A law school job talk for an entry-level candidate is an opportunity for the presenter to put his or her ideas before a faculty in the best possible light. A bit of give-and-take is part of the drill, but the candidate can usually expect the talk to stay more or less on course. My own first job talk, though, given at George Mason University more years ago than I’d like to admit, was attended by the thoroughly exceptional Larry Ribstein and so did not unfold in the usual way.
A few minutes after I began to speak, the questions began. Most were of the kind I expected, asked to determine whether I had thought carefully about my topic, whether I had properly considered alternative arguments, whether, in general, I knew what I was talking about and could express myself competently. But then Larry, whom I had not before met, spoke. Unlike the others, Larry didn’t ask about the paper, which was on insolvency risk, or my defense of its themes. Instead he honed in on a comment that I had made in passing, one only indirectly related to my thesis. If I remember correctly, the remark that caught Larry’s attention was about corporate capital structure. Larry asked me one question about the comment and then, after contemplating my response, followed up with a series of others. He was, it seemed, trying to work out something in his own mind rather than connect his thoughts to my paper. I wasn’t sure what was happening but I remember the feeling of relief when the questioning moved on to others.