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On-campus interviews for both academic and clinical candidates usually last for one day, often with a dinner the night before. There are typically two parts to the interview: (1) Individual or small-group meetings with faculty and sometimes students; and (2) the job talk.
While some schools hold on-campus interviews before the AALS Conference, most on-campus interviews take place after the AALS Conference, on the recommendation of appointments committees. Many schools issue these interview invitations in November or December; while others wait until after the first of the year. Few interview after the end of February. Although some schools hire faculty on a rolling basis, most wait until all the candidates have been interviewed, and then make all hiring decisions at once by a full faculty vote.
As with the AALS interviews, you should prepare for an on-campus interview by ensuring that you can speak in detail about yourself and your own work and that you have researched the school at which you are interviewing. In particular, do not hesitate to ask for a schedule of your interviews, so you can research the backgrounds of the faculty with whom you will be meeting (looking especially for overlaps in your interests).
The Job Talk
The job talk is typically a workshop: both academic and clinical candidates present a paper and faculty members (and occasionally students) will comment and ask questions. The format of the job talk varies tremendously by school. Typically candidates give a short (approximately 10-20 minutes) presentation of their paper before faculty questioning begins. You should definitely ask about the audience and format of the job talk before the interview.
Even if you are offered more time, you should plan on speaking no more than 20 minutes and then taking questions. Make sure that you clearly state your thesis within the first 5 minutes of the talk. You do not need to spin out your entire argument—especially all of your responses to potential criticism. Candidates often do well by saving some of these responses for the Q & A portion. You may want to identify branches of your argument for discussion in Q & A. If you frame the question well enough to attract interest, you may succeed in directing discussion into areas in which you are prepared to engage.
Prepare and practice your presentation so you will be comfortable and coherent, but not reciting. Practice in front of some friends, or even better, a few law professors (perhaps your recommenders?). Understand that there will be only bright people in your audience, but they may know very little about your area. As is commonly the case in legal academic settings, you will be expected to set out the stakes of your argument in terms that allow generalists to engage, while continuing to address experts in the field. (Where possible identify in advance who in attendance is likely to have expertise in the area of your job talk.)
Your tone should be collegial. The audience is assessing your intelligence, your presentation skills, your scholarly potential, and your desirability as a colleague. How do you address counter –arguments? Can you assert your argument in the face of disagreement? Do you know when and how to qualify your claims? Expect strong challenge, and avoid defensiveness. Think of the exchange as a lively conversation. If one participant seems hostile, sustain positive relations with the rest of the audience.
Ideally, your job talk should be a polished piece that has not yet been published. Pieces that are unpublished but have been submitted and even accepted for publication are ideal because they invite the audience to offer comments that may shape the final publication.
There are two other key benefits of an “about to be sent” piece. First, it is highly polished. (Do not be lured into sending a true “draft.” In all but the rare case where a faculty member at a hiring school serves as an “internal mentor,” your draft will be judged as your best work in the form in which you send it. If there are problems in your draft that require revision, it is wise to consult with your faculty mentors about your timing in sending the paper.) Second, you are still in a position where you can consider the comments from this faculty as helpful suggestions to improve the piece. This allows for the kind of collegial, non-defensive exchange discussed above. Obviously both of these goals can be achieved with works in different stages of development (you can always happily take suggestions for your next piece or just because you are intellectually alive), but it takes a bit more scrambling and finesse.
For clinical candidates, the job talk may be less central to the hiring process, but it is still the only opportunity for many faculty to assess your analytic and presentation skills in person, so it remains quite important. There are additional challenges, however, in that many schools may expect to hear both a formal academic presentation, like those made by academic candidates and with which the faculty is familiar, and a discussion of, or at least some comment about, one’s clinical pedagogy.
And there can be risks: a presentation that is too focused on scholarship may leave some audience members with doubts about the candidate’s genuine commitment to clinical teaching and practice (“She was so animated about her scholarship, maybe she’s looking for a backdoor way out of practice into the academy – but will she really want to keep going to court with students and clients?”), and one too focused on clinical pedagogy may raise concerns with others about the candidate’s capacity for scholarship, initially and at a later tenure stage (“He’ll be a great teacher, but he loves practice and students so much, will he really make time for scholarship – is this a tenure problem best avoided now?”). Often the most successful job talks present and defend a scholarly position, assuring the audience of one’s scholarly interest and capacity, while making connections to clinical practice, especially in the Q&A section, sufficient to confirm a sincere commitment to robust practice and teaching.