General Information on Academia
Law School Tenure Track Teaching Positions
The process for gaining a full tenure faculty position at an American law school is extraordinarily competitive. The supply of excellent, talented, scholarly law graduates interested in teaching far exceeds the demand. To make yourself as strong a candidate as possible for that job market, you need to:
- build a strong academic record
- develop close professional relationships with your faculty (who will ultimately serve as your mentors and recommenders)
- write a work of publishable quality related to your area of scholarly interest
- clearly articulate your scholarly agenda
Law schools are not interested in hiring lawyers with practical experience for tenured positions. Rather, they are interested in hiring academics.
In creating your agenda, consider that some areas are easier to break into than others. For example, it is very difficult to gain entry level positions in Constitutional Law and Civil Procedure. What topics are “hot” change as issues in the legal marketplace change. Those who can take a look into the future can position themselves well by selecting an upcoming field to target for their scholarly agenda.
A current trend in law faculty hiring is the attraction of candidates who have Ph.D.s or other graduate degrees in other disciplines. However, it is not enough to have another graduate degree unless the work of that degree influences your legal scholarship.
The Hiring Process
The hiring process at law schools has been standardized somewhat by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). The AALS holds an annual Faculty Recruitment Conference each fall (typically held in late October in Washington, D.C.). Most law schools and representatives from their appointments committees attend the Conference. Additionally, the AALS has a faculty appointments register, in which it collects information about candidates interested in law teaching positions. The register is then circulated to law school deans and hiring committees several times throughout the year. To learn more about the AALS services to aspiring teachers, consult their website and, particularly, the information at www.aals.org/frs/jle.php.
You can also learn about positions in the Chronicle of Higher Education. By looking at the available positions while a student, you may be able to direct your scholarly interest toward those areas where there is the greatest need.
Teaching at Non-Law Schools in Higher Education
Some law school graduates find law teaching positions, tenured and otherwise, at schools other than law schools. The credentials for gaining these positions are similar to those for tenured positions at law schools. You will need:
- A clearly articulated scholarly agenda related to the work of that academic department
- Credentials, occasionally through experience but more often through additional academic work, related to the field
- One or more published articles related to the scholarly work
- Recommendations from currently-teaching law faculty
You can take one of two approaches to looking for a position at non-law schools: after researching a particular school and the department you think would be most interested in your work, you can write directly to the chair of that department outlining your scholarly agenda and proposing some courses that you would teach.
You might also seek out openings at schools after they have identified a need in a particular area. One of the most effective ways to learn about these openings is through the Chronicle of Higher Education.
An excellent resource to help you craft an academic job search outside of law schools is The Academic Job Search Handbook, by Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.
Teaching as an Adjunct Professor
Many law school graduates satisfy their interest in teaching by presenting a course in their area of interest on an annual or more occasional basis. These positions will require that you have experience in the area in which you propose to teach, and so will rarely be available to those right out of school (however, those who bring credentials from another area may be able to combine the two fields without gaining a host of experience after law school).
If you are interested in teaching a course, you will want to identify the associate dean or the faculty member who plans curriculum and assigns faculty to courses. If you cannot learn the name of the person with this responsibility, write directly to the dean. Specify what you want to teach and give specifics about what that course might look like. In order to maximize your chances, you might want to include information about other fields that you would feel prepared to teach as well.
Adjunct teaching positions will not make you rich. Typically, the stipend for a semester’s work ranges in the $1,500 to $5,000 range, depending on the school and the number of credit hours. Some law schools do not pay adjuncts at all. Given the extensive preparation time needed to prepare the course, particularly the first time through (a rule of thumb is three hours of preparation for every one hour of course time), these are not highly competitive wages.
Also, it should be noted that adjunct teaching positions rarely, if ever, serve as stepping stones into a tenure track teaching position at that institution. It may be a way to add to your curriculum vitae, but it will not serve as a substitute for serious academic credentials.
Nonetheless, teaching a course can be intellectually stimulating. Many graduates who have taught comment not only on the hard work, but also on how rewarding the experience was, working with bright students who can give you a fresh perspective on your own fields of interest.
Legal Writing and Legal Methods Programs
Increasingly, law schools have been hiring attorneys or academics to teach or direct their legal writing programs. These programs take many forms. In some, legal writing instructors are hired for several years; in others, permanent positions for a director of the program are the norm. Yet in others, they are adjunct positions. Instructors may have a group of students that they teach directly or they may supervise other instructors, either students or other attorneys.
Many schools hire practicing lawyers for work in their clinical programs. These positions are often for a term of years. Many clinical programs deal with specific subject matters and look for experienced practitioners in those fields. Clinical faculty members and instructors often teach in some areas while supervising students who are handling cases. They also usually maintain their own case load as well. Here is a good resource: Clinical Legal Education Association site for new clinicians.
Some schools have teaching fellowships to introduce prospective candidates to the academic world such as Penn Law’s Sharswood Fellowship. There are also graduates degree aimed at getting people into teaching upon graduation. Should you decide to pursue an additional degree at one of these schools, you will want to do due diligence into their placement rates. A good resource for finding teaching fellowships is Tax Prof Blog.
Many lawyers are returning to law schools as a member of the administration. From Career Services professionals, to Deans of Students to Admissions Officers, these careers can be an excellent way to utilize your law degree. For job postings in academic administration, you can refer to the Penn Law Job Postings online, The Chronicle of Higher Education, the NALP Job Listings or AALS Bulletin which is available in the CP&P office.