Against Mandatory "Visits":

Legal academia has a somewhat strange institution known as the "look-see visit." A professor is invited to a host school for a semester or two with the promise that if he sufficiently impresses the faculty, he will be offered a "lateral" position.

This institution of visits has its virtues: it not only allows the host school to "check out" the visitor, but allows the visitor the opportunity to discern whether he would likely be happier at the host school than at his current position.

For those reasons, visits can be a mutually beneficial endeavor. However, many law schools require that all lateral candidates "visit" before they can be considered for a lateral position, and this has significant downsides:

(1) In practice, it has a significant disparate and discriminatory impact on women. Some visitors spend three or four days a week at the host school, and then fly home for long weekends. Others pack up the family for the semester or the year. (And some just leave their family almost entirely for a semester or two.) Men are far more likely to be willing and able to do this than are women, because men (a) tend to be less intensively involved in child care, and (b) their spouses are more likely to be movable for the short-term. (Anecdotally, women professors are relatively more likely to be married to high-powered lawyers, doctors, or other professionals than are men professors.) I know of one women professor who received quite a few impressive visiting offers over the course of a few years--but she had several small children, and her husband was on the partnership track at a major law firm. Exactly how was she supposed to "visit"? Yet, none of these schools would consider her without a visit.

(2) The requirement of a visit reflects, more generally, a devaluation of family life. Even if a professor could leave his spouse and kids for three for four days a week, or the entire semester or year, or move them and disrupt their schooling and social ties for a semester or two, in favor of a career opportunity, should he be asked to?

These strong disadvantages could perhaps be justified if visits were truly invaluable to the host school in making employment decisions. But that is highly doubtful for several reasons:

(1) In other academic fields, faculties manage to make hiring decisions without requiring visits. Indeed, even within legal academia, many law schools make the bulk (or all) of their lateral hires without requiring, or even asking for, visits.

(2) In my anecdotal experience, many law schools that claim to require visits for lateral candidates only truly require visits for candidates who are coming from schools significantly lower down the food chain. If, however, top 20 school has a chance to land a scholar from top 10 school, or even from a similarly ranked school, a scholarly presentation and a day or two of interviews suffices in practice. This makes the mandatory visit seem less like an academic prerequisite for hiring laterals, and more like a hazing ritual imposed by the higher-ranking schools on their "lessers".

(3) Relatedly, judging from conversations with friends who have had look-see visits at a range of top 20 schools, the faculty of the host schools rarely make much of an effort to get to know the look-see visitor. For example, one friend tells me that only two professors actually spoke to her all semester during her visit. Another relates that he didn't know 3 of the 5 members of the appointments committee, and none of those three made any effort to get to know him during his two-semester visit. I've heard quite a few stories along these lines, but no stories that tend in the opposite direction. If the faculty, including the appointments committee, is going to judge a lateral candidate solely on the basis of his or her c.v. and a presentation anyway, as generally seems to be the case, why require the visit to begin with?

Finally, one anomaly of look-see visits is that they are usually arranged by year 1's appointments committee, but the visitor doesn't arrive until year 2, when the composition of the committee may have changed significantly, or even entirely. The committee, for example, may have gone from one committed to bringing in a critical race theorist to one devoted to hiring only law and economic ph.d.s. And thus the poor visitor, enticed by the previous year's committee's blandishments, finds that the current committee just wishes he would go away. (Some law schools are trying to avoid this problem by having the entire faculty vote to invite a look-see visitor.) By contrast, if a lateral candidate is invited to do a presentation and one or two days of interviews, the same appointments committee that invited him will be deciding whether to forward his candidacy to the full faculty.

So, again, I have nothing against visits, look-see or otherwise, and I've enjoyed the three that I've done, and would do them again (but not now, when I have two small children). But I don't see any good reason why look-see visits should be mandatory for lateral candidates.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that some law schools not only insist on look-see visits, but refuse to consider the candidate's candidacy until after he has gone back to his home institution. So, it's not uncommon for a school to ask a candidate to uproot his life to visit, reroot his life at his home institution, and only then learn whether he's going to be asked to uproot his life again to join the institution he visited.