Best Practices for the Hiring Process

Phones will be buzzing this week, as faculty candidates receive invitations for call-back interviews.

My head is still buzzing from last weekend, as I process the hiring conference and the interviews many of us did at the Wardman Park. Why bother keep thinking about them, when the calls have already been made?

Because my committee asks every candidate about teaching. Having recently redefined our mission to state the explicit goal of producing practice-ready graduates, we also incorporate this focus into our hiring process. We want to hear about each candidate’s approach to teaching, their analysis of the techniques that have worked and those that haven’t yet worked for them in the classroom, and their ideas for making themselves better teachers. Hopefully these responses will indicate levels of knowledge, propensity for innovation, and ability to engage in reflection about teaching.

Even more stunning than the number of candidates whose responses employed the phrase “soft Socratic,” was that many candidates seemed confounded to have even been asked a teaching question. It often took several prompts. Yes, really, we’d like to hear your thoughts on structuring a course and measuring student learning. While I have had the happy experience over the past few years of interviewing candidates who referenced the Carnegie Report [Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law], it hasn’t happened very often.

Even before the recruitment conference, candidates have absorbed the message that teaching isn’t worth talking about. The interviewing experience itself reinforces the insignificance of teaching, as compared to scholarship. Vanessa said it best: “Every publication of a candidate is scrutinized, but virtually never does a Committee seek arguably more illuminating embodiments of teaching prowess, such as examples of feedback on student essays and papers, grading rubrics, sample exams and ‘model answers’, evaluation or critique of student performance of lawyering tasks, or other assessment tools and supplemental course materials.”  (December 13, 2010 post, Just Imagine if You Were Trying to Get a Job as a Law School Teacher…) Instead, when a committee even asks a candidate about teaching methods, candidates assume they have misunderstood the question.

The initial 30-minute meet-and-greet may be absurdly short for gathering accurate information about a potential colleague. But committees maximize this brief encounter to assess how well candidates explain the nuances of their scholarly writing. Gathering as sense as to how well-informed, articulate, and thoughtful candidates are about teaching is equally vital to the success of the hire – assuming the committee seeks to add an effective teacher to the faculty.

When candidates are more routinely questioned about teaching, as part of the hiring conference dance, the signal will go out to legal education’s initiates that both scholarly potential and teaching expertise are required.

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One Response

  1. What was particularly exciting and gratifying for me as I participated in the 35 or so preliminary interviews our Appointments Committee conducted both in DC and at Pace, seeking a new colleague who will teach primarily in our clinical program, was that through the questions of another clinical member of the Committee and myself, my nonclinical colleagues became absolutely engaged in fairly nuanced issues of pedagogy and efficacy, ranging from the nondirective-directive continuum, to student and case selection criteria and process, to feedback techniques, to choice of seminar materials. The highlight was the emergence of Sue Bryant’s and Jean Koh Peters’ The Five Habits as so frequently cited a resource that all of my nonclinical colleagues insisted on reading it, began themselves asking candidates about it, and we are even talking about a collective article, “Five Nonclinicians Respond to The Five Habits.”

    Now that we are embarked on callbacks, at the insistence of the nonclinical chair of our Committee with the enthusiastic concurrence of everyone else, our callback candidates will not only deliver the “job talk” but will also provide feedback to a clinical student on a real-case-based simulated client counseling session, performed by that student and another student in role as client, and provided to each candidate in advance on DVD. Each feedback session will be recorded and posted on a TWEN page for faculty review, along with the job talks. This parallels our practice years ago, when we were recruiting several nonclinical faculty, and required each callback candidate to teach a Professional Responsibility “class” on client autonomy and decision-making to a group of prepared student volunteers, who produced some terrific observations and commentary about the pedagogical prowess of the various candidates.

    It remains to be seen what role all the data about teaching proficiency that we have acquired from our candidates will actually play when it comes down to the final deliberations, but I am pleased and yes, proud, that virtually all our candidates have reported that no other Appointments Committee asked them anything like the in-depth and sophisticated questions about clinical teaching that they got from us — especially from the nonclinical members of the Committee. Who was it that said a lot could be learned from modeling behavior . . . 🙂

    Vanessa Merton

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