What Makes a Good Teaching Job Candidate?
What factors make a candidate for a teaching position attractive to the hiring or appointments committee? Traditionally, getting excellent grades at a distinguished law school, being a law review member or (preferably) officer, and having a prestigious clerkship after graduation have been the most important factors, especially at the top schools.
In recent years, however, scholarly achievement—not just potential—is increasingly required. By the time you are applying for tenure-track teaching jobs, you should have at least one polished piece of work ready to be submitted to prospective employers and to be used as a “job talk.” A paper already in the publication pipeline can serve these purposes well. Better yet, it is prudent to have published work, as well as a second project suitable for presentation to schools. Most law faculties still value candidates who have practiced law, so a few years of experience can be useful, particularly if you have been able to write as well.
To prepare for an academic career in this increasingly competitive market, some students take an additional graduate degree in a law-related discipline. Post-J.D. fellowship programs aimed at bringing law graduates into teaching also have begun to appear. One established example is the Law School’s Associates-in-Law program, in which emerging scholars teach legal research and writing during the first semester and are free to develop their scholarship in the second semester and during the summer. Similar programs exist at other top schools, and admission is not confined to graduates of these respective schools. The program also has limited fellowship funding for Columbia graduates to spend one to six months in residence while working on their writing. Check the Fellowships page for an up-to-date list.
Meanwhile, if you are a current student, there are several ways in which you can develop a record of scholarly achievement while still in law school. You can select courses, especially seminars, that require writing papers rather than taking an exam, in order to help you to develop your research interests and produce publishable work. Consider working as a research assistant for a professor whose specialization interests you. This experience will enhance your research skills and your familiarity with the subject matter; it will provide you with a close view of the scholarly world (and ideally, some mentoring); and it should also provide you with a valuable reference later on. Seek out opportunities to present papers in seminars and at conferences; the practice will be valuable and you may also make helpful contacts. Above all, let your professors know that you are interested in a teaching career. Even faculty members with whom you have not taken a class or who do not share your research interests may have useful suggestions and ideas.
For students interested in clinical teaching, practice experience is especially important. While many law schools look to some of the same criteria that measure candidates for traditional classroom teaching, prospective clinical teachers must also demonstrate the ability or the potential to supervise students with real cases or projects. Schools often hire clinical faculty from the world of practice; many clinical teachers come from law firms, government agencies, and nonprofits. Some students gain both practice and clinical teaching experience through clinical fellowships. Georgetown University, for example, has a two-year fellowship program in which fellows supervise J.D. students in practice and earn an L.L.M. degree. Such fellowships provide an established route to a clinical teaching career.
Finding the Right Fit
Because the requirements for clinical teaching positions vary dramatically from school to school, you should think carefully about the type of position you are seeking. You might consider, for example, whether you would enjoy a teaching position at a school that requires clinicians to produce academic scholarship. If you would like to obtain a tenure-track clinical teaching position, or one that requires scholarship, you should follow the same advice usually given to non-clinical teachers: Have a paper or project ready to discuss. To get a better sense of the role of a clinical teacher, and of the variety of positions in the clinical teaching market, you should regularly read the newsletters of two professional groups. These organizations are the Clinical Section of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), and the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA). The CLEA’s newsletters are online.