I’m excited to announce the next latest interview in my my series interviewing VAP and fellowship directors. This interview is with Adam Feibelman, the Sumter Davis Marks Professor of Law at Tulane Law School and Director of the Program in Regulation and Coordination at Tulane’s Murphy Institute. Adam has historically helped manage Tulane’s academic fellowships, although he is quick to note that Kristin Johnson, Tulane’s incoming Associate Dean for Faculty Research, will have a significant role with these fellowships going forward. An edited transcript of our conversation is below, and I have invited Adam to respond to any questions in the comments on Prawsblawg. Thanks, Adam, for participating in this series!
You can read more about the structure of these interviews and other caveats related to them here.
Q: Can you tell me about the different fellowship programs at Tulane?
A: Until this year we’ve had two programs. One is the Forrester fellowship, which is a long-standing part of our legal research and writing program. A few years ago, we created a visiting assistant professorship, which is funded by the Murphy Institute’s program in regulation but dedicated to the law school. This year, we created a Yongxiong fellowship, which is a component of our new Yongxiong-Tulane Center for International Credit Law, a partnership with Xiangtan University in Hunan Province, China.
Q: You mentioned that the Forrester fellow teaches in the legal research and writing program. Can I ask you to briefly describe the other two fellowships, starting with the VAP with the Murphy Institute. Does the VAP have teaching responsibilities?
A: Yes, it’s designed to be a two year position but it’s formally structured as one year position with renewal. The person in that position teaches three of their four semesters in residence and has one semester off, which is generally their first semester that they’re here. That’s how we envision it, and what we advise, and what people have done, but it’s not technically a requirement. People can pick which three semesters they teach while here.
Q: What do those VAPs teach?
A: What they teach is determined through discussion between that person, the vice dean, and whoever is advising the VAP. That has tended to be me, both in my capacity as (outgoing) associate dean for faculty research and as the director of the Murphy program.
Q: Tell me about the new fellowship — the Yongxiong Fellowship.
A: That’s a very exciting new position. It’s a hybrid of those two others, so the fellow will teach in our LL.M. legal research and writing program in the fall semester, and then in the spring they’ll teach a substantive course that is associated with our new center on international law and finance.
We’re going to be relying on our initial fellows in the program to participate in discussions about developing this center, our partnership with Xiangtan University and a new related LL.M. I think the first few of these fellows will have a very interesting window into these institutional developments, which are increasingly common around the country as lots of U.S. schools are partnering abroad with other institutions.
Q: Let’s take these three programs and essentially move through them chronologically, starting with the application process and moving to the fellowship itself. When do these programs start accepting applications?
A: This tends to be a little bit different each year, but generally we have posted the positions sometime in mid to late December or early January. We generally wait to begin reviewing them for about a month, a month and a half. There’s a committee for each of these positions that then reviews applications and schedules interviews, generally Skype Interviews. And we tend to make our offers in mid to late spring.
Q: What materials do candidates need to submit to apply to these positions?
A: We generally request a cv, a list of at least three references, post-graduate transcripts, copies of any scholarship completed or in-progress, and a letter explaining their teaching interests and their research agenda.
Q: I should’ve clarified this earlier, but obviously there’s one Murphy Institute fellow at a time, one for the new fellowship program, how many Forrester fellows are there at a time?
A: We have two at a time, and we have tried to stagger them.
Q: How many applications do you typically receive in a given year?
A: That fluctuates, but I would say between 20 and 30 in recent years.
Q: Who selects the fellows?
A: Yep, so we have a committee assigned by the dean for each position. Each committee generally includes three or four people, has a chair, and functions roughly like an appointment committee.
Q: If you’re looking at teaching at the teaching side of a fellows responsibilities, how do you gauge teaching ability during the interview process?
A: That’s tricky. In some cases candidates will have had teaching experience, especially people who are coming from PhD programs. Other candidates will have done some adjunct teaching during their time in practice. Those are obviously the easiest cases to evaluate someone’s potential as a classroom teacher. We’ll have student evaluations. We’ll have evaluations or comments in reference letters that talk about their teaching.
When people don’t have teaching experience, we rely fairly heavily on their recommenders’ estimations about their capacity and potential as classroom teachers. And then, in any event, trying to assess teaching ability is an important component of our interviews. I think the things that are most important in an interview for this purpose are someone’s ability to communicate their teaching and research interests very clearly and succinctly, especially the substance of their past and current research and their research agendas.
Q: Let’s turn to scholarship. Do successful candidates tend to have a published paper when they’re applying, a draft of a paper, more than one published paper? What’s the norm for candidates who are successful?
A: I’d say that, increasingly, candidates will have published work, but that is definitely not a requirement. I know that we’ve hired a few people who have had work in progress that had not yet been published, like a draft article or a dissertation. Whether we are considering work in progress or something published or something that is on an agenda, our committees focus on evaluating the work or the ideas as an indication of someone’s scholarly potential.
Q: How about their research agenda? How fully developed do you expect that to be?
A: That’s also a hard question to answer generally. I think it’s important to us that someone has a research agenda and an idea of work that they would do with the time and resources allowed to them in a fellowship or VAP. But I’ve found that many people adjust their actual research agendas in the course of their fellowship or VAP, so that really it’s not so much that we’re looking at this as an actual roadmap for what they’re going to do, but as an indication that they have an idea of what kinds of things would be interesting and valuable contributions to make in their fields of inquiry.
Q: How about practice experience? How much does practice experience matter in the hiring process? And how much practice experience are you looking for?
A: That is something that differs across the positions. With the Forrester, we’ll really only consider applicants who have at least two or three years of practice, including clerkship experience. We’ve made the institutional decision that we want people who are part of the first-year legal writing and research program to be able to draw upon some meaningful experience in the practice of law as a baseline requirement.
For the VAP, experience in the practice law is a factor that we weigh with others, and many of the people who’ve had that position have had substantial experience. I don’t think we’ve discussed a policy in that regard with respect to the new fellowship, but I’m confident that, at the least, experience in the practice of law will be weighed heavily in assessing candidates for that position.
Q: Do you give a preference for candidates from particular curricular areas or candidates with a PhD?
A: Definitely not for the Forrester fellowship. The new Yongxiong fellowship is designed to fill some curricular needs within the broad category of law and finance. The VAP is again, part of our program on regulation, which defines the scope of the position and the kinds of research and teaching interests that we are drawn to, but we’ve historically defined regulation very broadly for this purpose.
Q: As I’ve announced this interview series, I’ve gotten a number of comments asking, essentially, what if a candidate does not have the traditional markers that you might think of for prospective law faculty— they didn’t graduate from one of the top 5 or 10 law schools, they didn’t do an elite clerkship. What advice would you have for them in terms of standing out in the application process?
A: First of all, I would strongly encourage people in that position to apply. We look at every application on its merits and some of our strongest candidates have been people who fall outside of the conventional checklists of credentials in one or more ways.
With that in mind, the first thing I would encourage people to do is contact law faculty members who they know — perhaps who were their professors in law school or who they may have gotten to know in other contexts — to get advice about the process but also to get a sense of whether they might be advocates for them. Even the briefest note from a faculty member here or at another law school encouraging us to look at an application weighs very heavily in our process.
Q: Do you make any special efforts to hire candidates from diverse backgrounds?
A: Yes and in a number of ways, both through formal and informal networks. That has been a deliberate part of every search here I can recall.
Q: Let’s move more into the terms and conditions of employment. Are each of the fellowships one year and then renewable for a second year?
Q: Are you comfortable sharing how much the fellows are paid per year?
A: No, sorry.
Q: Do you fellows receive health insurance?
Q: How about access to university or subsidized housing?
Q: Do you fellows receive travel funding or other professional development funding?
Q: Do you mind sharing that amount?
A: No, but in any event, when the amount is exhausted it can be supplemented upon request for particular opportunities.
Q: Do they receive funding to hire research assistants?
Q: Do they receive reimbursement for market related expenses when they’re on the job market?
A: Yes, up to a certain amount, generally to reimburse expenses related to attending the AALS faculty recruitment conference.
Q: Are fellows expected to live in New Orleans? Obviously there are teaching obligations, but could somebody live in Miami or New York and commute?
A: Well, to begin with, as with other faculty, we certainly expect that the fellows and VAPs need to be in residence at least enough to satisfy their responsibilities as faculty, which generally entails being in town during the week during the terms. But we’ve had people in these positions who, like other colleagues, have traveled regularly over the weekends and who have spent a good deal of holidays and summers with family or partners elsewhere. We definitely have tried to be as accommodating and supportive in that regard as possible while making our baseline expectations clear, that we think the value of these positions ultimately derives from being a full and present member of our academic community.
Q: Let’s talk about how to make the most of the fellowship and the extent to which fellows are incorporated into the intellectual life of the school. How often do the fellows themselves get together? Do they have their own workshop series, anything like that?
A: The degree of interaction among the fellows and VAPs has differed a bit over time and is somewhat a function of the people who are in these positions, their substantive interests, and their schedules. But they have all consistently been very much included in the intellectual life of the school and, generally, treated as faculty alongside everyone else. The fellows and VAPs participate along with all the faculty in our regular faculty workshops, including as presenters. We also have another workshop series that is part of our Murphy program that is a bit smaller and designed in large part to be a node of interaction among the fellows and VAPs as well as students and alums who are interested in the possibility of an academic career. I’d say that these workshops are the main formal opportunities for the fellows and VAPs to interact with each other and with other faculty, but there are countless other informal opportunities as well, both professional and social.
Q: Are all the fellows invited to the Murphy Institute Workshop Series?
A: Oh yes, and they are encouraged to participate in programming the series as well by recommending people to invite.
Q: Who actually supervises the fellows?
A: That’s been something our associate dean for faculty research has coordinated, and there’s a core handful of tenured and tenure track faculty who are heavily involved in mentoring and supporting the fellows and VAPs.
Q: Okay, and does that include people necessarily in their area of interest or are they given help in connecting with faculty in their area of interest?
Q: Are they given assistance in connecting with faculty outside of Tulane?
A: Yeah, that’s something that we spend a good deal of time doing. We try to do that in part through involving them in programming our faculty workshops, both the main series and our Murphy series. We also try to help people get to know people in their own fields in other ways as well, especially by sending out drafts and attending conferences and similar events.
Q: We’ve now talked about the workshop series and mentoring opportunities. What other assistance are fellows given related to their research?
A: In addition to the development fund and research assistants that they get along with other faculty, I’d say the main thing that we do to help our fellows and VAPs is engage with them as they do their research and writing. If people are at the stage where they’re trying to decide what to write or shape an agenda, we have had lots of conversations, say over lunch or coffee, to help them decide among projects and help them frame their research queries or projects. This also involves reading works in progress, something that our group of faculty here take very seriously, and identifying people in the building and outside the building to read their drafts. Then I’m fairly certain that everyone who’s been through as a fellow or VAPs has had the opportunity to present their work in one of our workshops, in addition to any moot talks they’ve done in preparing for the faculty recruitment process.
Q: I want to ask a question that keeps coming up on the blogs. People have wondered if VAPs or fellows receive assistance placing their work. In other words, is there any assistance with the actual placements itself?
A: The assistance that we provide in that regard is the same assistance that we provide each other as colleagues, which is just advice on how to try to navigate the confusing system that we have for submitting articles to journals. But beyond that, I don’t know what people may have in mind.
Q: I think they think we call up law reviews and say you should really accept X and Y piece.
A: No, the extent of the help that we give is just the general advice that we provide on strategic aspects of submitting work to journals.
Q: Let’s turn over to the teaching side. What training, feedback, or mentoring do fellows receive related to their teaching?
A: We do a variety of things in that regard, much of it informal. And most of what we’ve done has been, frankly, is the same kind of advice and help that we give to our incoming tenure track faculty. To begin with, we provide a good deal of help and feedback at the preliminary stage when people are preparing to teach a course for the first time and, especially, when they are designing substantive courses. They get help with things like preparing a syllabus, selecting a casebook or materials, and thinking about what kind of teaching style or various teaching approaches they may want to take.
Then we attend classes that the fellows and VAPs are teaching, and provide feedback and assistance as we think might be useful, and certainly in response to any questions that arise.
Some people who’ve come through have also sought advice from people we’ve identified to them as especially successful classroom teachers, and we generally advise everyone to sit in on other classes taught by other permanent faculty who are successful in different approaches.
Q: Let’s talk more specifically about the teaching responsibilities in the three fellowship programs. The Forrester Fellows, do they just teach in the legal writing program? Do they have the opportunity to teach outside of that program?
A: Yes, they teach exclusively in that program.
Q: How many students do they tend to have in their section?
A: They have approximately 25 students in two different sections.
Q: Just to clarify, 25 in each section?
A: That’s right. We’re aiming to reduce the number of students or sections per fellow when we have resources to do so.
Q: Okay, so a total of say 40 to 60?
A.: Yes. That number is higher than we’d like ideally and we hope to reduce it over time when resources allow. But our experience is also that our Forrester Fellows have been successful in managing the teaching responsibilities and launching successfully onto the tenure-track market.
Q: How do they manage the grading and the teaching for those two sections along with trying to develop their own research agenda and manage their writing?
A: As with most legal research and writing programs, there’s a predictable schedule of spikes in the work in both the fall and spring semesters, as opposed to other courses where the work is spread more evenly across the term. We help the fellows plan their research and writing activities in between the spikes in grading and having student meetings, and we encourage all of the fellows and VAPs to have enough of a running start towards the end of summer so that, over the course of the term, it’s easier for them to pick up where they left off.
Q: Are the Forrester fellows coming up with the assignments and curriculum?
A: No, that’s a key feature of the program that is very important for the fellows. The most time-consuming aspects of substance of the course are consistent across the sections, so the fellows are not coming up with the topics for the memos and so forth.
Q: How about the VAP program? You mentioned that they teach in three semesters, how many courses do they teach in each semester?
A: They teach one course in each of three semesters.
Q: Do they repeat at all? How many total preps?
A: We have encouraged, and I think it has consistently been the case, that the VAPs tend to repeat one of their courses. So they’ll generally teach a new prep their first spring, then another prep the next fall, and then teach the course they taught the previous spring a second time.
Q: You mentioned that the fellow in the new Yongxiong fellowship will be teaching two courses. Is that, like the Murphy fellowship, one course a semester?
A: Yes, the course in the fall will be the legal research and writing course with LL.M.s and then a substantive course in the spring.
Q: Do the fellows have any other responsibilities? We’ve talked about the teaching side, the scholarly side, is there anything else that’s on their plate?
Q: Stepping back, if you were talking to a candidate with multiple options between different fellowship programs, what do you think makes Tulane programs stand out?
A: I think the thing that makes us stand out is that we have a critical mass of faculty in the building who are very invested in helping our fellows and VAPs be successful while here and in landing tenure-track positions. Over the years, I think our fellows and VAPs have really benefitted from a lot of hands on advice and counsel.
As an institution, I think we have fully appreciated that the successes of the program and the benefits that we get from having fellows and VAPs is largely a function of their success, both while here but especially in obtaining tenure track position. So, pretty much every decision that we’ve made institutionally regarding those positions has been designed to do whatever we can to help with both goals.
Q: Do you happen to know off the top of your head, what percentage of the fellows over the last say 5 or 10 years have landed?
A: We’re at roughly 90%, and that’s been mostly during a difficult period for law faculty hiring.
Q: Yeah, and what types of mentoring do they receive related to the hiring process?
A: Very hands on. Different people have different appetites for input, but basically we provide as much as people can take, and at every stage of the process. This start with strategizing in the first year on things like their job-talks and reaching out to faculty at other schools in their fields to try to build a group of formal and informal recommenders. And then, in the run-up to actual process itself, we spend a ton of time with people on their FAR forms.
Q: Who are the people who are doing this? Who are the faculty, not necessarily by name but in terms of position, who are responsible for helping with this type of mentoring?
A: There’s tended to be a core group that includes our associate dean for faculty research and often our own recent tenure track hires, who are very eager to share all of the advice and counsel they got along the way. We also have a number of other colleagues who are very active mentors to whom we steer people for advice on all sorts of questions, and who generally participate in moots for interviews and job talks. Many of those colleagues are people who have served on our appointments committees over the years and who have lots of good experience and insights that they’re able and willing to share with our fellows and VAPs.
Q: Do fellows have the opportunity to do a new job talk or a new screening interview in front of the faculty?
Q: Does the school support fellows who may need to go on the teaching market more than once? Is the fellowship renewable ever for a third year?
A: Well, in any event, we are committed to continuing to provide support for our fellows and VAPs until they get tenure-track offers. But we’re pretty firm in our expectation that these positions are for two years. We have made a rare exceptions to this once or twice over the years, but frankly, that has been because of particular needs we’ve had or in benefits to us in extending the position.
Q: Let’s step back and look at the rise of fellowships and VAPs more generally. What do you think are the benefits of the rise of fellowships and VAPs as an entry point for so many law faculty positions? What do you think are the costs?
A: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I definitely think there are benefits for the people who are in these positions and for the schools. It’s very difficult to get a sense of what is expected of a candidate for a faculty position unless you’ve observed what faculty do, and you really can’t do that as a student, not in any meaningful way, I don’t think. So, it’s very valuable to have that sustained exposure to a law faculty from the inside, and then extremely valuable to get all of the insights from people within the school about how to prepare to be a candidate and then how to navigate the system. And the opportunity to get a lot of feedback on one’s scholarship and on one’s research agenda and one’s teaching is, I think, quite valuable for fellows and VAPs who are at programs where they get that kind of feedback.
From the school’s perspective, our fellows and VAPs tend to be in some of the most dynamic faculty in the building at any given point in time. They tend to be extremely focused and driven and haven’t been part of a faculty long enough to get a little jaded. I think schools really, really benefit from having people in the building who are fresh to the profession and very focused and driven and ambitious.
Q: What about the costs?
A: I think the main costs is that it may create a divide between and among candidates who do these positions and those who do not. But I have to say that, over the years, I’ve definitely participated in appointment committees that have identified very strong candidates who did not come up through this process although as your data indicates, maybe that’s increasingly less common.
Q: There’s always the outliers, right?
Q: Do you think that the fellowship or VAP programs have any responsibility to try to open up law teaching positions to people from diverse or nontraditional background?
A: Absolutely, yes. I think that especially as they’ve become a more common pathway into the profession, the responsibility that law schools have in that regard in general is now shifting heavily to these positions.
Q: You may have heard the concern that VAPs and fellows receive so much help on their papers and developing their ideas when they’re in the fellowship programs, that it can be hard for hiring committees to know how many of the ideas comes from the fellows themselves. What do you think about this concern?
A: Yes, that’s interesting. I saw that as one of the questions in your preview and I really don’t recall any one having articulated that before.
A: Yeah. Sometimes it’s come up where a candidate, for a fellow, or a VAP, or a tenure track position has a good deal of coauthored work, and sometimes there’s been a question about what the candidate’s contribution to the work has been, but there are ways to delve into that and get a pretty good idea. You’re asking about something slightly different, about whether work attributable to a candidate is really their own.
At least in my experience, fellows and VAPs get essentially the same kind of advice and feedback on their research and scholarship that many entry level of tenure track colleagues do, if perhaps a bit more of it at an earlier stage. In general, I think a significant part of the scholarly project is collaborative, and oftentimes good ideas emerge out of conversations or interactions that you have with faculty colleagues or, if you’re in practice, with partners, or with your judge if you’re clerking. And those influences inevitably help shape one’s scholarship.
I certainly always felt that the core ideas and analysis in our fellows and VAPs work were entirely their own. Beyond that, I think that the input they get on their work is a main part of the benefit of the program and hopefully has contributed to their development as scholars.
Q: Last question. Given that life is zero sum, obviously years that people spend in a fellowship are years that people are not spending, for example in practice. What do you think about that trade off, especially given that law schools are in the business of educating lawyers?
A: Well, on a personal level, having done a fellowship myself and having known a lot of people who’ve done them, I’ve found that there’s a great deal of heterogeneity in how people do these trade-offs, so I find it hard to generalize. The one thing that I feel confident about, at least at this stage, after all of the time that I’ve spent both as a fellow and with the other fellows, is that these positions, if they are well designed and well-functioning and involve meaningful faculty participation, do provide a benefit and are generally very enjoyable professional experiences.
Q: But to the extent that we have an increasing number of people who have done a Ph.D. or a fellowship or both, that may well mean that people don’t have as much practice experience when they start an entry-level position. Do you think that is a concern?
A: My sense of the way our profession is developing is that there’s a strong interest in having faculty members, not necessarily every single faculty members, but in general, having faculty members who have significant experience in the practice of law, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change.
My sense is that the market for tenure and tenure track positions in going to, at least to some significant extent, expect or demand that candidates by and large have some experience in the practice of law. Again, not necessarily every candidate, and but my assumption is that it is going to continue to be an important component in the factors that many or most schools will assess. And so, I think that people who are interested in getting into teaching are going to have a motivation, in addition to their own interest in practicing law, to gain that experience.
I guess I’m not worried that the proliferation of these positions is going to reduce the overall amount of practical experience among law faculties in general.
Q: Anything else you want to add? Obviously you’ve been in the trenches on the fellowship side for a while, anything you want to pass along to the hiring committees about the state of law faculty hiring? Or about the fellowships at Tulane?
A: I guess one thing I would re-emphasize is that people who don’t have all of the conventional credentials should not be deterred from thinking of this as a potential career path. I think that faculty hiring committees are getting better at evaluating the quality of a candidate’s work, the promise of future work, and their capacity for effective instruction. So, increasingly, candidates’ actual scholarly work and promise and their professional experience after law school can outweigh credentials or lack thereof.
There is one very specific and practical piece of advice that I’ve found myself giving people who I think could be strong candidates for a tenure track position, which is to avoid a rush to publish articles in preparation for applying for academic jobs. I think this strikes some people as rather counter-intuitive, since they’ve heard that they need some scholarly work to land a job, which is largely true. I’ve found, though, that some people are very eager to publish as much as they can right out of school, so they’ll beef up seminar papers or write up things that emerge from their experience in practice and get them published. Sometimes that’s valuable, but it has its own perils, especially if they’re not getting much feedback on the work their doing from scholars in the relevant field for example or even from other colleagues or scholars in other fields. Once they are being considered by hiring committees, their recent work will get read very carefully and assessed in ways that they may not yet appreciate; it will likely be their calling card when they go on the market for academic positions.
So, my advice to someone who is thinking about an academic job and who is thinking about publishing something they have in progress is to be sure, as much as possible, to reach out to people, ideally to scholars in the field, and get as much feedback as possible. And they should particularly seek feedback about whether their work is best publishable in its current form or something they might want to develop over a longer period of time to make a stronger impression when they candidates for academic jobs.
Q: I could not agree with that last part more. I think the focus should be quality over quantity every day of the week.
A: Yeah, now there are so many journals and there are so many opportunities for publishing, which I happen to think is a good thing, but it makes it a bit dangerous for people who have something that is solid and publishable, but not necessarily what they would want as their calling card as a candidate for a fellowship or VAP or a tenure track position.
Q: I completely agree. Thank you so much Adam I know this one has been a long, but we had the three programs to talk about so, I appreciate that you took the extra time with me today.
This series is cross-posted on PrawsBlawg.