Thursday, October 8, 2009

Entering the Academy - One Step at a Time

Law schools work diligently to prepare students for rigorous careers in private practice, prestigious positions as judicial clerks, and/or rewarding opportunities to work in public interest. But if everyone is off practicing law, who will be left to teach it?

The students who often fall through the cracks in terms of career guidance are those who want to pursue academia. To address this problem, I spoke with Professor Richard Craswell of Stanford Law School about what law schools can do to encourage this career path and Professor Theodore Ruger of the University of Pennsylvania Law School ("Penn") to find out what law schools look for in a candidate.

Professor Craswell currently serves as the Chair of the Faculty Committee at Stanford in charge of helping students who want to enter the academy. He explained that Stanford assists students both while they are getting their JD as well as after they graduate. During law school, Stanford offers a seminar about selected topics in legal scholarship in which faculty members present topics that they are interested in each week and engage students in a discussion about current hot issues that scholars are writing about. Also, the administration encourages students to sit in on weekly faculty workshops in which similar presentations are given. Professor Craswell stressed the importance of these programs in that students can both start thinking about their own scholarly research and form informal faculty contacts. Finally, Stanford offers an introduction to teaching as a profession workshop on its website where it directs students to helpful and applicable resources.

After a student graduates, he or she can contact the faculty committee, and it will review resumes, offer advice for first round interviews, schedule practice interviews, and give extensive feedback to prepare the candidate to enter the job market. All of these resources enable Stanford to proudly send many graduates into the academy, and hopefully other schools will follow in its footsteps.

On the flip side, Professor Ruger addressed the hiring process from a law school’s perspective. Law schools hire on two different pathways--entry level and lateral. For entry level positions, the Association of American Law Schools creates a registry of candidates that are on the market in a given year. Candidates register their resume with AALS in August, and at the end of the summer, AALS distributes those materials to the member law schools. It then holds first round interviews in November in which representatives from law schools come and conduct 20-30 interviews with various professorial candidates. Schools then choose a handful of candidates to come visit for a callback, which consists of a full day of interviews and a “job talk” presenting a piece of the candidate’s written work.

When asked what top tier law schools look for in a candidate, Professor Ruger claimed that:
in the past 10-20 years, the bar has been raised dramatically in terms of expecting people to write and publish between the time they leave law school and the time they go on the market. Therefore, it would be very rare to hire someone based on nothing but a law school record.
In the time between school and applying for a position, Professor Ruger emphasized the importance of compiling scholarly work and estimated that for a school like Penn, 30 percent of new hires will most likely have either a PhD or another advanced degree along with a JD.

When asked what advice he would give law students who know they want to be academics, Professor Ruger claimed,
[l]aw schools are looking for people who have a real curiosity and spark- so try to find an area of law that really engages you.
He also emphasized the importance of developing strong relationships with professors who can serve as both mentors and references. Finally, he promoted doing as much writing as you can, whether in seminars, on a journal, or as a research assistant.

For those law students who do eventually want to enter the academy, I hope that your schools will effectively facilitate your career path, and I look forward to reading your scholarship in the future.


  1. so, basically I can't become a law professor because I am at a TTT...tear

  2. I like all the informative pieces you guys are doing. when is the next clerking stuff?


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