January 19, 2006
Junior Law Professors & Visiting, Part 2
Posted by Christine Hurt

Again, I feel a little strange handing out advice without much experience in this area, but I have aggregated some advice that others have given me this semester.  (Part 1 on this topic is here.)  In addition, other junior law professors have told me their own visiting stories as long as I promised not to cite them!  Some advice I took, some I didn't.  I think I'm lucky things turned out so well because I probably made some mistakes along the way.  So, part two of this post on junior law professors and visiting will focus on advice about what to do when the invitation to visit comes.  As an aside, at the 2004 AALS conference, the topic of visiting for the untenured was broached at the New Law Professors panel.  I noted at the time that the general consensus was that visiting while untenured was rare and risky.  This Fall, I personally knew at least nine untenured professors who were visiting.  As I don't know everyone, I'm assuming that the actual number was somewhat higher than that.  The conventional wisdom on the risks/rewards may be changing.

Ask the right questions.  Don't be shy.  Ask if the visit is a look-see visit or a "podium filler" visit.  Now, it may be that you don't care.  The benefits of visiting extend beyond your prospects at that institution.  You will meet more people, get to know others in your field better, and get opportunities to workshop your current work.  But, if you decide that the costs of visiting are higher than those ancillary benefits, then you want to ask pointed questions about the probabilities that the visit will turn into something more.  I also know of a few people sitting at institutions after taking a "no-look" visit that turned into an offer down the road.  If the probabilities of an offer are important to your decisionmaking, ask questions about the appointments process and what you can expect.

Gauge what effect a visit will have on your future at your home institution.  Some schools have a culture of visiting -- at any given time, some professors are visiting at other schools, on sabbatical, or on leave at a federal agency or thinktank.  At other schools, visiting is not the norm.  Before deciding, try to assess whether taking the visit will ruffle too many feathers.  Here, I was lucky because, even though Marquette does not have a culture of visiting, my Dean was very supportive.  But, as they say, I've heard stories that aren't as happy.  Visiting while untenured my engender some envy or may simply signal to others that you aren't a "lifer."  One professor friend told me that taking a look-see visit is like telling your girlfriend that you want to date other people; even if you come back to your girlfriend, things may not be the same. 

Put your best foot forward.  If you have any leeway about your teaching package, teach courses you teach well and that in the past have yielded good student evaluations.  As a junior professor, you may still be putting together your ideal package and you may see this as an opportunity to road test a new course or teach a course that you don't have the opportunity to teach at your home school.  So, weigh the risk of a rough start and the time involved in a new prep with the benefits of bringing your "A" game.

Don't rush to reject an opportunity.  When I was visiting at Illinois, I thought that my decision was sort of crazy.  Because I have small children, I commuted during the week and spent 3 days at Illinois and 4 in Milwaukee.  This involved a 4-5 hour drive at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday mornings and the same drive back on Friday evenings.  My first instinct was to say I could not because of my family obligations, but then we made it work.  During the semester, I heard all kinds of stories about law professors visiting and commuting or visiting and moving their families with them.  All the stories involved some sort of analogy to my pre-dawn driving, either by car, train, or airplane.  People do what they have to do.  As I told myself during the semester, being away two nights or so a week for 14 weeks was nothing compared to the schedules of other working parents who travel for their jobs.

In for a penny, in for a pound. Although as a commuting visitor you may be tempted to sneak in and sneak out, realize that enduring the costs of commuting will be for naught if you are not at the school long enough for you to get to know the faculty and for them to get to know you. So, be sure and be present when the good stuff goes on, such as faculty workshops and outside lectures. And while there, make an effort to get to know people.  Your visit won't be like a Texas summer clerkship, with someone making sure that you are entertained and met; you have to do that yourself. So, don't create a great schedule where you are at school on Thursdays and Fridays if no one is there on Thursdays and Fridays. And if you are in residence, make the most of it.  Do not use the visit as an opportunity to get a lot of work done without the committee obligations and faculty meetings of your home school.

Make the most of the opportunity. Definitely do a workshop. Definitely go to workshops.  And, as someone suggested to me, if the visiting school has a better reputation than your home school, send out work on that school's letterhead.

Don't try to have two jobs. While I was visiting, I remained on committees at my home school and went to weekly meetings. I was advised not to do that.  I chose to remain on the Admissions Committee for various reasons, and I would do it again.  But, I would urge others to not try to have two jobs, even if you are commuting. Visiting is not less time-intensive than teaching at your home school, even if you don't have committee obligations.  The transaction costs involved in moving or commuting, plus getting to know other faculty members and just wading through a different administrative system, add up to more time than committee work. In addition, if you do find yourself seeking an appointment there or at other institutions, that work and energy will eat up a lot of your time.

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