Informal Guide to the AALS Job Market 2012-2013, for IGLP-ers
The AALS1 Faculty Recruitment Conference, held annually in Washington, D.C. is the primary hiring conference for entry-level US legal academic positions. The hiring process, colloquially known as the ‘meat market,’ ‘the AALS,’ or the ‘FAR2 process’ is a centralized hiring conference that allows representatives from all-AALS registered schools to evaluate, rank and interview candidates who are applying for American law school faculty positions. The conference is typically held in October, though materials must be submitted to the AALS as early as August of the given hiring year. This short and informal guide is intended to outline the application process as well as to give more informal hints to applicants, particularly senior graduate legal studies students.
The hiring process occurs over the course of an academic year. In other words, the 2012-2013 hiring season—for which the AALS hiring conference will be held in October 2012—contemplates that successful candidates will begin their tenure-track positions in the following academic year, or Fall 2013. Off-year hiring is possible, meaning that it is possible to negotiate starting in Summer 2013 (for schools offering summer classes), or to negotiate starting in Spring 2014. Typically, however, candidates are being considered for particular open faculty tenure-track ‘lines’ that will start in the fall of the subsequent year. If a candidate is in their first or second year of teaching on tenure track in the UK or some non-US jurisdiction, they will most likely be applying to ‘first year’ positions, rather than entering as laterals.
Registration for the hiring conference occurs in August, followed by interviews in Washington, D.C. in October 11-13. Following the D.C. interviews, candidates are invited for more thorough ‘call-back’ interviews, either via Skype or other form of videoconferencing, or more typically, for a two-three day call-back interview at the school.
The Faculty Appointments Register (“FAR”) opens in early Summer of the hiring year. The FAR is an online database, into which candidates upload their biographical and professional data. The website for the FAR is available here: http://www.aals.org/frs/far.php. The cost to register starts at $450, although fee waivers for low-income applicants are available. Fee waiver requests are considered on a case-by-case basis. There are four separate deadlines for registration and payment, ranging from August 8 to January 23, 2013. It is generally agreed among hiring faculty committee members, and candidates, that candidates should do everything possible to be within the first ‘distribution,’ as explained below.
In previous decades, the AALS compiled hard copies of candidate FAR forms and distributed them to the member schools as a collective volume of resumes. Whether schools still request hard copies, over the past years, there has been an increasing tendency to use electronic copies of forms. Additionally, for most schools, hiring has become progressively more competitive, meaning schools attempt to conduct their searches very early in the calendar year. While certain schools continue their hiring well into the academic year (note: VAP applications extend beyond timeline for tenure-track positions), and will consider FAR forms submitted through the last AALS distribution, a candidate is tactically better positioned to submit their form by August 8, 2012. There is no logistical benefit to submitting a form prior to August 8, given that the hiring database becomes available to schools only on August 16, and not earlier. The four distribution dates in 2012-2013 are:
Distribution Form and Payment Due at AALS Distribution Fee
#1 August 8, 2012 August 16, 2012 $ 450
#2 August 28, 2012 September 6, 2012 $ 450
#3 September 19, 2012 September 27, 2012 $ 450
#4 January 23, 2013 February 1, 2013 $ 485
The FAR Form
The FAR website does not allow candidates to upload cover letters, or any supplementary application materials. Applicants are limited to an online form that is subsequently condensed to one 8.5×11” .pdf document – known as the ‘FAR Form’ – which becomes the primary reference page for hiring committees. The FAR website does allow candidates to upload their resumes/CVs – and hiring committees do have access to these materials if they desire to obtain additional information about a candidate. However, given the constraints on hiring committees, i.e., searching through nearly one thousand applicants, the FAR form inevitably becomes a convenient, albeit woefully incomplete, proxy for a full-blown CV.
Hiring committees routinely perform their initial searches by doing keyword searches of relevant FAR fields. Thus, if a school is interested in interviewing for a Civil Procedure tenure-track line, and a school is only willing to consider an applicant with previous federal clerkship experience, a hiring committee can restrict their search to only those candidates who have indicated they have federal clerkship experience on the FAR form. If an applicant omits this information from the FAR form, even if they have held a federal clerkship that is indicated on, say, their CV, their candidate profile will not register on the radar of the given search committee.
Because of this, the FAR form is of critical importance. Moreover, of the relevant fields, the ones that have greatest significance are fields 12-14 inquiring about course preference. These are titled, “Subjects Most Like to Teach,” “Other Subjects May Be Interested In Teaching,” “Other Subjects Would Be Willing To Teach, If Asked.” Many search committees do not have authority to perform unrestricted, a.k.a. ‘best athlete,’3 searches. Rather, committees are charged with interviewing for particular teaching needs. In other words, a school may need someone to teach Business Organizations, or International Law, and the faculty will charge a committee with recruiting candidates who have similar interests. On a practical level, a committee then translates their charge into a FAR keyword search that seeks to identify candidates who have expressed an interest in teaching Business Organizations or International Law in fields 12-14. The FAR registry will then generate a list of, say, 100 candidates who have expressed an interest in teaching that particular course. If one is a prolific international law scholar with previous experience teaching international law, and this is abundantly clear from one’s CV, but the candidate has not indicated International Law in fields 12-14, their FAR form (and hence, candidacy) will not appear on the faculty hiring report. As a corollary, an entry-level candidate is often hard-pressed to rank preferred courses, versus ‘other subjects I’d be willing to teach, if asked’ – because frankly, most entry-level candidates would gladly teach any course, if asked (subject to qualifications and obvious competency constraints), if that meant being a tenure-track law professor. This is a very difficult decision, and results in some arbitrary choices both from the perspective of the candidate, and from the perspective of the hiring committee.
Other tricky questions concern geographic preference. The American academic market is national, mobile, and presupposes that successful candidates are willing to relocate to the location of the given school. Unless absolutely constrained by family or other considerations, it is recommended to leave geographic constraints open, so as to maximize chances of attaining a larger number of interviews.
FAR Form Advice from Previous Successful Candidates
“With respect to fields 12-14, generally make each consistent with your research agenda, but also include at least one doctrinal American 1L course in field 12, even if it is outside of your research agenda. Schools need to fill first year courses, 1L courses aren’t all that difficult to master, and it shows flexibility.”
“Don’t underestimate how much information you can include in the different ‘Comments’ sections on the form. You can use this space to provide information about why you want to teach the suggested courses, to highlight a publishing record or agenda, or to provide more information and context about your application.”
“Be thoughtful about the FAR. Many applicants also don’t take enough time with the FAR form, make sure that your best publications are included, and make sure your teaching preferences are logical. Be prepared to explain why you have listed the courses you would want to teach and be willing to teach. It is not impressive to sound like you’ll teach underwater basketweaving for a position. And very importantly, have someone else read your form before you post it. In terms of geographic preferences, limit yourself if you know for certain that you will not move beyond a particular area. There are only so many slots and if you take up an interview slot at a school in North Dakota that you will never move to under any conditions, you’ve wasted both your time, the hiring committee’s and done someone out of a possible job.”
“Often, internationally-trained JSD students are wary about interviewing at so-called ‘regional’ law schools away from major metropolitan areas. On the one hand, there is natural anxiety about culture shock—how someone with a cosmopolitan background will be perceived by a more seemingly ‘parochial’ faculty body. On the other hand, there is a strong preference to situate oneself in a bustling intellectual community like New York or Boston. Don’t limit yourself by these considerations at the AALS stage. You’ll make that decision when you get two competing firm offers – one from Southern Methodist University, and the other from Brooklyn. At this stage you job is far more straightforward: (1) get interviews; (2) get offers.”
Note: There are varying opinions about what are ‘best publications’, but some factors to consider would be a) extent it conforms to general law journal articles, b) doctrinal, law-looking content (as opposed to theory, history, etc.), and c) degree it connects to teaching interests or more general application narrative.
FAR-out, or Out-of-FAR, Contacts
Once the FAR forms are open for distribution on August 16, schools will begin contacting candidates to schedule interviews in D.C. Some schools begin this process immediately, some will continue all the way through October 10. There is little consistency between schools, and between a particular school year after year. The timing depends on the workload, hiring needs, and timing of the given committee. As a number of blog posts by hiring committee members attest, it would be an absolute mistake to read into the ‘timing’ of when you were contacted – to read the tea leaves, so to say, and to imagine where you ‘rank’ in the mindset of the committee. Remember, at this point, the academic year has just started, committee members are juggling teaching, scholarly conferences, publications, and perhaps multiple faculty hiring lines. Remember, too, that you are just one name, one 8.5×11” FAR form out of 30 or so candidates that will be interviewed in D.C. Be glad you got the interviews—don’t waste your time thinking of where you “rank” in their minds. Which brings one naturally to the next consideration – whether you should contact schools/hiring committees ‘outside’ of the FAR process? This can occur at three points: (1) contacting schools that have not contacted you yet regarding a D.C. interview – and asking to be interviewed in D.C.; (2) after receiving an interview spot in D.C., contacting faculty members at the target school and trying to bolster your candidacy somehow; (3) responding to particular job announcements in the FAR Placement Bulletin.4 The blogs show that this happens with some regularity, meaning candidates email or sometimes cold-call faculty hiring committee members.
There are wide ranging thoughts on this:
FAR-out Advice from Previous Successful Candidates
“With respect to number (1) above, unless you have a close colleague who is a faculty member at the target school, cold calls/emails are unlikely to separate you from the pack – and to generate you a D.C. interview. With respect to number (2), it is best to wait until after your D.C. interview, and even then, to proceed very cautiously to avoid appearing overly zealous.”
“With respect to #3, sometimes schools—especially law schools of public universities—will have separate parallel application procedures. The Placement Bulletin may instruct interested candidates to go to the university’s website to submit an application. This is usually redundant to the AALS FAR process, and it is unclear to what extent overlap will help you, though it certainly can’t hurt. Universities typically do this to comply with state affirmative action programs or transparent/competitive hiring policies. I know of one person who received an AALS interview based on a response to a Placement Bulletin post, so it cannot hurt.”
“I cold-emailed several schools I was interested in directly right before the D.C. conference which led to one more interview. Admittedly, this was pretty lucky but I felt I had nothing to lose in targeting a number of schools that I knew were hiring in my area and that I was specifically interested in.”
“The hiring process can be very political. If you intend to contact people at target schools, you should be aware that there may be other factors that impact their reactions to you. If you intend to you’re your materials out of the FAR process, be careful who you send it to and how this will play with the hiring committee.
AALS-FAR v. VAP Positions
There are three important points regarding visiting assistant professor positions and the AALS meat market.
First, as data from previous completed hiring cycles shows, more than 2/3 of entry-level hires have some teaching experience, whether in the capacity of a visiting assistant professor (VAP), as a teaching fellow, or a similar position. Therefore, it is non-uncommon to hear people say that a VAP is now a prerequisite for a tenure track job. While this is technically not true, statistics suggest that teaching experience is increasingly an important hiring consideration for schools.
Second, as mentioned above, the AALS FAR market is primarily geared towards entry-level tenure track hiring. However, experience shows that if a school is interested in a candidate, but there may not be a precise curricular fit between a candidate and school, a school may opt to offer a candidate a one or two year visiting position. A good rule of thumb on the AALS meat market and trying to convert an interview into a VAP position is this: wait until after the D.C. interview, until after the call-back, and until after the school rejects you from tenure-track consideration to introduce the possibility of coming on as a visitor (or to entertain that notion if the school is the party initiating this conversation). Doing so at any point prior suggests that you are desperate, and don’t think yourself viable as a tenure-track candidate.
Third, many schools that do not officially advertise a VAP position, nevertheless have some form of ‘informal’ VAP program or positions available.
If you are searching for a VAP position prior to going on the AALS entry-level market, please see the helpful links below.
Deadlines/Timeline, and a Few Technicalities:
Aside from the August 8 deadline to submit the FAR form and payment, and the October 11-13 faculty recruitment conference dates, every school has a different schedule for call-backs, offers, and for sending out rejection notices. A good guide for the general date ranges is the calendar from last year’s (2011-2012) hiring process, available here.5
In addition to the FAR, some candidates have found it useful to provide additional materials to prospective employers. While providing a research agenda can be tricky, a hard copy of one’s C.V. and cover letter (properly formatted) in a manila envelope, which is mailed to the job hiring committee, can be a potentially successful strategy for getting noticed and demonstrating particular interest. These would be timed between the first and second AALS dispersal.
Important Big-Picture Points for Non-US Candidates:
At this point, we can skip forward to D.C. and raise a few preliminary points about the interview. Although particular group dynamics will vary, one thing should be very clear: you’re in a room with individuals who are sent to D.C. to bring back three to four candidates. Given that you made it to the interview, baseline competence (or brilliance, depending on your self-image) is assumed. The committee basically wants to know whether you will fit neatly into their conception of a colleague, and whether you are interested in teaching courses that they need taught at their American law school. Committees will ask you this very directly, as in, literally, “So, what is your ideal course package?”
For most candidates with an international law background, an ideal course package will mean international law podium classes (public international law, international business transactions), plus some combination of seminars on specialized fields. Unfortunately, it is very rare and very difficult to obtain that course package, especially outside of ‘elite’ schools. It is far more typical to be hired into a line 6 that has at least one, but maybe two or three American doctrinal courses. This means being able to convey to the hiring committee that you are not just qualified to teach those courses, but that you are generally interested in doing so for a period of five to ten years, if not for the rest of your academic career.
With respect to qualifications, it must be said at the outset that if you are reading this, the answer is that you are far more than adequately qualified to teach American 1L and/or specialized doctrinal classes in your area of expertise. Chances are you have a primary and secondary law degree, possibly an LL.M. and a doctoral degree on the way. You have published, and have some legal practice experience. However, to the faculty hiring committee members, your LL.B. from University of Cape Town, LL.M. from Leiden, experience working for an intergovernmental treaty drafting group, 2 publications in peer-reviewed European law journals, plus SJD from Harvard – while certainly impressive, to say the least – does not immediately scream “Oh, and I’m qualified and interested in teaching American property law, especially the rule against perpetuities.”
The biggest mistake that non-US candidates can make at this point is to think that they are in a somehow different boat than a traditional American candidate. You are not. The committee is just as concerned about the candidate with the JD from Chicago, a federal clerkship, and three years of BigLaw experience defending Giant MNCs from employment discrimination claims. In some ways, you may be more qualified to teach the American first year property course, and may actually have an interest in doing so, but you must be able to communicate that effectively to the committee.
The easiest way to do that is to anticipate their questions – “why Property?”, “what casebook will you use, and why?”, “have you taught Property before”, and “how will you connect your research interests to your teaching?” – is by taking a look at the casebook ahead of time, refreshing your recollection, pulling a few sample syllabi off the Internet, speaking with any of your junior colleagues who also have this sort of strange course package. That way, at the D.C. interview, you can confidently articulate the reason why you “want” to teach that first or second year course (for instance, you want to develop a core competency in American property law to be able to analyze theories underpinning FDI law, or whatever you’re working on), in addition to a podium international human rights law course, and two seminars. Please note, by saying that you want your teaching to influence your scholarship, you are in no way obligating yourself to change your actual research agenda. Nor do you have to make this connection necessarily (there is some disagreement concerning this). But this is meant to simply illustrate one way of connecting an international law-type research agenda with a straightforward American doctrinal first year course.
If this seems disingenuous or too instrumentalist a way of looking at your work in relation to your teaching, you may be right, but in that case, beware that committees may look at you suspiciously (unless it’s that elusive international law only course package). You absolutely must be able to articulate a reason why you’re dying to teach a 1L course. And, as a small comfort, so too does the Chicago JD candidate with BigLaw experience. You two are in absolutely identical shoes in this respect. You’re in no better position, nor worse.
All of the above, of course, assumes that you have an interest in some American subjects. In that case substitute Torts or Immigration for Property, or whatever it is. But as a baseline, that will be asked, and you need to be prepared to assert why you’re the best candidate for the job.
Getting the Call-Back! And Giving a Job Talk!
The call-back and “job talk” (the presentation that you will give about your current scholarly project before a large part of your prospective future faculty) is the most important part of your interview. It is a great equalizer in the sense that, at the end of the day, it is just you and a blackboard, and you have to convince your future colleagues that you are: (1) competent; (2) interesting; and (3) effective as a teacher. It is also a great opportunity to distinguish yourself, because by this point, you are one of about three or four candidates, versus twenty to thirty in D.C.
There is a lot written on the mechanics of a job talk, and on successful strategies, for instance here. Across the board, the best thing a candidate can do is practice! This means everything from a rough presentation to fellow JSD students or a friend, to more polished presentations in front of junior colleagues, all the way to a fully substantive ‘job talk vetting’ by senior faculty members at your home institution. This is important because it will expose many of the potentially tricky substantive questions you are likely to encounter from an unfamiliar audience, as well as give you confidence to know that stylistically, your presentation will be well-paced and well-received.
Job Talk Advice from Previous Successful Candidates
“My suggestion is to do the talk at least three times before you come to campus. You should also think carefully about Powerpoint use and its costs and benefits. Very often we see a bunch of talks where the slides are nothing more than just thoughts from the talk. They don’t actually illustrate anything. People tend to tune out and look at the slides so be careful how you use them. In the talk itself, be very clear what your project is and how it adds to the literature. There is nothing worse than giving a talk and having people walk away with the sense that you’ve done nothing new or interesting.”
“While the job talk is your moment to stun everyone with your intellectual brilliance, you will have to stay sharp the rest of the day. You will also have a series of office interviews with two or three people in a number of faculty offices. Many candidates fall down here, they appear tired or lethargic and that can be a signal that they’re not interested. Stay focused on what you can bring to the institution and how you will be part of what they’re doing. Do not ask about research support, tenure policies, or anything salary related as this will most likely be the kiss of death. Do not suck up to the senior colleagues while ignoring the junior colleagues. Junior faculty members have the same voting power as tenured faculty and they will notice your lack of respect and vote you down. Treat everyone the same; don’t fawn over the superstars. If you get asked a question that you are uncomfortable with, be graceful but not evasive. If you don’t know the answer to a question in either the job talk or an office interview, it’s okay to admit it (unless very basic) and thank the questioner for “pointing you in a direction for further inquiry.”
“Remember, faculty at the schools you’re going to share thoughts and assessments. Often corridor conversations will change people’s minds. Try to stay even-keeled through the office interviews, positive and comfortable but not cocky or overeager.”
The Faculty Lounge – Law School Hiring
The 2011-2012 Entry Level Hiring Report
Helpful Interview Regarding Interview Process, including information on the Canadian market
- Essential Guide to VAP Positions: http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2011/02/the-essential-guide-to-law-school-fellowships-and-vap-positions.html
- The Placement Bulletin also advertises for VAP positions.
- Many of us have spreadsheets of VAP positions we’ve applied to that we’d be willing to share.
The IGLP network has proven to be very useful for bouncing around job talk ideas, getting a vetting, or just for having frank conversations about your ostensibly duplicitous role as a candidate navigating the other AALS – Autopoietic Academy of Lost Souls – when really, your actual purpose may be a still other form of AALS – to Awaken, Agitate, Liberate, Serve. Whatever your purpose or inner conflict, the ‘meat market’ is so affectionately named precisely because it is so emotionally draining, stupefying, and physically demanding. For this reason, having a set of allies is beyond helpful – it’s indispensable. The people below have all navigated either the VAP, entry-level, or lateral job market (some all three) and have agreed to share their personal contact information to members of the IGLP network, broadly defined. Please don’t hesitate to contact any of us with any questions, even if this is a situation where you are in D.C. (it is October 12), and your ability to nail a call-back opportunity means one of us has to live-tweet you the exact secondary holding of an obscure nineteenth century American property law decision. This is why we’re IGLP-ers – Individuals Giving Live Peer-support. We all have folders of previous cover letters, research agendas, email templates, CVs, FAR-forms, etc. – that we’d be willing to share in some form or another – that may be useful as templates.
Names of Lecturers/Professors Available to Contact This 2012-2013 Academic Year:
Associate Professor of Law
Florida International University
Associate Professor of Law
University of Colorado School of Law (Boulder)
University of Oregon School of Law
John D. Haskell
Assistant Professor of Law
Mississippi College School of Law (MC Law)
Assistant Professor of Law
University of Memphis, School of Law
949-303-9058 (personal mobile)
Lecturer in Law
University of Glasgow, School of Law
1. American Association of Law Schools.
2. Faculty Appointments Register.
3. In a best-athlete search, the committee seeks a prospective faculty member who will be a productive member of the school’s scholarly community, and the school and candidate work out course assignment accordingly.
4. The Placement Bulletin is published by the AALS three times in the given hiring year. The Bulletin is a useful resource because it often, though not always, identifies the particular faculty hiring chairperson, and a school’s doctrinal hiring needs in that year.
5. The spreadsheet is compiled by volunteers who sort dozens of anonymous submissions by candidates. The most popular running blog for this sort of ‘live-tweet’ of the hiring market is Prawfsblawg, available here for 2011-2012, and 2012-2013.
6. A typical American tenure track line carries a 2+2 load, meaning two courses in the Fall, and two in the Spring. It is customary for schools to give first year professors a lightened load, typically 1+2 (1 course in the Fall, two in the Spring). 2+2 then commences in earnest in the Fall of your second year.