What does a screening interview actually entail? What does a job talk sound like? Why should I consider doing a VAP? These resources help reveal the mysteries behind the law faculty hiring process.
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Law Fellowships & VAPs
Sean Scott: Thank you for joining us today. I’m Sean Scott, and I’m currently serving as the Associate Director of the Association of American Law Schools, and I’m a faculty member at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Today, I have with me Professor Claire Donahue, who is an Assistant Clinical Professor at Boston College Law School. We’re going to be talking about fellowships, specifically fellowships designed for those who want to enter into experiential teaching. So, I’d like to start by asking Professor Donahue to tell us a little bit about what she did before she did her fellowships and went on to the position at B.C.
Claire Donahue: Sure. So, after graduating law school, I did a clerkship at the trial court level. I knew at the time that I wanted to work for the public defender’s office, so that felt like a good place to start to me. I was with a trial attorney with the Committee for Public Counsel Services, which is the public defender agency in Massachusetts, for about five years, and then, I transitioned to doing post-conviction appeals. I ended up finding the work a little solitary, being home alone with my briefs. So, I looked for opportunities to re-engage with people, and I began adjuncting at an undergraduate institution. That’s where I got bit with the bug of bridging practice and teaching.
SS: You did a couple of different programs. Can you talk to us a little bit about what those were?
CD: Sure. So, I started at the George Washington University Law School doing a formal fellowship program, the Friedman Fellowship. It was a two-year program. And after that program…
SS: May I interrupt one second?
SS: So, was that program a general program or was it specifically designed for a clinical teaching?
CD: It was specifically designed for clinical teachers. We were situated within the clinics in the law school. We were working under directors of different legal clinics in different subject areas, and we participated in a seminar and training program that was run by the associate dean of clinics.
SS: And so, can you talk to us a little bit about the difference between a clinical teaching fellowship and a doctrinal fellowship?
CD: I’ll conceptualize my answer to say what I know to be true about experiential fellowships, and I must plead some ignorance to the straight doctrinal fellowships because they just weren’t something that was on my radar or something that I was investigating.
SS: Fair enough.
CD: My understanding is that clinical fellowships are really designed to bring people from practice into clinical teaching specifically. And so, there’s an energy around pedagogy — actual training around pedagogy, the language, the choreography of clinical classrooms — which can be quite distinct spaces. There was additionally a focus in my fellowship on scholarship, but I don’t know that that would necessarily be true in all clinical fellowships, although I suspect in most it is now a component. Juxtaposing that to my understanding of doctrinal fellowships, there might have been a more immediate focus on the scholarship and perhaps almost a secondary focus on bringing the fellow into the classroom, eventually as part of that fellowship.
SS: Fair enough. Okay, so then from there you went…
CD: So, I left GW and moved over to American University Washington College of Law. There, I was in a program that was a hybrid between a fellowship and a permanent position, and maybe in some ways even felt a little familiar — similar to a visitor position. The name of the program was a Practitioner-in-Residence Program, and that was a three-year position. Like a fellowship, it was a time-limited position, and it was a position that was designed to launch you to your next experience.
SS: And did you do both of these programs because of your own particular interest, or did you get advice that these were things that you might want to do to enhance your chances of getting a job?
CD: The fellowship initially was based on advice that it might be a good way to orient myself to clinical teaching, which, as I’ve said, is a distinct space with its own sort of language and course design. And so, I initially, in maybe the way many of us do, and with this sort of shots in the dark and doing my own homework, was sort of looking around for different entry points into clinical education. The advice of mentors and then also just my own research took me to this place that a fellowship would be a smart and accessible way to start that work. Moving into the practitioner position was sort of a balance of some personal considerations and choices around on where I needed my body to be, as well as also thinking through juxtaposing it to some offers that I did have because I was successful in getting offers after my fellowship. I was thinking about ways to further my training and my understanding with the idea that it would broaden my opportunities.
SS: What turned out to be some of the advantages of doing either?
CD: The distinct advantage of my starting fellowship was two-fold. One was there was really intentional design in the fellowship to provide us with as much received as much teaching as we were providing teaching. So, my time was split between providing supervision to students in court and providing education to them, as well as seminar and case rounds. I’m also receiving a lot of detailed feedback from the legal director under whom I was working. Also, there was a whole seminar component where the Associate Dean of that program was providing us with scholarship, with instruction around different choices that could be made in our clinical classrooms. In that particular program it was a requirement of the program to complete a piece of publishable quality, and it wasn’t just named as a requirement and then left for us to fulfill it. We were given access to the writing professors at GW who hosted a special seminar for LLM candidates and other fellowship candidates, and we were able to take part in those seminars as well. So, we got to sort of have this be in this unique space of being both students and teachers at the same time.
SS: Was part of the program more formal mentoring to prepare you for the market? For instance, did you get assistance with filling out the FAR form or crafting your CV or thinking about your job talk?
CD: So, sometimes in our seminar, for example, as we approach the spring, we would use some of our seminar time to talk about the actual mechanics of the FAR’s application, to talk about the mechanics of the day, to talk about working through screening interviews where those of us had success on the market, and then moving forward to flyouts. There was an opportunity to use that seminar time, and even to move outside of that seminar time, where different faculty were pulled for us to move job talks and things like that. So, there was some intentionality around preparing for the market. That said, there was still I think some openness, and we were allowed to have some curiosity about whether or not this is what we wanted to do. So, some of my fellow fellows found in the course of being there for our two — it was a two-year program at GW — that this wasn’t what they wanted for themselves. And so, their career was going to move in a different direction, and there was room for them to explore that. And that was sort of accepted and supported in a non-judgmental way as being a totally appropriate use of the fellowship experience.
SS: Similarly, did you find that people upon completion of the program were looking for both experiential teaching positions and doctrinal positions?
CD: Less so in that fellowship. I think most of us were pretty much geared towards clinical teaching and it’s hard — it’s a bit of a chicken and an egg scenario. I suspect we were self-selecting in that way. That we found ourselves in that fellowship because of that interest, and that interest was curated and supported in the fellowship. So, I imagine if we’d come in with an orientation towards a doctrinal experience that that would have been something the leadership and that fellowship would have been happy to nurture in us as best they could. At American University’s Practitioner-in-Residence Program — potentially because it was a slightly longer program as a three-year program, and because there was less structure around training us in in clinical work — it was there but it was less consistently manifest throughout the three years. In that program, I did see people move towards doctrinal positions or sort of hybrid doctrinal and clinic positions.
SS: And in thinking about — if we could shift gears for a little bit — to talk about the screening interview, and the flyback, and what was required of you during the flyback. Is there particular information you think — as somebody who’s teaching clinic or potential teach in a clinic — that you’d want to elicit from the schools with which you’re interviewing?
CD: Sure. On the initial screening interview, it was always interesting and important for me to understand how the clinics were situated in the school. I mean that both in terms of their tenure structure or their staffing structure, but also you could get an early indication of, “Were the clinic’s a rogue entity in the school, were they something that was fully embraced by the administration of the school?” A lot of that could even be manifested in who you’re interviewing with, who was making up the selection committee. And then moving out towards the callback, what was the structure of your day going to be, with whom were you going to be meeting? It could oftentimes tell you a lot about how the clinics were situated and with what regard the clinics were held in the school.
SS: Right, so that kind of signaling.
CD: So, that would be one thing I think I found myself interested in less so for the screening but more on the flyout. Then, my interest was in starting to understand the room and the commitment to my scholarship. That’s not as uniform a commitment I think between clinical placements as it might be in doctrinal placements where it’s more of a given that, while we’re requiring that you do scholarship, so we’ll now support it in the following ways. You had to be a little more inquiring about whether or not it was a requirement of the clinical position and — regardless of whether it was a requirement for the position — whether or not there would be support for your desire to engage.
SS: I think that there are particular challenges in terms of generating scholarship if you’re also a clinician. Can you talk about some of those challenges?
CD: Sure. I think — again depending on what track you’re on — there can be a different focus on scholarship, and that focus, in turn, can speak to your opportunities to actually get it done. If you’re in a position where you carry a docket throughout the entire year — potentially throughout the summer where there’s limited opportunities for leave — it can be challenging to find the time to do the scholarship. In contrast, in doctrinal positions it tends to be a little bit more formulaic in terms of your access to certain leave may be such as course releases. This can be even more pronounced if you’re moving into a clinical placement, and this is increasingly common for clinical placements where you’re also expected to teach a class outside of the clinic. That was also something I inquired about. Typically, in a flyout, what was going to be my obligation to the clinic? What was going to be my obligation to the campus and to the law community in terms of committee work? And what would be my obligation to teach outside of the clinic? And then to speak as candidly as I could even in that early stage of, you know, wanting to still put your best foot forward in asking as many questions as I could to understand where on that plate of responsibilities scholarship was to sit?
SS: And thinking, going back to the flyback, can you talk about what your day was like in that presentation that…
SS: … is a beloved part of that day. [Laughter]
CD: I think this is a unique challenge for people seeking clinical positions. The flyout is a little bit of a flying by the seat of your pants in terms of your preparedness. In a doctrinal position, you know, you’re going to present a piece that you’ve been working on. You’ll present a job talk. You’ll be able to move that hopefully, ideally — depending on your circumstances — before arriving on campus for your flyout. For those of us in clinical positions, we would sometimes be asked to do that — to present our scholarly piece in a formal job talk. Other times, we would be asked to present a pitch for a clinic. Other times, we’d be asked to pitch a vision we had. For example, one of my flyouts asked me to talk about the role of experiential learning in legal education. So, it wasn’t even talking about a clinic design. It was actually talking about larger issues. Not surprisingly, that was asked right around the time the ABA was changing its requirements for experiential learning. [Laughter] And so, I had to sort of become an expert on why that was happening and my position on the merits of that shift.
CD: So, there were some pretty interesting asks. We also are commonly asked to do a mock class, and I’m not sure… I can’t speak with authority about how common that is in a doctrinal flyout. But there were a lot of moving parts in terms of what you had to be prepared for. As you were preparing in the months leading up to the screening interviews, looking back it might be a question for the screening interview of what — if I’m lucky enough to move forward and I hope that I am — what will the expectations be for the flyout?
CD: Everyone knows it can move quite quickly from a screening interview to a flyout. f you find out with a week, or two weeks, or even three weeks that you are going to be expected to present a job talk, that’s different than the one you’d imagine for yourself. You’re trying to manage your docket, get someone to cover your cases, and create that job talk.
SS: So, I think that you made a really good point that I want to emphasize, which is that often — assuming that you’re doing the Faculty Recruitment Conference — there’s a very short time between that conference and when you may be invited back. So, the sooner you can get that information about what’s expected of you, the better so you have the time to prepare and are not surprised. Did you participate in the Faculty Recruitment Conference?
CD: With my first transition, after leaving the fellowship in GW, I did. My second transition after leaving the Practitioner-in-Residence Program was probably a little unorthodox, which I think is not necessarily uncommon in clinical space. A lot of our networking happens through these formal and informal channels. And so, my experience transitioning away from American University to my position at Boston College was through a less formal channel.
SS: And those less formal channels would have included things like listings on CLEA or clinical listservs?
CD: Yes. We have our clinical listservs, being active in the clinical section of AALS, and coming to the conference, and then there’s associated regional conferences — the New England Clinical Conference and the Southern Clinical Conference. In the networking, making yourself visible in early panels and presenting work-in-progress papers at those conferences is important. In the experiential world, we have a workshop that happens at NYU every fall. So, it’s in those efforts that you start to meet a lot of people. You start to generate a brand or name for yourself and people keep you in mind. When positions are open in their school, this is a space where oftentimes your application to a particular position may be solicited.
SS: Alright, so that’s terrific insider information to know. So, as potential candidates are considering the various fellowships that are available, what are some of the criteria that they should be looking for–the qualifications for each program that may help them make their decision about whether to do one and, if so, which one to do?
CD: I think there’s the immediate consideration of geography. “Where Can I be?,” “Where do I need to be?,” and also “How will I be compensated in this fellowship?” I want to be candid that fellowships aren’t necessarily well-paid positions, or sometimes their payment is split between a modest salary and – then as was the case at GW – tuition remission on an LLM. So, there’s this structuring of fellowships that at the end of the day makes the take-home pay not necessarily fantastic. While that’s obviously going to play a role in different ways for different people, I think it is important to ask some questions or notice how the fellowship is being structured. Who’s in charge of it? So, for example at GW, I think it sent a strong signal that it was the associate dean of clinics taking the primary responsibility for educating the fellows and for oversight of our experience within each clinic. Additionally, our legal directors demonstrated an eager interest in in curating our interests in teaching us. As an applicant for a fellowship, I’d be curious about who it is who’s in charge of the position and what they’re asking you to do. A fellowship that situates you with total equity with other clinicians might on the outside seem great. “Oh, you know, I won’t be the low-man on the totem pole. I will be working in clinic and teaching outside of the clinic.” But it’s not necessarily an easy ask for someone as a fellow. It might be good to be the lower-man on the totem pole who is only asked to consider taking small, intentional, meaningful steps towards understanding what you’re doing in the clinical classroom and devoting that other time to scholarship and not necessarily allowing yourself to worry about if you’re situated with total equity with other clinicians. It sounds like straightforward and silly advice, but it’s actually good to pay attention to what it is you’re being asked to do and what allowances are made for you structurally in the design of the program to get those things done. Those years go very quickly, particularly when you consider that in a two-year fellowship, you’re interviewing for jobs in the fall of that second year. You really have that one year to make a pretty meaningful splash so that you’re well situated for the market in the fall.
SS: Yes, that makes sense. And I don’t think that it’s a silly observation to make at all. [Laughter] I think the whole point of this project is to demystify and to bring transparency to the process, so I appreciate the insight that you are sharing here with us. So, for those of you who are interested in more information and who wouldn’t be after this terrific interview with Professor Donahue, you should go to our website, www.aals.org, where we have a plethora of information about all kinds of teaching careers. Thank you.
Learn more about fellowships and VAPs.
Learn more about screening interviews.
On-Campus Callback Interviews
Learn more about on-campus callback interviews.