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Job Talk Paper
All academic candidates for law teaching positions need a manuscript on which to base their application, and an increasing number of law schools expect to review a manuscript from clinical candidates as well. Typically, this manuscript is a law review article, but it can also be one or two chapters excerpted from a book or thesis, or, for clinical candidates, it might be a practice-oriented treatise or guide. The work must be polished. Typically it is unpublished, although it may well be accepted for publication.
For academic candidates, the interview process is organized around this manuscript. Interviewers will likely read this work and use it as a basis for evaluating your academic preparation and potential. All your interviews—from an appointments committee’s initial contact, to the AALS hiring convention, to your on-campus interview—will focus on your paper. The on-campus interview will typically feature a workshop in which you will present your paper as a “job talk” and field faculty questions concerning it.
The job talk paper is like any other piece of scholarly writing, with one crucial difference. Your job talk paper will guide a law faculty in deciding whether to extend an offer of employment. The work and its presentation must help its audience decide your potential for first-rate legal scholarship, as well as your potential as a teacher and a colleague. Because the job talk paper and its presentation will help your potential employers answer questions of this kind, it must serve multiple functions.
It is sometimes said that for clinical candidates, a job talk paper can cost one a job but not secure one, and there is probably truth to the notion that a poor paper will disqualify a clinical candidate from consideration at many law schools, but an excellent job talk paper will not win one a position. For aspiring clinicians, the manuscript does play a less central role in the interview process, given the importance of practice and teaching experience. Nevertheless, at nearly all law schools the academic faculty are deeply involved in the clinical hiring process, and many find it easiest to connect with and assess a clinical candidate on terms familiar from the academic hiring process. In addition, nearly all law schools require scholarship as a condition to tenure for clinicians. Academic faculty will thus likely place significant weight on the quality of the job talk paper.
Accordingly, at AALS interviews, clinical candidates can expect to be questioned about their manuscript and scholarly agenda, as well as their past and future teaching and practice. In addition, the job talk for clinical candidates is also an important moment for all faculty to assess the candidate’s analytic abilities, oral presentation skills, creativity, rigor, flexibility, and overall quality of mind. For all of these reasons, the job talk paper is likely to be a critical element of a clinical candidate’s application at all law schools but the few that do not presently require scholarship by clinicians.
For all candidates, academic and clinical, you should compose a job talk paper that addresses subjects that you would like to explore as a faculty member. If you want to find your way to a job where you will be free to pursue your interests as you develop a portfolio of writing for tenure, there is little point in concealing these interests at the hiring stage. That said, you should keep the larger stakes of the paper in view as you select a topic and decide how to pursue it. The paper should carefully develop its claims; where possible, you should develop your argument in ways that demonstrate your mastery of multiple skills and literacies so that the paper provides readers evaluating it the confidence to offer you a tenure-track appointment. It may be helpful to consult with your faculty mentors at an early stage in the selection of a job talk paper topic.