Aspiring law professors will soon have options when it comes to landing that coveted faculty gig.
The Southeastern Association of Law Schools on Aug. 11 announced plans to launch a faculty recruiting conference, which will offer an alternative to the Association of American Law Schools’ annual faculty recruitment conference in Washington.
Until now, the AALS has ruled the law faculty recruitment market. Its October conference, dubbed the “meat market,” brings together law schools looking for new faculty and hundreds of candidates who want to teach.
The new SEALS conference aims to be less expensive for participating schools and candidates than the AALS event, according to an announcement from association executive director Russell Weaver, who is a professor at the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law. The new conference also will happen earlier in the year, and organizers say it will prioritize diversity.
“We believe that there is room for innovation in the faculty recruitment process,” Weaver wrote. “SEALS has definite ideas about how to do that, and we will be providing further information about our recruitment process in the coming months. Our ultimate goal is to create a much more vibrant and effective faculty recruitment process that serves our member schools much better than the current process.
Weaver said in an interview Monday that its first faculty recruiting conference will happen in August 2019, at the end of its annual faculty meeting in Boca Raton, Florida. He declined to disclose what the new recruiting process will be, saying only that SEALS is still working out the details.
“It’s going to be extremely different than what’s happening now,” he said.
SEALS counts about 100 law schools as members, many of which are located in the Southeast though its membership now spans the country. A handful of elite schools are members of SEALS, including the University of Virginia School of Law; Duke University School of Law; and Georgetown University Law Center.
Under the existing AALS system, aspiring law professors submit their resumes and other relevant information to the Faculty Appointments Register, which schools can peruse over the summer. Candidates pay $475 to submit their materials. Then schools invite candidates to interview at the October faculty recruitment conference, which is free for schools and candidates. Top candidates are usually then invited to interested schools to deliver what’s known as a job talk. (About 75 people landed jobs through the AALS process last year, though historically that figure is significantly higher.)
“The SEALS announcement overlooks the robust suite of faculty recruitment services provided by AALS to participating candidates and law schools,” said AALS executive director Judith Areen in a statement Monday.
The AALS system enables candidates to have their resumes seen by more than 190 schools; it waives the registration fee for job candidates who can’t afford it; and schools and candidates may attend related recruiting conference events at no cost, she said. “AALS has long provided these services to both law schools and candidates in order to make faculty recruitment more convenient, and to ensure that legal education has the benefit of new faculty from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints,” Areen added.
Weaver said SEALS did not consult with the AALS while weighing whether to launch its own recruiting conference.
SEALS was formed in the 1940s primarily as a resource for faculty from southeastern law schools and for more junior faculty. (Wartime travel restrictions disrupted the AALS annual meetings at the time, spurring talk of a regional alternative.) Like the AALS, SEALS holds an annual conference, though its event has a reputation for being less formal and more fun, albeit smaller. The SEALS conference is held in July or August, often in beachside locations in Florida. The AALS annual meeting rotates locations but is always held in January, and attracts several thousand participants.
Weaver wrote that the AALS process isn’t working well for all schools, and that some have taken to recruiting and even hiring candidates ahead of that timeline. SEALS has not yet determined the cost to attend its conference, but it will be cheaper than the cost job seekers pay to register for the AALS process. And it will happen earlier in the year.
The SEALS recruiting conference will be free for member schools and will have a much lower price point for candidates, Weaver said. He said he has only received positive feedback from member schools since announcing the new endeavor.
The new recruiting conference will also work hand-in-hand with SEALS’s Prospective Law Teachers Workshop, which helps prepared candidates to go on the law teaching market, Weaver said.
But not everyone is a fan of the concept. University of Chicago law professor Brian Leiter called it a “terrible idea” on his blog. “It will make the lives of job seekers much worse, and increase their out-of-pocket costs, since they may then feel the need to attend two separate hiring conferences,” he wrote, urging law schools to boycott any alternative recruiting conferences.
Weaver agreed that many job seekers will likely participate in both hiring conferences in the first year, but said that they may choose to go to only SEALS’s event in subsequent years, thus “drastically” reducing their costs.
“We’re trying to do something positive for our members,” he said.