Path for becoming an LRW/clinical professor

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Path for becoming an LRW/clinical professor

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Sep 13, 2020 10:30 am

Having almost finished law school, I’ve realized what I want to do long-term is teach. Being a TA for LRW has made me realize I really enjoy working with students to help them develop their writing and practical skills. I’m more interested in teaching LRW or a clinical course than doctrinal classes, both because it seems more attainable and because it involves more hands-on teaching (rather than research/publication).

What’s a typical path for becoming that kind of professor? I’m at a T50 school in the top 5% of my class and on law review. I have a federal district clerkship lined up after I graduate. I assume I should do biglaw for a few years to get practice experience and then reach out to a bunch of law schools about teaching jobs. Is there anything else I should be doing to pursue this?

I honestly feel like teaching is what I’m supposed to do in life (almost wish I had realized that before I went to law school), and if I can’t get a job at a law school I might leave the legal profession completely and start over with a teaching career. It’d be nice to feel like law school was worth it for my long-term career, though.

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Re: Path for becoming an LRW/clinical professor

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:12 pm

For what it's worth, at my school almost all the LRW profs are alums from my school who practiced for a little while but no longer do for whatever reason.
Mine practiced 5-6 years at a v10 then gap in resume (motherhood? idk) and now just teaches the workshop.

nixy

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Re: Path for becoming an LRW/clinical professor

Post by nixy » Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:32 pm

FWIW, the above has been what I've seen a lot, too. The very top schools (Harvard and Chicago immediately come to mind) tend to use their LRW sections as training ground for doctrinal faculty and hire only the top from elite schools, but once you get out of the T14 that becomes much less of a thing.

Clerking then a writing-heavy practice is the way to go, I think. You want to get enough practice that you can plausibly teach students the best practices based on your own experience, not just what you were taught yourself. Depending where you're located, if there is a local law school (or schools), keep an eye on their job listings, because often schools will hire adjuncts for a single class to fill out their LRW sections. That can be a good way to get connections at a particular institution, or get experience to make you more appealing for a full-time position that does arise. It's also easier to get the single courses than to walk into a full-time gig (though I'm not saying don't apply to those also, just that you might need to get some experience part time/adjuncting before you can get a full-time gig).

Also, since it sounds like you're still in school, talk to your LRW prof (or any of them from your school that you've had contact with and like) and tell them of your interest and ask for their advice. The more recently they've been hired (or involved in hiring), the more helpful they will be, but they're probably the best resource.

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Re: Path for becoming an LRW/clinical professor

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Sep 15, 2020 1:14 pm

At my T14, the LRW professors are half "fellows" like Nixy described (i.e. recently off a clerkship/PhD, elite JD with Law Review, trying to write articles full-time and get a tenure track position) and the other half are "clinical adjuncts" with widely varying positions. We had a partner from a not-notable boutique (not an insult, just not, like, elite), a reasonably senior government litigator, some public interest folks. I think that my school would love more interest from people who could be clinical adjuncts. (They all skewed older, fwiw.) I think we only had one or two full time faculty in who did the writing program full time.

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Re: Path for becoming an LRW/clinical professor

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Sep 15, 2020 5:53 pm

I'm well acquainted with this market. AMA?

There are three styles of LRW programs.

(1) TT/Tenured faculty positions. Very few schools have these, but the U.S. News rankings for "Legal Writing Programs" generally has the TT/Tenured faculty programs ranked very highly (e.g. Stetson, John Marshall). These are like traditional TT jobs and will require you to do research either in a doctrinal field, in legal writing, or both. You will need to publish to get tenure. While you're mainly teaching legal writing, some programs do ask/require you to teach an additional course that can range from Advanced Legal Research to Contracts to Native American Law, depending on the school. Schools that have TT/Tenured positions are generally some of the worst law schools in the nation. You're going to be teaching people with low 150 LSATs and low 3.0 GPAs. There is a certain kind of reward for this work, but it also requires a lot more work than teaching Yale students how to do it.

(2) Programs that use the "Director" structure (though some TT schools also do). These programs have a Director as the head of the program and then have long-term faculty as professors. You'll see a lot where Assistant Clinical Professors are on 1yr term contracts (sometimes with and sometimes without a renewal presumption). Assistant Clinical Professors are often on 3yr term contracts. Full Clinical Professors often have 5yr contracts. This all varies school by school, but the general structure is solid. This means that you never have indefinite job security. With a new administration, bad university politics, etc., you can be kicked to the curb at the end of your contract and have very few other legal jobs that you're prepared to take. Sometimes you don't even get the fancy rank of professor. Some of these programs run "Lecturer," "Senior Lecturer," "Instructor," etc. schemes. These schools are usually OK law schools all the way through some T13 law schools.

(3) Legal fellows, Lecturers, Adjuncts, and VAPs. This is common at the tippy top law schools (see Chicago/Yale), but it does exist outside of that realm too. It's just a general rule. These are generally not long-term positions, and they generally aim to prepare you for doctrinal legal academia. If you have one of these positions, you'll have the least amount of institutional respect and voting rights of the three options.

The pay is generally abysmal for these positions. If you left after your first year of biglaw practice to one of these gigs (not happening), you'd be taking a 55% pay cut ($190,000 -> $85,000) IF you landed at a (2) program AND got lucky (some of the (2) programs start at below $70,000, aka a 74% pay cut). You might think that doesn't sound too shabby, but you're going to have (a) less respect than all your doctrinal faculty peers, (b) less pay than all of your doctrinal faculty peers (at each step in the Asst/Assoc/Full scale you make $50,000 - $80,000 less), and (c) a much higher workload than all of the doctrinal professors (while you will not have to do research at a (2) or (3) program, you're often grading many extremely lengthy assignments from 30+ students, doing conferences, curriculum prepping, and participating in university governance).

Generally, three years experience is a minimum for LRW prof gigs. I don't know what the number is these days, but about 70% of LRW faculty are women, so you also have to be okay with that. Litigation is the most common path, but many LRW programs have a real need for transactional folks who can teach contract drafting classes/offer different perspectives. Federal clerking is always beneficial. If you can write in the area, that would be great too.

ETA: The path for the professor of a clinic is different, and the compensation is usually considerably better.

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Re: Path for becoming an LRW/clinical professor

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Sep 16, 2020 12:36 am

Thanks for that, very informative. I'm not OP but a current biglaw associate who has been exploring this path as well. One question - for the jobs described in 1, is it necessary to have published in order to be competitive while applying? Or is that something that's only required to get tenure after you're already there?

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Re: Path for becoming an LRW/clinical professor

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Sep 16, 2020 1:39 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 12:36 am
Thanks for that, very informative. I'm not OP but a current biglaw associate who has been exploring this path as well. One question - for the jobs described in 1, is it necessary to have published in order to be competitive while applying? Or is that something that's only required to get tenure after you're already there?
Long Post OP.

The (1) jobs are extremely competitive, because tenure comes with (a) job security, (b) better voting rights/respect, and (c) $$$. I'll get to your answer in this post, but I think you're putting the cart before the horse here in determine if you'd be competitive. While (1) positions are tenured and require significant writing once employed, the position is ultimately a very teaching heavy one. Legal writing is easily the most teaching/preparation intensive course 1Ls take. Naturally, successful candidates for (1) jobs have a lot of teaching/prep experience.

Normally, successful applicants for (1) jobs were former LRW professors at (2) programs, often the program Directors. To be illustrative, let's look at eight professors from John Marshall's tenured program: (i) 5yrs as LRW prof. at Cornell, (ii) Director of Depaul LRW program, (iii) LRW Prof at Chicago-Kent/Adjunct at Loyola, (iv) 18yrs of law practice, (v) 9yrs as LRW professor and then several years tenured in another LRW program, (vi) 11yrs legal practice and 2yrs as LRW professor at another program, (vii) 12yrs of full-time or adjunct professor positions at other LRW programs, and (viii) taught LRW and other subjects at four different law schools. I left off (ix) because she was a true clinical professor, as in leading a clinic.

Almost all, if not all, of these professors developed scholarship while in these past LRW jobs. How could you not and still want to be taken seriously as a candidate for a tenure-track job? Successful applicants for (1) are normally people who have a demonstrated commitment to legal writing, have produced some level of scholarship, and then sell themselves as "I love legal writing. I'm not in here to backdoor to teach contracts as a tenured professor. I just want more time to produce legal writing scholarship on top of teaching it."

I hope that makes sense and answers your question.

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Re: Path for becoming an LRW/clinical professor

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Sep 16, 2020 11:03 am

That does, very helpful. Thank you.

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Re: Path for becoming an LRW/clinical professor

Post by basketofbread » Wed Sep 16, 2020 12:10 pm

I'm not OP, but also interested in teaching a clinic someday. This is all really informative. Does anyone have any insight as to the path to teaching a clinic? I imagine it's very school specific, but if it's helpful I'm a recent T2 grad headed for big law. Thanks.

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