So You Wanna Be a Law Professor?

Okay, I’m back. [You were gone?–ed] I had to run home for the weekend to dogsit, while the rest of my family was out of town. One of my projects this summer is to keep working on a book that my colleague, Marcia McCormick, and I are writing together: a guide for those who want to be law professors. Our intent is to write a soup-to-nuts guide, covering what law professors do, describing the job search process, the call-back, negotiating the offer, down to what to do if you don’t succeed at first.

We have several chapters written, but I thought I’d take this month’s opportunity to ask readers who are interested in becoming law professors and law professors who care to give the matter some thought, “What would you like to see in a book like this?” What information do you have now that you wish you had when you starting thinking about jumping into this business? Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments, or e-mail me directly bpdennin at

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16 Responses

  1. aspiring says:

    Here are some that I would certainly be interested to see:

    1. The qualifications — everyone knows this is an insanely competitive market; but it would help to define what “insane” means in this context. How many articles do you have to write to be competitive with that Supreme Court clerk?

    2. The non-meatmarket side process. We know that the top schools rarely hire at the meatmarket. Some tips on how to survive outside the formal process would help.

    3. How (and when) to tell others that you are applying, knowing there is a non-negligble chance that you may not succeed.

    4. Publishing requirements. Where and what to get published if you want your resume to get a second look.

    5. A “US News” style ranking of law schools for teaching purposes would be great (though most who proceed that far along the process probably have some clue about this already).

  2. Brannon Denning says:

    Dear Aspiring:

    Many thanks for those suggestions, that’s precisely what we’re looking for! And good luck to you on your job search.



  3. ohwilleke says:

    1. What are the risks of starting too low — Do you blow it or help yourself by getting a legal writing gig for a year if you really want tenure track? Is it possible to move up the law school hierarchy once you make your first position?

    2. Is adjunct and CLE teaching helpful to an applicant or not? How much? What about undergradute teaching posts (e.g. Con Law for Political Science majors, Business Law for business students, or Crim Law for Criminology students)?

    3. What qualifications realistically put you into serious consideration?

    4. How do considerations differ for “mature” candidates who’ve practiced a while and have long been forgotten by their law school professors? What is the best way into teaching for someone whose been out for ten years?

    5. Which CV items matter? Which are irrelevant?

    6. What kind of articles get you in the door? Is it better to focus on being concrete and authoritative, or do speculative theoretical articles help more?

    7. How do you shop articles in the post-law review note, pre-professorial employment period? Isn’t there a bias against non-student, non-professorial articles?

    8. Do you really need a PhD or LLM?

  4. Robert Rhee says:

    1. How to fill out the AALS form. When I went through the AALS process, I really had no strategy in terms of filling out the course package information. Insights like these would be helpful.

    2. A candid self-assessment process, or perhaps a Q&A driven self-assessment. As a first time candidate, it’s difficult to know whether you are competitive.

  5. Robert Rhee says:

    1. How to fill out the AALS form. When I went through the AALS process, I really had no strategy in terms of filling out the course package information. Insights like these would be helpful.

    2. A candid self-assessment process, or perhaps a Q&A driven self-assessment. As a first time candidate, it’s difficult to know whether you are competitive.

  6. contemplating says:

    Here are some other thoughts.

    -When should a would-be professor look at entering the market? How many years of “real work” are ideal–that is, enough to have some real life experience but not too far out to be removed from academia?

    -Is there a ladder that’s too difficult to climb if you enter at a certain place? If you start at a fourth-tier school versus a third-tier school, what are your chances of climbing?

    -How picky can/should an applicant be? Would applying to just one or two regions be ill-advised?

    -What subject areas should a would-be professor think about focusing on when applying–would an interest in dogs like Ethics or Property be helpful for the starry-eyed would-be ConLaw prof?

  7. Also aspiring says:

    It may seem crass, but it would be useful to get some information on salary, benefits, and other related matters.

    The teaching market is one of the few law-related fields where money remains a pretty major question mark (compared to the plethora of information regarding law firm salaries and the obviously available government salaries). The only major resource available is the SALT survey… which (a) many school don’t participate in and (b) is sort of confusing when you look at benefits and other sources of income.

    I’m not talking about a directory or anything on salaries, but just a general discussion on the financial situation at the start of a law teaching career (from various points of view: VAPs, “small” schools, “large” schools, etc.), to the middle of a career, and maybe a bit on what to expect down the line. It would also be useful to know what these “fringe benefits” people are always referring to are (summer stipends? consulting?).

    This is pretty important stuff for those of us with significant debt upon graduation.

  8. A detailed timeline for the six months before and after the meat market, based on recent information. What tasks must the aspirant have done by when? When should you expect the phone to start ringing, and when should you go to Plan B if it hasn’t? There’s inconsistent, often outdated information floating around about some important date ranges in the cycle.

  9. RMCACE says:

    Two things:

    1. First, how do long term practioners get into the position of law professor. I intend to practice in private practice, but should I change my mind, it will be more difficult for me to publish in private practice due to lack of resources. How do I overcome this?

    2. Second, I made the mistake of choosing a lesser known local school instead of a “national” school in order to save a significant amount of money. I graduated Coif, but how do I overcome the presumption against candidates attending more “regional” schools?

  10. Bruce Boyden says:

    Make sure you include the information about the “Two Towers” from this post:

  11. andy says:

    the competitiveness of getting hired in certain fields vis-a-vis others; information regarding salary & benefits (specifically opportunities for “summer stipends”)

  12. Steve says:

    Quantity of publications v. quality of publications (on the merits) v. quality of publications placement.

    How do your law school prof’s factor into the process, if at all?

    What to do while in law school (other than grades, journal, clerkship)? In particular, something less vague than “get to know profs” would help.

  13. Jim says:

    What role does the prospective prof’s JD school play? Regardless of publications, does he or she need to come from a Top N school in order to have a chance, and if so, what’s the value of N?

    How does age factor into professor hiring as opposed to experience? For example, given a 25 year-old freshly minted JD and a 45 year-old freshly-minted JD, at how much of a disadvantage is the older candidate, all else being equal?

  14. Brad D. Bailey says:

    Are there alternative paths to academia? Does the 20+ practitioner have a shot as a full professor?

  15. new prof says:

    I went to AALS last year and got a job, but here is what I wish I had known in advance:

    1. Statistics. For the top 20 schools or so, how many candidates were on the market last year, and what percentage got jobs? How about people with Ph.D.s? What’s an average number of AALS interviews to get, and when do they tend to be scheduled? What’s a typical interview/callback ratio?

    2. Personal accounts. I didn’t go to YLS, but friends who did leaked to me Yale’s teaching advice packet, which contained a lot of detailed accounts from people who had been on the market recently. These were invaluable – everyone should have access to something similar.

    3. Prepping for AALS. I got a lot of advice about how to do a job talk, but very little about how to prepare for a 20-minute AALS interview. It would have been great to know what kind of questions to expect, how to make a good impression, and how to manage logistical issues like having to schedule back-to-back interviews.

    4. Decision-making on the schools’ end. The AALS interview, callback, and voting processes were a total mystery to me: why did that interview that seemed to go fabulously not yield a callback, while the mediocre one did? It would be great to have an inside view of how schools make their decisions.

    5. Women/minorities/people from unconventional backgrounds. A lot of the advice I saw came from 30-year-old white men who’d gone straight through to law school from college, clerked for a year or two, and then practiced for 2 to 3. Many candidates don’t fit this mold, and it would be helpful to hear more about their experiences and any unique issues they face.

  16. Orin Kerr says:

    Maybe this is obvious, and maybe candidates know about this anyway, but there is a ton of information on this topic on blogs these days. I would either point out some of the posts or even get permission from the authors to reprint some of the best ones.

    It would also be helpful to offer a discussion of the different kinds of law schools, and how hiring works differently at different schools; on how faculties vote, and how faculty members are likely to approach the process.