Considering a Career in Teaching Law?
Law school teaching positions are not easy to come by, and as you might anticipate, they are reserved for the best and the brightest. Moreover, law school teaching, always a sought-after career path, has become increasingly attractive. Is that because the level of career satisfaction is much higher for those who are teaching law as opposed to those who are practicing law? Is it the perceived opportunity to have saner work hours? Or, is it simply the opportunity to deal with novel challenges on a regular basis? Whatever the reason, all of the ABA-approved law schools are approached by hundreds of extremely bright, well-credentialed prospects who graduated in the top 10% from the best law schools in the country. Competition for law teaching positions is fierce.
How does one find a job teaching law school? Not surprisingly, the more prestigious the school, the greater the number of badges required. The important badges are: where you attended law school; how well you did in law school; whether you were on a journal; whether you had an editorial position; whether you were published; and where you clerked. If, while you were in law school, you considered a law teaching career, then it is likely that you worked hard to obtain the right credentials. However, if the idea of teaching has come to you later, some of the benchmarks that may be missing from your resume are still obtainable.
One such qualification is a federal judicial clerkship. While judicial clerkships are traditionally undertaken right after law school, it is no longer an anomaly to find practicing lawyers applying for federal clerkships. Moreover, there are some judges who express a preference for applicants with work experience. There are a panoply of reasons that might motivate an alumnus to seek a clerkship, however, most who do so are law school teaching hopefuls.
In addition to a clerkship, prior publications are another important criteria in applying for teaching positions. Law faculty recruiters are looking for writing that is exhaustive in research, analytical rather than merely descriptive in its approach, and balanced rather than adversarial in its treatment of issues (1). Law review articles are the best evidence of such scholarship, and some law reviews are considered more scholarly than others. Clearly, the more prestigious the law school, the more specific the definition of "scholarship". There is no doubt that it is difficult for practicing lawyers to find time to write and publish; however, it can be and is done by many who will not be deterred. If you are one such individual, recognize at the outset that you may have to take a step backward before you are prepared to move forward. Nonetheless, you can significantly improve your credentials and thus your likelihood of obtaining a coveted teaching position
Individuals who have not accumulated the requisite writing and publishing experience may want to consider graduate teaching fellowships. There is a good list of law teaching fellowships from the TaxProf Blog. Graduate teaching fellowships, although they vary, provide the recipient with the opportunity to work one-on-one with a faculty member, to complete a published piece of research, gain teaching experience and valuable mentoring that often includes faculty recommendations. Thus, these fellowships can provide a real opportunity to those who otherwise lack some important benchmarks. As a result, obtaining a fellowship is itself a competitive process. Georgetown Law Center sponsors a Graduate Fellowship Program that is designed to increase the diversity of the law profession.
Would-be law professors,who are hoping to improve their prospects, often inquire about the value of obtaining an LL.M. degree as a credential for law teaching. For the most part, efforts to patch holes in one=s credentials with an LL.M. degree are unlikely to work, although a graduate degree from Harvard, Yale, or the equivalent may be viewed differently.
When is the ideal time to apply for a law teaching position? Many would-be law teachers apply for their first teaching position following a judicial clerkship, and are successful in obtaining that goal. However, as has been mentioned, it is not at all atypical for teaching candidates to practice for a few years, pay off law school loans, and then seek a teaching post. Just how long one can remain in the practice world before seeking a teaching position, is not an easy question to answer. It is often felt that two - three years of practice is valuable, but that five or six years is too long. That is one popular view, but there are many different opinions on this subject. Starting early may be a prudent move since finding a teaching job often requires more than one try.
The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) holds an annual fall recruitment conference that is somewhat akin to Georgetown Law Center's on-campus interview program for students seeking summer and permanent positions. Prospective teaching applicants complete a standardized AALS form, basically a very condensed resume, and pay a fee (which this year is $265.00 for those getting their applications in by early September), in order to get into the applicant pool. A lot rests on how these forms are completed. It is advisable to print out several practice copies and experiment as to how to best showcase your credentials on the short form provided. Without a doubt, before you even begin working on the form, give a great deal of thought to who will be your references. Again, this is more difficult for individuals who have been out of law school for many years. Your references must have recent knowledge of your ability and potential; they must be willing to provide an unqualified, stellar endorsement. Certainly, it helps if those individuals are themselves well respected legal scholars.
The standardized form you complete is sent to all law schools recruitment teams which are interviewing candidates for openings in the following academic year. It is recommended that the AALS form be completed and returned to the Association in early August. By September and October, although materials are still being accepted, hiring teams may have gotten over zealous about many applicants, invited them to interview, and thus, have very few time slots still available in their schedules. After materials are in to the AALS, it is basically a waiting game as you sit tight and hope to hear from several schools. The annual conference itself is generally a three-day event during October or November; this year the Faculty Recruitment Conference will be held November 4 -6. Each recruitment team converges on the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC where they meet with selected candidates at what is affectionately called the "meat market."
Some faculty recruitment teams interview candidates for clinical teaching positions; however, the number of such opportunities is generally small. It is particularly important for clinical aspirants to learn whether a school of interest has two tracks -- one for traditional/academic professors and one for clinicians. Moreover, it will be important to determine whether clinical professors are eligible for tenure, and whether tenure has actually ever been granted to clinicians. If you are interested in clinical positions, become familiar with the Clinical Legal Education Association's web site, which has direct link to available clinical opportunities.
Competition for law teaching positions is intense, and as in any job search, the most prestigious law schools and those located in large metropolitan areas, are the most competitive. Because the process is so competitive, law professor "wannabes"(2) are encouraged to move beyond the standardized AALS procedures to do a more personalized search. Keep in mind that law schools differ in their emphasis on scholarship v. teaching, and your thoughts about this division are important in directing your search. Apply to law schools in which you have a special interest or a contact. Talk with faculty mentors about law schools and about their contacts. Talk with judges whose former clerks are likely to be teaching, and talk with recent Georgetown alumni who have been successful in the process. Recognize that schools deal with unsolicited applicants in a variety of different ways, but contacts among law professors are of immeasurable value. As you conduct your individualized job search, be certain to check the free JURIST web site where you will find numerous law teaching positions listed.
Imagine that you=ve waited patiently to hear about interviews, and that you are lucky enough to have several. What should you expect? Interviews for law school teaching positions are challenging; they consist of a rigorous examination of your intellectual abilities, and everything rests on the success of that 30-minute meeting. Typically, interviewers use the topic of an applicant=s writings or the applicant=s area of practice as the basis for questions, so it is important that you reread all of your written work before the interview. Do not be surprised if asked about your law review note, the topic of a brief you wrote or possibly even a hot topic area from one of the legal newspapers. "As in law school exams typically it is not the conclusions you reach as much as the knowledge and analytic ability you display that counts."(3)
Your scholarly agenda will be of great interest to recruitment teams. Consequently, long before the Fall Recruitment Conference, you will need todo your homework, and your research. You will need to have well-developed, very specific ideas of where you want to take your interests and research, including what law journal articles you have an interest in writing. Interviewers draw a parallel between those who demonstrate well-developed research ideas and those who have a great interest in scholarship. It is a logical conclusion. Thus, do not go to interviews with anything but well thought out ideas. Moreover, show enthusiasm for your topics; provide evidence that you have given this serious thought, and that you have already devoted time to the preliminary research. Prior to the interview, aside from having a well thought out research agenda and learning as much as you can about the particular school, it is worthwhile to check The Law Teacher, a newsletter of the Institute for Law School Teaching. The Law Teacher is available free on-line at http://law.gonzaga.edu/ilst/newsltr.htm. While the newsletter is aimed at a law professor audience, the practical tips provided should be of interest to professor "wannabes."(4) These ideas will increase your knowledge of law teaching in general and will help you to be a more astute interviewee.
In addition, it is important to demonstrate flexibility in the courses you are interested in teaching and willing to teach. In fact, you need to make this evident on the AALS form as well as in your meeting with interviewing teams. As is true in all organizations, not simply within the walls of academe, the new kid on the block may have to do the work that their more experienced colleagues do not want to handle. That might mean, for example, teaching required first year courses or other courses that a school feels compelled to offer but that experienced professors want to avoid. You must demonstrate some flexibility. On the other hand, most schools will also try to give the new law teacher at least one or two courses of interest to them.
There is enormous variation in the time it takes law schools to get back to interviewees regarding a follow up interview at the law school. Some teams get in touch with applicants of interest within days of the conference, while others do not contact their choice candidates for several weeks. Those individuals who are invited for a campus visit are asked to give a job talk. Clearly, this talk will be on a subject about which you have a good deal of knowledge and passion. Your performance in this talk is critical to the final decision. Consequently, a great deal of preparation must be put into this presentation. In addition to this job talk, applicants generally meet with small groups of faculty and students, and get a tour of the campus and often the community. When this meeting is over, you will again play the waiting game, and hopefully the school makes you a very enticing offer. If that does not happen this year, keep focused on the goal and try again next year. Many law professors have been through the process more than once - and find that it is worth the effort. Why? Most law professors believe they have the greatest job; career satisfaction is highest among law professors.
Alumni considering law teaching may want to make an appointment with Marilyn Tucker, Director, Alumni Career Services. Marilyn can be reached at email@example.com.
- Zillman, Don, Angel, Marina, Laitos, Jan, Pring, George, Tomain, Joseph (1998, Sept.) Uncloaking Law School Hiring: A Recruit's Guide to the AALS Faculty Recruitment Conference, Journal of Legal Education Volume 38, Number 3
- Chin, Gabriel J., Morgan, Denise S. (Summer 1996) Breaking into the Academy: The 1996-97 Michigan Journal of Race & Law Guide For Aspiring Law Professors, Michigan Journal of Race and Law
- Ibid. 1
- Ibid. 2