The University of Minnesota Law School won't send anyone to Washington this year, said dean David Wippman, although its 10 percent smaller 1L class wasn't to blame. The school has added five faculty members during the past two years and simply doesn't need any entry-level professors right now, he said. Instead, the school is hiring laterals to occupy two new chairs created through private gifts. Hiring needs vary widely depending on the school and the year, he said, but there hasn't exactly been a feeding frenzy of late.
"We did see some decline in overall hiring at law schools last year, with declines in public funding and lower endowments," Wippman said. "I think the smaller class sizes will produce some continuing softness in the hiring market."
At least one law school is significantly reducing its enrollment while also increasing the size of its faculty. That shift is part of a comprehensive plan to improve the University of California Hastings College of the Law, according to dean Frank Wu. The school, which reduced its 1L class by 20 percent this year, plans to hire between two and four new professors to replace retiring faculty. It boosted the overall size of its faculty last year to improve its student-to-faculty ratio.
Hastings prefers to "grow its own faculty" by hiring new law professors rather than recruiting laterals, Wu said, and he expected no trouble finding qualified candidates at the AALS conference. "It's a buyers' market," he said. "It's a great time to be looking for faculty candidates."
Some of those candidates got a dose of reality last month during the one-day conference for aspiring law professors held at Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. ASU began hosting the free conference four years ago to help prospective law professors learn about the hiring process and prepare for the AALS conference. Elite law schools often offer internal support for graduates who enter the law school hiring market, but graduates of non-elite schools tend to be on their own, said ASU dean and conference founder Douglas Sylvester. "We want to make sure that everyone gets the same information and opportunities that other people have," he said.
The conference was a mix of panel discussions, mock interviews and "job talks," in which aspiring professors presented an academic paper as a way to demonstrate their knowledge and teaching skills.
The day kicked off with a keynote by University of Alabama School of Law professor Paul Horwitz that simultaneously offered encouragement and a word to the wary. Horwitz stressed that candidates should not become too discouraged if they don't succeed in their first attempt to land a job. At the same time, he cautioned that the bar has been moved higher, in that law schools increasingly are looking for candidates who already have some teaching experience, who have already published academic articles or who have completed a doctorate.
"In a nutshell, schools are looking for someone who is tenure-ready," Horwitz said -- brimming with ideas for research and enthusiasm for being in the classroom.
Law schools are always looking for good scholars and teachers, said Brannon Denning, a professor at Samford University Cumberland School of Law and co-author of a book about the law school hiring process. This year, interviewers may ask candidates about what they bring to the table beyond teaching and writing, he said -- be that helping students land jobs or improving the overall quality of the law school.