So You Wanna Be a Law Professor, Part II
First, thanks so much to everyone who made comments to my previous post, which asked for things you’d like to see in a book about the faculty hiring process. I’m knee-deep in summer school, so while I can’t respond individually to each comment, please know that I appreciate each one and all will be helpful as we continue writing the book. I am pleased to see that we have, so far, anticipated many of the topics that you wanted to see covered.
Many comments asked what the chances are for someone who attended a non-elite law school to break into the teaching market. Since that seemed to be a common theme, I thought I’d offer “Becoming a Law Professor: The Nutshell.”
The answer is: write, write, and write some more.
I think you should write and publish something (maybe a couple of things) after graduation from law school, when no one is making you. This will do several things: (i) give you an opportunity to see whether you like writing; because, as Brad Wendel says, this is a writing job more than a teaching job; (ii) will make you competitive for the Ivy League LL.M. programs that will allow you to (as I did) launder your non-elite law school degree; (iii) finally, it will send a strong signal of commitment to prospective employers. Let me take these one at a time.
Can I “Do” Legal Scholarship?— If you don’t like writing, even if you get a job, it will feel like a prison sentence. You need to figure out whether this is something you could make yourself do day-in-day-out at least until you receive tenure. If you find that you would rather have dental surgery rather than write the introduction to your article or go to the library to research a topic, then a tenure-track academic job is not for you. If you really feel a call to teach, but not to write, you might think of teaching as an adjuct or in a clinical position (though the latter often have to write if they are tenure-track).
Writing to Gain LL.M. Admission–For non-elite J.D. laundering purposes, the most prestigious LL.M. programs are Yale, Harvard, and Columbia’s. All are extremely competitive for U.S. students; all claim to admit only those applicants who demonstrate a commitment to becoming a law professor and have good chance of succeeding on the job market. You can take a blood oath in your personal statement that you’re going to be the second coming of [insert name of prominent academic here], but, ultimately, talk is cheap. The best way to demonstrate a commitment to the business is to write articles and publish them, not merely talk about your intention to do so.
Writing to Gain Employment–The same is true for prospective employers. Jobs are scarce, and the effects of hiring someone who doesn’t meet potential can be devestating. Therefore, more and more schools are expecting to see proof of a commitment to scholarship on the front end.
Now you might be thinking that this advice–“Write!”–is like the joke about the shipwrecked economist (“First, assume the existence of a can opener.”). Well, it is, in a way, but next week, I’ll post a couple of hints to help you get started on that first writing project.