Thursday, August 8, 2013


In August, the annual recruitment of new professors for law schools officially gets underway. Later this month, the AALS will release the first batch of “FAR” forms for the 2013-14 hiring season. This deceptively simple on-line questionnaire is just the beginning of what, for most candidates, is a grueling, months’-long process.

We thought it might be interesting and useful to talk with several candidates who are “on the market” this year, to see how they are thinking about the process, and what kinds of advice they have received.  Over the past two decades, I have been involved with this process from various vantage points, as a member or chair of hiring committees, as an adviser to graduate students in both legal history and American religious history. 

I interviewed three of this years’ candidates, each of whom has a law degree and one of whom has finished the Ph.D.  The other two are at various stages of work on the dissertation, one quite far along, the other less so, but still having made considerable progress on research and some writing.  Two are doing joint degrees; one has done the J.D. and Ph.D. degrees seriatim.
Factors such as these can make all the difference when deciding how to "market" oneself, including which basic law school or history courses one will teach, etc. It is also worth noting that each of our three candidates has a partner with some geographic restrictions; one is a new parent.

All three said that they found filling out the FAR form took careful thought and planning.  Two felt that the form allowed them ample space to cover the material they thought was most relevant, one called it a “rough and inaccurate frame,” and all three said that being strategic about teaching choices guided their response.  They suggested both basic first years courses they could teach and more advanced doctrinal courses, in addition to legal history.  None of them, in fact, listed legal history first in their “courses would like to teach” section of the FAR form.

All three have publications to report on the form, ranging from one to three major pieces.  One of the three is also planning to go on the history teaching market.

Each mentioned that they had been advised that the law school hiring market is tougher now than several years ago.  One stressed that legal historians have to justify themselves to law school audiences – they may well be viewed as a “luxury hire” in a climate of scarcity.  Others were more optimistic, but used words like “guarded optimism” and “uncertainty” to describe their sense of the market.

Each felt that composing a “research agenda,” a must for law school hiring but not expected by history departments, was a useful if time-consuming exercise (most successful candidates attach well-developed agendas to their FAR forms during the first “drop”).  One said that the reading for general exams made the process much easier, because preparation involved mastering large sweeps of historiography and situating their own work in a broader field.  Another said that the Ph.D. process forced intensive consideration of a research agenda, so that the document flowed far more easily than for non-joint degree candidates.

All are hard at work on job talks and the papers underlying the talk.  They are planning moots, getting lists ready, and generally trying to navigate the Byzantine structures of the hiring process.

Readers, what is your sense of the prospects for legal historians in law teaching and in history departments?  Perhaps you have recently been on the market, and have wisdom or cautionary tales to share.  Or perhaps you are involved in hiring, and can help these and other legal historians succeed “on the market.”


Dan Ernst said...

Now, more than ever, legal history candidates must be able to explain why they can only do what they want to do as a member of a law faculty. That's not to say that candidates have to shoehorn their interests into the legal profession's conceptions of useful scholarship and pedagogy. (Good law faculties, if not the ABA's Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, will value teaching and scholarship that sustains the law's place in the wider academe.). Candidates will still need an answer, though, and preferably one that makes sense to as many of the very different kinds of thinkers on a law faculty as possible.

Karen Tani said...

Back in 2011, I posted a few thoughts on FAR forms, AALS interviews, etc.:

There are also words of wisdom to be found in the "comments" section of this earlier post, as well as the posts to which it links.

But as Sally and Dan note, the market seems to have gotten tighter for legal historian... so to all of you with fresh insights, please to chime in!

Matt said...

Now, more than ever, legal history candidates must be able to explain why they can only do what they want to do as a member of a law faculty.

Dan- do you really think that "only" is the right qualifier here? It seems either clearly too high (if someone could best do what they want to do as part of a law faculty, why would that not be enough?) Or else trivially easy to meet (If someone wants to teach torts to 1ls, this can only be done as part of a law school faculty.)

I suppose that what you mean is that people should have some good reasons for wanting to be at a law school that are not just good for them, but also good for the other people involved- other faculty, students, etc. But that seems rather different from how you've put things here. Do you disagree?

Dan Ernst said...


Reasonable minds can certainly differ on the openness of law faculties to hiring entry-level legal historians right now. I tend to be a glass-half-empty fellow, and my views should be discounted accordingly. That said, I think the entry-level market for legal historians will be tighter than last year, which was awfully tight. When even the thoughtful members of the legal profession who served on the ABA's Task Force have apparently questioned whether most law schools should be devoted to producing legal scholarship (of any kind), my guess is that all but a handful (maybe two handfuls) of law faculties will want to be sure that an entry-level legal historian candidate is fully invested in their law school's mission.

More concretely, I'm suggesting that candidates come up with answers to the following two questions. Why do lawyers-to-be need to know what only a professionally trained legal historian can teach them, whether in, say, Torts or a legal history survey? And why can you only write the best version of the scholarship you hope to write--whatever its audience--by having as colleagues legal intellectuals and other law professors? I'd be happy--relieved, actually--to learn that law schools today are willing to support legal historians who could do what they want to do as well somewhere else. But when law faculties need all hands on deck, I have to predict that most are likely to hire only hands that are all in.

Matt said...

Thanks,Dan- I think I might have slightly misunderstood you. If I have you right, you're giving practical advice to job candidates w/ the "only" bit, not stating a view about what's desirable or reasonable in itself. Is that right? If so, you may well have the right take on things, though I'll admit I'd find it very short sighted and more than a bit silly if that is, in fact, the view that most schools have.

Dan Ernst said...

That's right, Matt. The comment was my best guess at the "is" of the matter, not the "ought."