So You Want To Teach International Law?

So You Want To Teach International Law?

I’ve been busy over the last few weeks working on Temple’s Faculty Recruitment Committee. Along with our other hiring needs, we’re interested in bringing on another international law expert to bolster our recent hires in that area. As part of this process, I recently participated in the American Association of Law’s Schools Faculty Recruitment Conference (impolitely a.k.a. as the “meat market”). For those of you who have not had the pleasure, it’s an annual gathering at which candidates interested in getting into teaching are invited to screening interviews with various law schools based on the Faculty Appointments Register (FAR)—a common application of sorts to law teaching. In the weeks following the conference (such as this one), lucky candidates find themselves flying around the country for day-long “call-back” interviews and “job talk” presentations, with the hope of getting the elusive offer to join one of the 180-plus U.S. law faculties.

This is my third time through the hiring process (once as a candidate and twice as a faculty member), and I’m always struck by how many candidates declare their passion for teaching and scholarship on international law. Now, there’s already plenty of general advice written on the process for folks interested in law teaching (see here for one blog’s contributions to the genre). I’d suggest much of it holds true as well for those interested in teaching international law. What may be less apparent to international-oriented candidates, however, is the scope of the competition they face. In this year’s FAR there were 880 candidates, of whom 155 (or 17.6%) declared a primary interest in teaching international law, international organizations, international business transactions, or trade. Many of these candidates possess all the qualifications suitable for teaching – they’ve taught already, they’ve published one or more articles, or they have real world experience in the practice of international law. But, even with increasing opportunities to teach international law, it’s a pretty large pool for schools to choose from, especially where, in any given year, I suspect the number of international law hires to be a dozen or less. Indeed, in terms of candidate competition alone, it appears international law may now outstrip even constitutional law, which had 99 folks (or 11.25%) listing it as among their primary teaching interests.

So, how does one stand apart (and this advice goes for those of you currently doing call-backs, not just those who might try out the market in the future)? I’d offer three pieces of advice. First, be prepared to talk about method(s) for approaching international law – too often, I’ve seen candidates with more than a passing familiarity with international law doctrine, but little to virtually no understanding of the varying theoretical models that could be used to explain or explore that doctrine. I’m not saying you have to identify yourself with one camp or another, but you need to be able to distinguish the views of a New Sovereigntist, from a New Havenite, from a New Stream crit., and the implications of adopting one method or another. Second, when presenting your scholarship or scholarly ideas don’t be afraid of the normative. Schools will certainly appreciate your ability to work with existing doctrine and–particularly if you have the skill set to do it–your ability to employ empirical methods to explain how international law actually operates. But, at least some members of the faculty will also want to see if you can go from an “international law is” to the “international law should be” analysis. This is often hard, particularly for folks coming from practice (myself included), but it’s also an important part of how scholars think (don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying you have to be normative in your work, but you should at least be able to explore your work’s normative implications). Third, and finally, putting aside the fact that the distinction may be illusory, if you can pitch yourself as more of a “private international law” expert, the competition decreases substantially. For example, of the 880 candidates this year, only 52 (5.9%) indicated a primary teaching interest in international business transactions or trade. Moreover, anecdotally, I often get the sense that IBT is more often a “curricular need” than the public international law survey course, where folks are frequently waiting in line for the opportunity to teach it.

I’d be interested in hearing from others on my side of the hiring process, whether my assessment of the relative needs for private and public international law is accurate, and if you’re willing, identifying what other schools are looking for international law professors this year. As for all you folks currently running to and from call-backs right now — good luck.

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Vlad Perju


I would agree with you that there is more curricular need for private international law, including international business transactions, international trade, and international arbitration.

One other thing you did not mention is the applicant’s willingness to teach a core class outside of international law. I think international law applicants do themselves a disservice if they do not market themselves as willing and excited to teach core classes. I have a primary interest in international arbitration, so contracts is a natural fit for me. International litigation types would do well to teach civil procedure. Others have a primary interest in international criminal law, so criminal law would be quite logical. Don’t most law schools want entry level candidates to be able and willing to teach core classes outside of international law?

Roger Alford