regarding negotiating with many faculty candidates; I expect they are fairly widely shared by Deans.
October 09, 2019
MOVING TO FRONT FROM LAST WEEK (MORE COMMENTS WELCOME--ORIGINALLY POSTED NOVEMBER 2007)
A rookie job seeker writes:
A question about the law teaching market, which I suspect will be of interest to a number of candidates who read your Law School Reports blog: When can we expect to hear from hiring committees we spoke with at AALS? Do the better schools tend to wait longer to make their calls? And do schools tend to notify candidates that they *won't* be inviting them for a job talk, or do you only hear from them if they're interested?
If you think this is a worthwhile topic, perhaps you could open a post for comments so that hiring committee members could say what their procedure is.
My impression is that schools will contact the candidates they are most interested in within the first two weeks after the AALS hiring convention, and, more often than not, within the first week. Schools will often have some candidates "on hold" beyond this period of time: e.g., because they are reading more work by the candidate, or collecting references, or waiting to see how they fare with their top choices. So it is quite possible to get call-backs beyond the two-week window. Schools tend to be much slower in notifying candidates they are no longer in contention (you might not hear for a month or more).
September 30, 2019
With roughly 90 schools interviewing candidates at the AALS hiring convention this coming weekend, and a record low number of job seekers, this is a good year to be looking for a law teaching job. Best of luck to those readers interviewing in Washington, DC this weekend!
August 16, 2019
August 05, 2019
I am happy to share the following announcement from Professors Rostron & Levit:
We just updated our charts about law journal submissions, expedites, and rankings from different sources for the Spring 2019 submission season covering the 203 main journals of each law school.
We have created hyperlinks for each law review to take you directly to the law review’s submissions page. Again the chart includes as much information as possible about what law reviews are not accepting submissions right now and what months they say they’ll resume accepting submissions.
There has been some change in law reviews’ submission preferences: Now 82 schools prefer or require Scholastica as the exclusive avenue for submissions, 40 law journals prefer direct emails, and 39 law reviews prefer or require submission through ExpressO, with 37 accepting articles submitted through either ExpressO or Scholastica. Seven schools now have their own online web portals. Ninety-three schools permit email submissions even if they prefer submission through a service.
The first chart contains information about each journal’s preferences about methods for submitting articles (e.g., e-mail, ExpressO, Scholastica, or regular mail), as well as special formatting requirements and how to request an expedited review. The second chart contains rankings information from U.S. News and World Report (overall, peer, lawyers and judges), as well as data from Washington & Lee’s law review website (citation count, impact factor, and combined ratings).
Information for Submitting Articles to Law Reviews and Journals: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1019029
We would welcome your forwarding of this link to your faculty. We appreciate any feedback you might have.
All the best,
Allen and Nancy
Professor Allen Rostron
Associate Dean for Students and William R. Jacques Constitutional Law Scholar and Professor of Law
Professor Nancy Levit
Associate Dean for Faculty and Curators' Distinguished Professor and Edward D. Ellison Professor of Law
UMKC School of Law
500 E. 52nd St.
July 18, 2019
Last year it was the addition of the silly but harmless "student leadership" and "community service" sections, this year it's more consequential: candidates can now upload their job talk papers along with their FAR form, CV and research agenda. But of course many candidates are still polishing their job talk papers because they expected, reasonably enough, that they would have until the first FAR distribution in eary-to-mid-August to get them ready for circulation. So I expect many candidates will not upload a job talk paper initially, and hiring schools shouldn't draw any adverse inferences from that given that AALS just sprung this on everyone.
It would be nice if the AALS would alert member schools well in advance of these changes, so we can advise candidates to prepare accordingly.
July 16, 2019
UPDATE: This morning (July 17), James Greif, Director of Communications for the AALS wrote me, and gave me permission to share his message:
I noticed your post about our website “Becoming a Law Teacher” and wanted to let you know that not including Professor Lawsky’s name along with her data was an oversight on our part. We have reached out to her and are in the process of correcting the error on our site, per her updated post. Not recognizing her work was not our intention and proper attributions will be up shortly.
Thank you for your attention to this issue and your coverage of legal education issues on your blog.
ANOTHER: It turns out there is other pilfered material on the new AALS law teaching website. I have alerted them to it. This may all be inadvertent, but it is still disgraceful for a professional organization.