Hundreds of would-be law professors will arrive this week at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, dressed in conservative suits and clutching resumes and copies of the academic articles they have painstakingly researched. They will mill around nervously in the cavernous hotel lobby as they await their 25-minute interviews with law school hiring committees, which will be the centerpiece of the Association of American Law Schools Faculty Recruitment Conference -- the "law school meat market" to those in the know.
The conference happens every October, but it's unlikely to prove business as usual this time around. Legal educators predict that entry-level faculty gigs will be especially hard to come by, given the dramatically reduced entering class sizes at many schools and uncertainty about the future.
"These are extraordinary times. It's going to be a brutally difficult year, if this is the year you want to be hired," University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law professor Marc Miller told a group of 40 aspiring law professors during a conference in Tempe, Ariz., in September.
Approximately 142 law schools have registered to attend the AALS hiring conference -- a 14 percent decline from the 166 that attended last year and a 21 percent decrease from the 179 schools that participated during pre-recession 2007. The schools that do attend won't necessarily hire -- some use the conference to scout teaching talent for the future. (It's difficult to tell how many open teaching spots actually exist, as some schools advertise specific positions in an AALS-published bulletin but many do not.)
At the same time, the number of aspiring law professors has held fairly steady during the past five years. Thus far, 750 candidates have registered for the AALS' faculty interviews, although that number does not include the final list of candidates, which will come out in February. The total number of registrants has fluctuated between 824 and 901 in recent years, according to the AALS.
'THE STAKES ARE HIGHER'
One of those hopefuls is Brian Owsley, a magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas and a 1993 graduate of Columbia Law School. He attended the AALS hiring conference eight years ago, was invited to many interviews and even landed a few job offers, but he ultimately turned them down for his job on the bench. This time around, the number of law schools that granted him interviews is just a quarter of what it was eight years ago, he said.
Owsley attributes that to the slow economy, and possibly the fact that law schools prefer younger candidates who they can more easily mold. The stress was bad enough when he was a hotter prospect, he said. "This time, the stakes are higher. There are fewer interviews and fewer schools interviewing. I won't have to worry about running ragged from interview to interview."
University of Chicago Law School professor Brian Leiter, in a post on his popular Brian Leiter's Law School Reports blog, predicted during the summer that hiring would decline as cautious administrators adjust to declining enrollments. "Since salaries for teaching staff are the biggest part of a law school's budget, schools are going to proceed very cautiously before hiring new faculty," Leiter wrote. "My guess is this cutback in hiring will last at least the next couple of cycles, until the applicant pool stabilizes."
(The number of 1Ls enrolled at American Bar Association-accredited law schools declined by nearly 4,000 last year. The updated figure was not yet available for this school year, but at least 23 schools have reported declines of 15 percent or more in their 1L classes.)