August 28, 2004
So You Want to be a Law Professor: Part II
Posted by Gordon Smith

Thanks to the many readers who sent kind emails about the first installment in this series. In today's entry, I will discuss "The Book" -- the AALS Faculty Appointments Register. This is no longer a book, of course, as the AALS has ceased making paper distributions. Everything is online and searchable (though a bit clunky). For obvious reasons, however, you cannot see the contents without a password, so let me give you an idea of what we find in The Book.

As noted in my earlier entry, this first installment of The Book contains 613 resumes. There will be four installments in all, though the last (next January) will be too late for most of us. (I assume that this installment is useful to someone, but our recruiting will be done in December, so we won't even look at the January distribution.) By the time The Book is complete, it will contain over 1,000 candidates. The overwhelming majority of these people will not get jobs as law professors, at least not this year.

One of the primary tasks of the appointments committee is to sift through the candidates, looking for someone who is a good fit for the available position. If the position is well defined by subject matter -- for example, our tax position this year -- the search is relatively easy. The AALS database is searchable by expressed course preferences. In my view, if we are looking for a candidate whose primary scholarly interest lies in the area of taxation, that candidate should probably list one or all of the tax courses among those that they would most like to teach.  Using that as a search parameter, I find 40 of the 613 candidates who appear qualified for a further look. If I expand the search to include all candidates who have listed a tax course anywhere among their teaching preferences, the number of candidates rises to 59. Just to be thorough, I have reviewed all 59 forms.

If the position is open as to subject matter, the search becomes much more challenging. How do we find the "best athletes"? Unfortunately, the database offers only limited assistance here. We can search, for example, for candidates who list a PhD among their credentials. Often, these are candidates who expect to complete their degree next year, and they are hoping to land a teaching position that will provide a seamless transition from student to professor. If I limit the search to PhDs, I find 95 candidates or over 15 percent of the candidate pool. My impression is that this percentage has been rising over time. These candidates are often attractive because they have already tasted the life of the academic in a way not available to most JDs. On the other hand, my impression is that many marginal PhD students or marginal JD students seek the additional degree to enhance their marketability, but it does not change the fact that they are marginal scholars and likely to stay that way. In short, a PhD does not punch your ticket into law teaching.

Supreme Court clerks are difficult to find in the AALS database. It allows a search for those who have judicial clerkships, but it does not distinguish those with U.S. Supreme Court clerkships from those with other clerkships, and most of us think this might be a relevant distinction. Of the 613 candidates, 248 list some form of judicial clerkship. When I download the whole database -- all 613 forms -- and do a word search to find Supreme Court clerks, I locate only eight candidates. Hmm. Fewer than I would have thought, but perhaps some of the clerks who might otherwise be in the market have already secured a position through back channels. In any event, this group is always worth a look, even though many of them will turn out to be disappointing in the interview room.

Another relevant fact when attempting to separate the wheat from the chaff is publications. If you are a teaching candidate on the bubble, there is nothing you can do that will improve your chances more than publishing some good articles. Unfortunately, the searches are too imprecise here. Of the 613 total candidate, 560 list one or more publications. These range from newspaper editorials to continuing legal education presentations to Harvard Law Review articles. Among other things, we are attempting to predict scholarly potential, and many of the listed writings are not very helpful for that task. Law review articles or other scholarly writings are the best credentials here, but the AALS database does not provide for such detailed searches.

There are other ways to sort the forms. For example, sorting the forms by gender yields 182 women. (This was a surprise to me. Roughly half of all law students are women, but only 30 percent of the candiates are women?) A "minorities only" search produces 103 records (16.6 percent), with designations ranging from "Black/African American," "Hispanic-American," and "Asian" to "Pakastani," "Puerto Rican," and "Alaskan Native." And, of course, we can sort by selected law schools, though this is a search I never perform, except out of curiosity. For example, 7 candidates have University of Wisconsin degrees, while 15 have degrees from the University of Chicago. Other contingents include Columbia (46), Harvard (83), NYU (45), Stanford (22), Yale (44). (These numbers include LLMs.)

At this point, I have tapped out the potential for limiting the database through searches, and the only way to identify potential candidates is through a manual search: I will look at every one of the 613 forms. More on what I am looking for in the next post.

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Comments (3)

1. Posted by Ryan on August 28, 2004 @ 10:29 | Permalink

What is a "good" article? One that is in a "good" journal? If so, what is a "good" journal? Top20? Top50? Or do journals like, say, University of Nebraska law review count for something? Even lower? What about good specialty journals? Do you take into account that persons may have been publishing directly out of law school or as a practitioner, making great placement a bit more difficult than it would be if that person had "Assistant Professor, University of Wisonsin-Madison" next to their name on the cover letter?

Lots of questions, but this seems like an interesting discussion.

2. Posted by Gordon Smith on August 28, 2004 @ 11:01 | Permalink

Ryan, All excellent questions. I left "good" intentionally vague because it will depend on the school. What constitutes "good" will depend not only on how others perceive the school, but how they perceive themselves. (Some places are snootier than others.) A Top 20 placement for someone who is a judicial clerk, law firm lawyer, or otherwise in private practice is exceptional, especially if the piece is not co-authored. If you co-author with a famous law professor, most of us will assume that the professor's reputation aided in the placement. On the other hand, the fact that the professor was willing to co-author with you is itself a good sign.

General law reviews below the Top 20 can also be good. With so many general law reviews, pretty much anything can find a home somewhere, so placing in a second- or third-tier law review does not signal anything about quality. (Indeed, the quality signal of a Top 20 law review if pretty fuzzy.) But it at least shows that you are interested in writing and are familiar with the process of producing legal scholarship.

When I started writing, one of my professor friends said, "If your piece is not good enough to be placed in a Top 20 journal, put it in a specialty journal or rework it." Of course, this person was speaking from his office at a Top 20 law school, so placement for him was a lot easier than for many people. Nevertheless, placing your article in a top specialty journal is a lot easier than placing it in a top general law review, but it may be more difficult than placing it in a second- or third-tier law review. It depends on the journals involved.

One final note: if we are otherwise interested in you, we will look at the piece regardless of where it is published and try to make an evaluation, understanding that the system for placing law review articles is highly imperfect.

3. Posted by Ethesis (Stephen M) on September 26, 2004 @ 10:02 | Permalink

What is really interesting is areas where there is little, if any, "real" writing going on. Negotiations and ADR would count in those areas. Yes, there are journals (Harvard has one, amoung others), but the memorable material in them runs in less than a handful of pages a year. Pages, not articles.

Though there is a great deal to write about, such as the debates over ethics in negotiation which seems fairly complex, but break down along style lines (the aggressives and the cooperatives are basically pushing codes that fit their styles).

Of course that doesn't make for a very long article, though it is fun to make the point in discussions. I have yet to have anyone fail to have an "ah hah" moment when I point that split out (Gerald Williams really liked it, for example).

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