Monday, July 11, 2011

Advice for legal historians on the entry-level law market: Part II

As I mentioned in May, I'm posting occasional advice for legal historians applying for entry-level law teaching jobs.  These posts (the first one is here) are based on my own very limited experience, but also on the wise counsel I received from mentors and colleagues.

I've noticed some blawg chatter about the FAR form, which candidates submit to the AALS in the late summer and early fall (the first "drop" date is August 2).  Here's my advice: don't try to game the system. I'm thinking specifically of the teaching interests section, where some people attempt to improve their chances of getting interviews by listing particular subjects and omitting others. Claiming an interest in a subject that you loathe is a clear "don't," but there are less obvious ways in which over-strategizing can go wrong. Here are two examples:

1. On my first draft of the form (DO circulate a draft to your advisors before you send it in), I omitted Legal History from the first line ("Subjects most like to teach").  Knowing that it would be a tight market, I was concerned about appearing too narrow and perhaps overly "academic."  An advisor reminded me that Legal History is my core interest; I would only confuse committees by giving it lower priority.  My takeaway: think about how you can contribute to the standard law school curriculum -- both because you should contribute and because you'll encounter this question in interviews -- but don't think that you need to fill every slot on that first line with 1L classes to demonstrate your potential value, especially if doing so leads you to bury a real area of expertise.

2. I omitted Con Law from my FAR form, having heard that "everyone wants to teach that" and "only Supreme Court clerks get those jobs." I later found myself interviewing with a committee that was looking for Con Law coverage. I felt foolish trying to explain that my research does actually relate and that I would be excited to teach the subject.  The lesson I took from this is: don't take yourself out of the game before it begins (asking the coach to bring you off the bench is pretty awkward).

Readers - do you have any other tips for legal historians filling out the FAR form?


David Bernstein said...

Leave the last part, where allows for additional comments, blank. And if you can't resist writing something, DON'T write something like "I have several years of experience teaching undergrads and look forward to nurturing the minds of future lawyers."

Anonymous said...

From someone who'll be on the job market this fall:

1) I sure wish the AHA and/or OAH did something like the FAR; it seems like that would make the process of getting an academic job a lot less time-consuming.

2) Is there any situation in which a legal historian with a Ph.D. but not a J.D. is likely to be a competitive applicant for law-school positions? (I see that the FAR includes questions on bar admittance, which suggests that the answer is no.)

Serena Mayeri said...

I think Karen is exactly right about the FAR form; I had a very similar experience.

Re: the additional comments section, I wonder if Professor Bernstein and others think that the "additional comments" section is a good place to clarify your interests if the FAR form doesn't capture them. For example, if I recall, there used to be a listing for "Employment Discrimination" and one for "Civil Rights" but not a catch-all for Employment Law or Anti-Discrimination law. Or is it better to just use your CV to elaborate primary and secondary teaching interests?

Something else I would add, based on experience: if you are going to list a 1L teaching subject that doesn't seem obvious from your research interests, be prepared to offer a robust explanation/defense. I spent a fair amount of time explaining that I really did want to teach Contracts, despite the fact that my CV had Con Law written all over it.

Thanks, Karen, for this valuable series!

David Bernstein said...

Probably better just to use your c.v. It sounds terrible, but you don't want to overemphasize teaching on your F.A.R. form. But I don't think that doing what you suggest would really hurt.

Gautham Rao said...

I think Karen has done a wonderful job with this series. I hope LHB considers publishing similarly-themed posts for the many graduate students who read the blog and will be on the history market.

Mary L. Dudziak said...

To Gautham Rao -- Claire Potter (aka Tenured Radical) is so good at history job market issues that I don't think anyone could top her posts!

Her blog has just moved to the Chronicle of Higher Ed's site. At its new home, under the category "the job market" I found many posts. Check it out here:

When she posts on these issues, there's often very helpful follow-up in the comments. So I'd read both. And you can find her most recent post on the sidebar at LHB. (I need to update the link.)

Anonymous said...

I had planned to give a short description of my current research in the additional comments section. My published work is on fairly obscure 19th century con law issues, but my current research deals more directly with procedure, which I am listing as my core teaching interest. I had heard that most schools never get past the FAR form, but would I be better off leaving this exclusively on my cv? Thanks

Mary L. Dudziak said...

To Anonymous July 22, with apologies for the delay: I would be sure to find a place for your current research, especially if you have an article in progress. If there's no other place for it, I'd put it in the additional comments section. Best of luck!