Steps to Take
Every year, the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) puts together a Faculty Appointments Register (FAR) of people seeking an initial teaching job (the so called “entry level market”—to be distinguished from “the lateral market” for those who already have a faculty position and want to move from one law school to another). The FAR is distributed to every law school in the country. Most candidates come to the attention of schools through the FAR. For this reason, it is critical that you get your information into the FAR. The deadline for submitting materials to be included in the first distribution to schools is generally the first week in August. (The precise date changes from year to year, and will be posted on the AALS website by early May.) We strongly recommend that you get your application in to the AALS in time to be included in that mailing. (Applications received after that date but by mid-September will go out in subsequent mailings, but many committees will already have put together their preliminary list of candidates to interview by that time.)
To participate in the FAR, candidates fill out a one-page form, which asks for basic information on education, teaching and employment experience, publications and references. A sample candidate FAR form is available online at www.aals.org. The form changes slightly from year to year, and for each year is generally made available two or three months before the August deadline.
Applicants may now also submit a full resume as an electronic attachment to the AALS form, and you absolutely should do so, as the one-page form allows for very little information. In addition to the standard information on an academic CV, your CV should include a research agenda and a full list of recommenders. For most people, drafting a research agenda is the most time-consuming and challenging part of the application process, and you should not leave it to the last minute. The goal here is to convey to committees the general impression that you are full of interesting ideas and ready to hit the ground running, as well as giving them a more particular sense of your intellectual interests and methodological approach(es). We can help you draft the research agenda, by providing you with examples of successful research agendas from past years to use as models, reviewing drafts and giving you help in revising them.
How important is it to use the AALS service at all? The short answer is, very important for almost everyone. It used to be the case that all elite schools and all “hot-shot” candidates bypassed the AALS, with those candidates relying on elite schools to contact them directly and fly them out for on-campus interviews. Those days are gone. Virtually all schools (including elite schools) and virtually all candidates now utilize the AALS process. Schools may by-pass the AALS interview for local candidates whom they can screen on-campus at low cost to themselves, or candidates whom they already know through other channels (e.g., their own graduates). But, with a very few exceptions, they will screen everyone else at AALS.
Bottom line: you are almost certainly putting yourself at a serious disadvantage by not registering at AALS. The one exception may be candidates who are restricting their search to a small number of schools in their geographical area that they know will screen local candidates on campus. Even then, however, there may be significant advantages to going on the market more broadly (see “Where to apply” below). We would strongly advise applicants to seek our advice before forgoing the AALS process.
Except for those schools to whom you also send a direct mailing (see below), the AALS application and attached resume will be the only information most schools receive about you before they make their initial cut for interviews at AALS. You want to make sure it presents your strongest case. We are happy to counsel you on what information will be most significant to hiring committees and the best way to present it, and to review drafts if you wish. But once again, for us to help to you, you need to let us know you are going on the market, and the earlier in the process the better.
Where to apply.
By submitting a form to FAR, you will automatically apply to every member school. In addition, we strongly recommend that you send letters on your own to a targeted set of schools where you would like to teach. We suggest targeting between 20 and 40 schools. We are happy to discuss with you which schools it makes sense for you to target. These letters should be sent out in early August if at all possible, as many appointments committees start reviewing files as soon as they get the FAR forms. The direct mailing to schools should include your resume, a cover letter, and samples of your scholarly writing if they are not readily available to committees (e.g., unpublished manuscripts not posed on the web or publications in obscure journals). It also never hurts to include reprints of other articles, particularly the one(s) you are most proud of.
Unless you happen to know who the Appointments Chair is at a given school, you should send your application letters to the dean. Deans routinely pass applications along to the faculty appointments committee.
You should also see if your Stanford recommenders would be willing to contact deans/appointments chairs at these schools and possibly friends of theirs on the faculty. If they are willing to send a formal letter of recommendation, great. But often, a two-line email to the effect that you are a strong candidate and the committee should definitely take a look at you will suffice to bring you to the attention of the committee. This should be done in the early part of August, if at all possible, when committees are just starting to cull through applications.
Do not restrict your applications to schools that advertise positions. Almost all schools interview every year, but many schools never advertise.
Restricting your job search to certain geographic areas is not a good idea:
- There is a tremendous “bandwagon” effect in legal academia. Law schools are much more likely to hire you if a peer institution has made you an offer or has at least shown interest in you.
- The market is tough in many of the most desired geographical areas (New York, Boston, the Bay Area).
- Wherever your start, if you are a productive scholar and plugged in to the scholarly community in your field(s), you may well have opportunities to move laterally to a geographic area you prefer.
- You may even discover that you like parts of the country where you thought you could not survive.
We also strongly urge you not to limit your search to so-called elite law schools. First, it is very hard (increasingly so) to get an entry-level job at any of these schools, even for people with sterling credentials, and it is often hard to predict at the beginning of the appointments season how strong any one candidate’s chances are. If things go very well for you, you can always withdraw from consideration at other schools once you have an offer in hand from a school you would prefer. But if things go worse than you had hoped, it is very hard to put yourself in play at “second-tier” schools halfway through the appointments season. Second, if what you really want to do with your life is write and teach, the differences between so-called “elite” law schools and other schools are less significant than the differences between any of them and (say) being a practicing lawyer. If you want to be a law teacher, but only if you can get a job at one of the top-ten schools, it is worth thinking about whether academia is really the job for you. Finally, as noted above, if you are a productive scholar, you may well have an opportunity to move later on. Many schools have a demonstrated track record of having their younger law teachers hired laterally at other schools.