A commenter on Scouting the scouts on the boulevard of broken dreams asked for a clarification of this observation:
There is nearly always a tax person on the scout team. . . . From the candidate's perspective, the trick is to see how well the tax person interacts with everyone else. The tax teacher is the canary in the birdcage; he or she is an indicator of interpersonal relations on the faculty.This observation provoked this comment:
I don't understand the tax professor comment, but I am intrigued. . . . Is the idea that tax professors are generally the outsiders, at least in what they work on, so that if they get along with others it says something good about relations on the faculty? No, that's not quite it . . . anyway, please do say more.Happy to oblige.
As I've said on this forum, the basic income tax course "has everything a law school course should have, plus the added bonus of being relevant to the future professional interests of virtually every law school graduate." Wait, there's more:
[Tax] covers the full range of business law issues and provides the perfect platform for considering, at the highest manageable levels of abstraction, the very purposes of government.Or, as my former Minnesota colleague Karen Brown said at a public address so eloquent and moving that I still consult it, twelve years later, as a model of refined rhetoric, "If you can do tax, you can do anything."
In other words, tax professors are the designated generalists of any faculty. Other generalists may prowl the halls, but they are a rare and mostly deprecated breed in an academic culture that favors specialists over generalists and credentialed specialists over autodidacts. (Translation: dump your clerkship interviews and get a Ph.D. instead.) Tax professors, regardless of prevailing intellectual fashions, are indispensable. As a result, they are the only generalists you will reliably find on just about any law school faculty. This also explains why good tax professors make good members of a scout team at the hiring combine. They can converse with anyone, at least long enough to decide whether it's worth bringing a candidate back to campus.
I am the Knight of the Mirrors. Behold me, Don Quixote, and despair!
The AALS hiring conference as truth serum, you see, works both ways. It shears candidates of their credentials and forces them to perform sans résumé, as it were. Thirty minutes under pressure represent a terrible basis for evaluating would-be law professors, but the screening interview beats reliance on useless or even misleading paper records. This is why law schools send scouts. At the same time, though, the candidates themselves are scouting the law schools. And if the scouts fail to project an attractive, intellectually active image of their law school . . . well, let's just say this. It's hard to project something you don't have.