Job candidates know that thorough preparation is often the deciding factor between success and failure.  For Stanford Law graduates aspiring to a career in the legal academy, getting ready for the annual hiring conference sponsored by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), known as the “meat market,” is essential—if daunting.

Illustration by Jacob Thomas

“Preparation for the conference can begin years before with development of a research agenda and writing scholarly works,” says Bernadette Meyler, JD ’03, professor of law and Deane F. Johnson Faculty Scholar. As the current faculty advisor to Stanford Law’s “academia” program, Meyler is building on the efforts of Barbara Fried, William W. and Gertrude H. Saunders Professor of Law, over the past decade to help those interested in attaining academic positions. Both work closely with students and fellows at Stanford Law to prepare them for careers in the legal academy. This typically means finding a mentor to help develop a scholarly agenda. Students often secure post-grad fellowships where that agenda can be advanced—and, hopefully, realized with publication of one or more articles.

Last year, Meyler introduced a new effort meant to sharpen the focus on key aspects of hiring. “Moot Fest,”  held over a weekend in October, brings aspiring legal academics together to rehearse their interviews and discuss their scholarship—in front of a particularly discerning audience: Stanford Law faculty.  “We had an incredible turnout of faculty in 2013, about 24 including the dean, to help our students really prepare for the AALS conference and subsequent on-campus job talks. It was so collegial, faculty helping fellows and the fellows helping each other,” says Meyler, who notes that securing a position in the academy is particularly challenging now, as some law schools have cut back on their faculty. “Competition for these positions is steep. Last year, the number of schools interviewing at the conference was down by about 50 percent.”

The combination of Stanford Law’s involved faculty, fellowship opportunities, and intense preparation is paying off, however. And more SLS graduates are joining the legal academy—and getting offers at top-tier law schools. Of last year’s group of 13 SLS fellows and graduates attending the Moot Fest, 12 went to the AALS event and 8 were subsequently offered tenure-track positions. Of all the fellows and grads this year, 14 acquired such jobs. Meyler notes that the statistics for Stanford Law graduates entering the legal academy are impressive: Within the last five years, 55 percent of graduates who sought tenure-track jobs in legal academia obtained them and others pursued teaching careers in related disciplines. Between SLS students and fellows, Stanford affiliates have recently garnered a number of top-flight jobs at Columbia, Chicago, Cornell, Duke, Stanford, UCLA, and the University of Toronto. “The trend is definitely upward,” says Meyler. The next Moot Fest is scheduled for October 3, 2014.