Sunday, March 12, 2006

How to Become a Law Professor

Last week I attended a panel discussion at a notable law school on "How to Become a Law Professor." Yes, "a Law Professor." Since you weren't there, let me recapitulate.

Write, publish, specialize, network, get good grades. Oh, and be interested in the law. And write, did I mention you should really write? Write a lot. But good stuff.

A bit more detail, please:

Professor #1 has been teaching 12 years and loves it, in part because his job allows him to express any viewpoint on any subject matter. He followed the traditional path to teaching: got excellent grades, clerked for a prestigious court, and so on. But the times, they are a'changing, if slowly, and now his list of recommended things to do in order to prepare for teaching law are, in order:
  1. Write. He recommends that one try to publish four articles - one per semester of the second and third years of school.
  2. Be flexible about where you're willing to live.
  3. Get really good grades.
  4. Make and keep contacts with professors.
And of course a prestigious clerkship couldn't hurt, but isn't quite the royal road to teaching that it once was. Of course, he's one to talk.

Professor #1 went so far as to write his points on the chalkboard. He really did seem to love teaching, and all its accessories - the necktie, the chalk, the rapt attention of students.

Professor #2 had pursued a much different path, having been in practice for a long, long time, and having been more or less persuaded into teaching because, she was told, she really seemed to have things she wanted to say. She emphasized that one ought, first of all, to find one's passion - that would lead one to mentors, to find the places where one could generate good ideas. And then, of course, one would write write write about those good ideas.

Professor #3 disagreed with Professor #1 about the quantity of writing one ought to do; she felt that quality was the paramount consideration, and that one top-notch paper (and perhaps a few well-developed drafts, suitable for showing to search committees) would count for much more than four pretty good papers. She pointed out as well that there are other types of law teaching - clinical teaching, for example, or teaching legal writing - which have somewhat different requirements.

She, too, emphasized that getting to know the faculty, and other legal scholars as well, is extremely important; that one ought to attend talks by visiting scholars; that serving as a research assistant for a professor might be helpful, not only in getting a feeling for academia, but in building a rapport with a potential mentor. She encouraged students, once they had graduated, to keep in touch with professors and let them know how things were going - not only do professors like to hear from their former students, but, of course, it helps them remember them... which helps them recommend them... and so on.

Oh, and a PhD is a nice thing to have. (She has a PhD.)

At this point there was not a lot of new ground to cover, so poor Professor #4 didn't get much coverage in my notes. But he did relate that he didn't like law school at all as a student, but that he really liked teaching law. And that he got to practice some, too, as well as thinking and writing about important legal issues, so it was really the best of all possible worlds.

And there you are. Go on out and become a law professor. And stay in touch.


At 7:30 AM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

And when you win a professorship you tell reporters you're going with your buddies to Disneyland. This is cargo cult science at it's best.

At 6:53 PM, Blogger Zuska said...

My ex husband is a law professor at a relatively decent school. he didn't really do any of those things.

At 3:55 PM, Blogger rain_rain said...

Well, what the heck did he do?

And I can't stand Disneyland. Could I choose someplace else?


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