Perhaps I'll over a broad outline at entering academia.
First, for all of you 0Ls about to enter law school, it's remarkable to me that so many of you are so intent on teaching law, when you've not only never sat through a law school lecture, but you've also never written, much less seen, a piece of scholarship, which is the bulk of your work. Additionally, for people so single-minded on academia, it's a little surprising that you haven't been pursuing PhDs.
But putting that aside, I can't emphasize enough how rare it is to break into academia. It's less rare than, say, becoming a Supreme Court clerk (about 35-40 each year), or a federal judge (40-60 each year). But there are in the area of 100-150 appointments each year. And that's all AALS hires--traditional, clinical, and legal writing. You simply can't enter law school with the expectation of obtaining one of these positions. And it's even a little difficult to pick a law school based on chances of getting into academia. And even if you enter a fairly elite school, it's not at all clear that you'll obtain good enough grades, or have the inclination to produce quality scholarship at the end of the day.
It costs about $500 or so just to submit an application for an interview. And these days, only about half of (the 1000 or so) applicants even get invited for an interview in the first place; and beyond that, many only get one or two interviews at the "meat market," making a visit to DC for the interviews of questionable value at best. Then, after the interviews, you have to hope for a job talk; and after that, even if they invited you to campus, there's around a 25% chance you get an offer at that point.
These days, competition has grown even more dramatic for a number of reasons. First, many schools are tightening their belts in light of the recession, and they're hiring fewer tenure-track professors, either making them teach larger classes, or using visitors or adjuncts or non-tenure-track professor, or whatever. Second, there's been an influx of PhDs as interdisciplinary scholarship has become popular, and PhD-JD combos are increasingly common. Third, publishing at least one, if not two, quality articles before you go on the market has become almost a requirement. It used to be that publishing was the exception rather than the rule; now, it's not only the rule, but it's becoming more difficult to set yourself apart with even just a single publication if it's not extraordinary. Multiple publications are becoming the norm, and should be the norm in 5 years.
The (now fairly) traditional path is to go to an exceedingly good school, perform extremely well, create a number of mentors who really want you to enter academy, clerk for an elite federal judge, work at an elite firm for a handful of years, publish an article or two in your free time, perhaps go teach as a Visiting Assistant Professor (VAP) or a fellow at some school for a one- or two-year trial run as a professor, then apply for the meat market and hope that your pedigree matches up and that your curricular fit meets the fit of another school and handle the social aspect well.
You can also see that this is, generally, a several-year commitment, and it can result in a number of moves (law school, to clerk city, to practice city, to possibly a VAP city, to teaching). And not that a lot of schools are off the beaten path (college towns, unusual geographic locations, etc.). You often can't be picky in selecting your school.
And while high-ranked schools usually outperform, recognize that folks from low-ranked schools can grab highest honors, elite journal position, an elite appellate clerkship, an elite firm job, and push out quality scholarship, then get a teaching position. It's just that all the chips have to fall in place (which can be rare), and then they have to have the drive to get there.
What a law professor does all day is mostly research with some teaching thrown in.
For many, if not most, schools, especially the higher-ranked or better-paying ones, scholarship and research is what's important. Scholarship is writing law review articles, in the range of 25,000 words, on something novel, not merely summarizing the law. It undergoes a process where you present it to your peers, where they spend a significant amount of time questioning your assertions; where you present it to law students, who edit it repeatedly; and then explaining it and defending it and interacting with it in the academy for years to come.
On the teaching side, it takes several hours to prepare for one class, but the preparation time gets easier with each class. If you teach at 9 am on a Monday, you will have a long Sunday night ahead of you. And if you teach two classes in a term, then it's a lot of your day. Teaching is exhausting work. Add to it answering student e-mails, office hours, writing letters of recommendation, and so on, and it can be very difficult to block out a chunk of time for serious scholarship, if one isn't careful.
Of course, I've put this all in a fairly negative light for a reason. It's a great job, and it's one I've wanted, pursued, and been fortunate enough to obtain. And even though it's a significant amount of work, I really enjoy it, because I enjoy writing scholarship and teaching.
But for the less-than-informed as to what goes into academia, I thought I'd give this summary, for whatever it's worth.