November 17, 2004
So You Want to Be a Law Professor (Christine's View) or Should There Be a Tenure-Track Match Day?
Posted by Christine Hurt

So You Want to Be a Law Professor (Christine's View) or Should There Be a Tenure-Track Match Day?

Gordon has previously posted helpful information and advice on law teacher hiring from the appointments committee persepective. As a 2002 conference survivor, I can definitely empathize with those lucky candidates who are now in the callback stage of the process. After having been on the voting end for a year, I can now see the nail-biting tension of both sides in the very strategic offer/consider/negotiation game. So, today, I pondered whether t-track hirings could benefit from a system such as the National Resident Matching System.

Currently, the process by which law teaching offers are made, considered, and accepted is full of tension on both sides. Because most law schools have a finite number of slots (or "lines" in budget parlance), they usually make offers one at a time. (Compare to large law firms, that make many offers, relying on historical yields and the confidence that they can always absorb another good lawyer.) So, Law School A (LS-A) interviews Candidates X, Y and Z (C-X, etc.). LS-A decides that all three are fine candidates, and ranks them in (coincidentally) alphabetical order. LS-A calls C-X and makes the offer. C-X liked LS-A, but really, really liked LS-B, so C-X tries to buy some time from LS-A. LS-A likes C-X the most, so it is willing to wait awhile. But, if C-X is going to eventually decline the offer, LS-A would like to know as soon as possible so it can make an offer to C-Y before C-Y accepts elsewhere. C-Y, meanwhile, is playing the same game with LS-C while it anxiously awaits an offer from LS-A. Multiply this by a couple of hundred candidates, and a smaller number of law schools, and you see the risks. One candidate may accept with her second choice school only to have first choice school call later. Or, that candidate may have to let the second choice offer go to wait on the first choice offer, which never appears. On the other hand, a law school may let its first choice candidate eat up time before declining an offer, only to find that its second and third choice candidates are gone.

Or, law schools and teaching candidates could interview and then enter all preferences into a computer program that would match law schools and candidates up in the optimal combinations and relieve the players from the stress of trying to game the system (or not be gamed). However, I doubt that either the schools or the candidates would like to cede that much control, even to gain peace of mind. (Although I've seen family and friends on resident Match Day, and it didn't look so peaceful.) Arguably, the match system may be overly harsh in a situation where candidates are making a more permanent and enduring decision than a temporary residency. (Because I am married to an antitrust geek, I have to interject now that the National Resident Matching System has recently withstood antitrust challenges.)

So, the only advice I have to offer candidates is to try to negotiate in good faith with law schools that make offers to you. If you don't think you would accept with a school, then don't hang on to the offer to be able to tell some other school you have one. Some other poor slob is waiting for that offer. Karma, reap what you sow, golden rule, blah, blah, blah. I found my perfect match, and I bet you do, too.


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