How Do I Apply for a Teaching Job?
Hiring for entry-level, tenure-track teaching jobs typically begins more than a year before the start dates. The process is largely conducted through the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), which distributes candidates’ standardized resumes to appointments committees and sponsors a Faculty Recruitment Conference in the fall in Washington, D.C.
If you wish to apply for this type of position, you should familiarize yourself with the application process well before it starts. Most candidates start their preparations in the spring of the calendar year in which they will be applying. The AALS website includes a very informative Faculty Recruitment Services portion.
In the year in which you choose to participate in the AALS recruiting process, be sure to fill out the application in time to have your material included in the first distribution. Many schools fill up their interview slots based on this first set and don’t look at candidates whose material comes in later.
Faculty Recruitment Conference
At the Faculty Recruitment Conference, faculty appointments committees (usually a group of two to five faculty, often including the dean) conduct initial screening interviews. Candidates should plan to attend the conference, and expect to pay their own way. It is generally worthwhile to stay at the conference hotel, as the 30-minute interviews are often scheduled back to back. Columbia Law School hosts a hospitality suite for its candidates at the conference. This is a great place to have a snack, get advice, swap war stories, leave your coat, or just unwind between interviews.
After your screening interview, if you are invited by a school for an on-campus interview, the school will pay the costs of the trip. On-campus interviews begin as early as the week after the AALS conference, and may extend into late February. In general, the on-campus interview will consist of a dinner with several faculty members, a series of interviews with other faculty members, your job talk, a meeting with students, and a meeting with the dean. The dinner may take place the evening before the rest of your schedule, or it may take place after your interviews and job talk. You should make sure to get the details of the school’s expectations before you visit so that you are not surprised on arrival. The job talk usually is a 15-to-30-minute presentation to the school’s entire faculty, often with visual aids but not read from a prepared text, on your current work, followed by about 40 to 60 minutes of questions. In most cases, the chair or another member of the appointments committee will shepherd you through the process. The timing of decisions about offers will vary from one school to another and depend on a particular school’s procedures.
Most schools will permit you to wait until you have heard from all the other schools at which you had on-campus interviews before requiring you to accept or reject their offer. However, a growing number of schools give fixed deadlines, with the result that their offer may expire before you know whether you will be receiving offers from other schools. Schools that make “exploding” offers do so to avoid waiting too long on their first-choice candidate, and potentially losing their second-, third- and fourth-choice candidates. They also count on the risk aversion of candidates as a method of ensnaring candidates they would otherwise lose to higher-ranked institutions. There is no standard approach on handling an exploding offer from a school that is acceptable to you but less desirable than a school at which you remain in the running. Weigh your choices based upon the relative merits, your estimate of the likelihood that you will receive additional offers, and your taste for risk, as in other contexts, such as clerkships and law review offers of publication.
Other Hiring Venues
Many law schools hire clinical faculty members through the AALS Faculty Recruitment Conference, but there are other established mechanisms as well. Many schools advertise clinical teaching positions in the CLEA newsletter, and these schools welcome applications made directly to the school’s Appointments Committee or to the director of the clinical program. Law schools will typically invite clinical faculty candidates to on-campus interviews. Many clinical faculty on-campus interviews will require job talks, but many will not. Be sure to ask the school about the format of your visit.
On-campus interviews are arduous. Remember that you are potentially being evaluated by everyone you encounter, from the librarian to the Dean’s secretary, to the head of the Appointments Committee. Be particularly wary of invitations to criticize colleagues, former teachers, or other schools; this will almost always reflect badly on you. At the same time, remember that if you have been invited by the appointments committee for an on-campus interview, you must have made a very favorable impression, and the faculty are trying to impress you as much as you are trying to impress them.
Paying Your Dues
The academic job market is extremely competitive, and if your personal situation permits, you should try not to limit your applications to a small number of schools or a particular geographical area. You are only applying for your first job, not a position for life, and law faculty often move around. Even if your heart is set on living in the New York area, for example, the best way to get a job here may involve going somewhere else first. If you can only imagine yourself teaching at a few elite schools, it may be prudent for you to revisit the question of whether you are sufficiently motivated to take up an academic career. You should anticipate that, wherever you find a teaching job, you will in the early years of your academic career be required to “pay your dues,” as you juggle teaching and administrative responsibilities with scholarly projects.
In addition to registering with the AALS Faculty Appointments Register, you may also want to apply independently to schools in which you are especially interested. Your application should include a cover letter, resume, transcript, and scholarly writing sample. The cover letter should state a plausible explanation for why you especially want to teach at that law school, such as proximity to family or a specialized program in your area of expertise. The package should be sent to the dean of the law school or the chair of the Faculty Appointments Committee.
Whether or not you apply separately, the AALS now permits you to upload a resume along with your AALS form. Most schools will not look at your resume until they have first screened your AALS form, so you should be as complete as possible with the AALS form. However, because it lacks the severe space limitations, a resume can provide more information. If you have publications, your resume should certainly include a prominent section listing them. Forthcoming publications should also be listed, as well as works in progress. (Be sure not to list as a work in progress a title that is only an idea or rough outline, as you may be asked to produce it. Include only drafts that you expect to be able to share when you start receiving phone calls for interviews.) You should also include a section giving the names and contact information of your references, and a section stating your research and teaching interests. Ideally, these should be related to one another.
Letters of Recommendation
In law, unlike other fields, your references will not generally send unsolicited letters of recommendation; rather, they will wait to be contacted by interested schools for their opinions. You should ask permission before listing someone as a reference and make sure each academic reference is familiar with your scholarly work. If, after you submit your application, you have an article accepted for publication (or some other relevant and important change occurs in your circumstances, enhancing your qualifications), you should notify your references and update your application with a letter of explanation and any other applicable materials. Keep your references informed about your schedule of on-campus interviews and about any offers you may receive—that way, they can pass on this information strategically to their contacts; an interview at one good school can generate interest at others.