How hard is it to get into legal academia? Forum

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Rorsharch400

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How hard is it to get into legal academia?

Post by Rorsharch400 » Fri May 06, 2022 1:40 pm

Hello everyone,

I'm a Philosopher undergrad and considered going into law school on the advice of my Philosophy professors. I like the field and I think I could do interesting work. Even if I would opt not to go into legal academia I would still do the degree since I think it is a good one to have.

At the same time, many of my Philosophy Professors told me that it would very difficult to get into Philosophy Academia and that it would be more doable to get into Legal academia.

However, I spoke with two students from two top-ranking programs and they made it seem like Legal Academia was also difficult to get into. They said, as some of you have said here as well, that they saw Legal Academia as the "last step" in a legal career. Those people would get into Private industry(like mid-law or big law), then find a government job, and then much later work in Legal Academy.

Although, they did say, "I'm not sure how it would work for you if you want to teach Philosophy at a Law school their requirements might be different."

Anyway, I would like to hear your thoughts!

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Re: How hard is it to get into legal academia?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri May 06, 2022 1:47 pm

Rorsharch400 wrote:
Fri May 06, 2022 1:40 pm
Hello everyone,

I'm a Philosopher undergrad and considered going into law school on the advice of my Philosophy professors. I like the field and I think I could do interesting work. Even if I would opt not to go into legal academia I would still do the degree since I think it is a good one to have.

At the same time, many of my Philosophy Professors told me that it would very difficult to get into Philosophy Academia and that it would be more doable to get into Legal academia.

However, I spoke with two students from two top-ranking programs and they made it seem like Legal Academia was also difficult to get into. They said, as some of you have said here as well, that they saw Legal Academia as the "last step" in a legal career. Those people would get into Private industry(like mid-law or big law), then find a government job, and then much later work in Legal Academy.

Although, they did say, "I'm not sure how it would work for you if you want to teach Philosophy at a Law school their requirements might be different."

Anyway, I would like to hear your thoughts!
It's hard to go into legal academia, especially if you're geographically limited or have your heart set on teaching at a T14 school. It's much easier to get virtually any other lawyer job, except maybe a SCOTUS clerkship. More here: https://law.stanford.edu/careers/career ... /academia/, https://www.law.uchicago.edu/careerserv ... awteaching, https://www.law.columbia.edu/careers/ac ... aching-101.

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Re: How hard is it to get into legal academia?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri May 06, 2022 2:24 pm

Legal academia is still really really hard to get.

The barrier to entry often seems lower than going into academia in the humanities, because you don't have to do a PhD, which takes longer (sometimes MUCH) than getting a JD. And I'd say that for a certain caliber of student, getting into a top law school is easier than getting into a top PhD program. Law school is really all about your LSAT and GPA; in contrast, to get into a good PhD program, you need to develop and articulate a long-ish term research agenda and be able to show concrete steps on that path (independent research, conference presentations, publications). You also need to identify programs that best fit that proposed agenda (a PhD program may think that you look smart as hell but if their program doesn't include faculty who can guide you in what you say you want to do, they likely won't admit you), whereas top law schools don't care whether you want to do environmental law or antitrust or whatever. And law school classes are usually much bigger than PhD program classes.

The other thing is that a JD is much easier than a PhD in that you *don't* have to develop and execute a research agenda, you just have to sit through three years of classes and then you're done. You don't have to come up with original ideas, you just have to learn how to take law school exams. In contrast, you can't get a PhD until you finish your dissertation, and that's contingent on SO many factors you can't control or even necessarily identify when you start. (Of course it can be smooth sailing for many, but it's still much less predictable process.)

All that said, however, getting the JD is necessary but not sufficient [sorry, I couldn't resist] to go into legal academia. For legal academia, you will still need to develop and execute a research agenda if you want to get a job anywhere. I think you will often also have to take more initiative and work more independently to do this in a JD program, because overall the program is designed to produce lawyers, not scholars; PhD programs are trying to create academics in a way that a professional program like a JD isn't. I'm sure top schools have more resources for budding academics than my law school did, but you will still be going against the grain a little bit. This isn't an issue for some personalities, but might be tougher for others. I think partly as a result of this you see more and more new law faculty who have both a JD and an advanced degree (often a PhD) in another field, which gave them more training and opportunity to publish.

The other issue is that there are at least a couple thousand degree-granting colleges/universities in the United States v. 200 law schools. Admittedly, not all colleges/universities hire philosophers, but then, you'll specialize within law as well and schools will only need so many, say, constitutional law scholars. So while the job market for philosophers is, I am sure, frankly terrible, the competition for legal academic jobs is also very very high, just because there aren't a ton of jobs. (Though fewer law grads want to go into academia than philosophy PhDs want to go into academia, I'd bet.)

There are two main advantages that aiming for legal academia has over aiming for humanities academia: first, as I already said, the JD doesn't take as long. Second, your backup options are likely much better. If you don't get legal academia, chances are decent you can get some other legal job (probably a very good one, if you were a viable candidate for academia). You have all the required qualifications and you will make sense to legal employers. If you don't get humanities academia, you've been out of the workforce for a longer time and your experience is very hard to sell to non-academic employers. There are lots of PhDs out in the world working non-academic jobs, but the transition can be VERY difficult.

I don't think it makes a difference if you want to teach philosophy at a law school. For one thing, law schools don't need a lot of philosophers. They need people who can teach torts, criminal law, tax, evidence, etc., the kinds of things that get taught on the bar exam and/or are central to legal practice. There are definitely ways in which studying philosophy can contribute to those things, but it's less of a priority.

As for legal academia being the culmination of a career - that's actually not really the case any more. It's actually quite unusual now to move from a substantial career practicing law to teaching (unless in a clinical capacity or as an adjunct). It's much more common to do the JD, clerk, and work no more than a few years - biglaw, prestigious federal government, public interest fellowship - before moving to academia. It depends probably mostly on how quickly you can write and publish in leading law reviews. Some people never really practice and go on to do a PhD or get into academia via teaching fellowships like the Climenko at Harvard, or visiting assistant professor positions.

So I guess if you're interested in academia and could go either way, both are very difficult to get, but the legal academic route is a bit less risky. However, keep in mind that publishing in law reviews and teaching law students in a law school is quite different from publishing in pure philosophy journals and teaching in a philosophy department. Neither is better/worse than the other, but you may enjoy one or the other better (or it may not matter! depends).

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Re: How hard is it to get into legal academia?

Post by Anonymous User » Sat May 07, 2022 9:37 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri May 06, 2022 2:24 pm
Legal academia is still really really hard to get.

The barrier to entry often seems lower than going into academia in the humanities, because you don't have to do a PhD, which takes longer (sometimes MUCH) than getting a JD. And I'd say that for a certain caliber of student, getting into a top law school is easier than getting into a top PhD program. Law school is really all about your LSAT and GPA; in contrast, to get into a good PhD program, you need to develop and articulate a long-ish term research agenda and be able to show concrete steps on that path (independent research, conference presentations, publications). You also need to identify programs that best fit that proposed agenda (a PhD program may think that you look smart as hell but if their program doesn't include faculty who can guide you in what you say you want to do, they likely won't admit you), whereas top law schools don't care whether you want to do environmental law or antitrust or whatever. And law school classes are usually much bigger than PhD program classes.

The other thing is that a JD is much easier than a PhD in that you *don't* have to develop and execute a research agenda, you just have to sit through three years of classes and then you're done. You don't have to come up with original ideas, you just have to learn how to take law school exams. In contrast, you can't get a PhD until you finish your dissertation, and that's contingent on SO many factors you can't control or even necessarily identify when you start. (Of course it can be smooth sailing for many, but it's still much less predictable process.)

All that said, however, getting the JD is necessary but not sufficient [sorry, I couldn't resist] to go into legal academia. For legal academia, you will still need to develop and execute a research agenda if you want to get a job anywhere. I think you will often also have to take more initiative and work more independently to do this in a JD program, because overall the program is designed to produce lawyers, not scholars; PhD programs are trying to create academics in a way that a professional program like a JD isn't. I'm sure top schools have more resources for budding academics than my law school did, but you will still be going against the grain a little bit. This isn't an issue for some personalities, but might be tougher for others. I think partly as a result of this you see more and more new law faculty who have both a JD and an advanced degree (often a PhD) in another field, which gave them more training and opportunity to publish.

The other issue is that there are at least a couple thousand degree-granting colleges/universities in the United States v. 200 law schools. Admittedly, not all colleges/universities hire philosophers, but then, you'll specialize within law as well and schools will only need so many, say, constitutional law scholars. So while the job market for philosophers is, I am sure, frankly terrible, the competition for legal academic jobs is also very very high, just because there aren't a ton of jobs. (Though fewer law grads want to go into academia than philosophy PhDs want to go into academia, I'd bet.)

There are two main advantages that aiming for legal academia has over aiming for humanities academia: first, as I already said, the JD doesn't take as long. Second, your backup options are likely much better. If you don't get legal academia, chances are decent you can get some other legal job (probably a very good one, if you were a viable candidate for academia). You have all the required qualifications and you will make sense to legal employers. If you don't get humanities academia, you've been out of the workforce for a longer time and your experience is very hard to sell to non-academic employers. There are lots of PhDs out in the world working non-academic jobs, but the transition can be VERY difficult.

I don't think it makes a difference if you want to teach philosophy at a law school. For one thing, law schools don't need a lot of philosophers. They need people who can teach torts, criminal law, tax, evidence, etc., the kinds of things that get taught on the bar exam and/or are central to legal practice. There are definitely ways in which studying philosophy can contribute to those things, but it's less of a priority.

As for legal academia being the culmination of a career - that's actually not really the case any more. It's actually quite unusual now to move from a substantial career practicing law to teaching (unless in a clinical capacity or as an adjunct). It's much more common to do the JD, clerk, and work no more than a few years - biglaw, prestigious federal government, public interest fellowship - before moving to academia. It depends probably mostly on how quickly you can write and publish in leading law reviews. Some people never really practice and go on to do a PhD or get into academia via teaching fellowships like the Climenko at Harvard, or visiting assistant professor positions.

So I guess if you're interested in academia and could go either way, both are very difficult to get, but the legal academic route is a bit less risky. However, keep in mind that publishing in law reviews and teaching law students in a law school is quite different from publishing in pure philosophy journals and teaching in a philosophy department. Neither is better/worse than the other, but you may enjoy one or the other better (or it may not matter! depends).
Hey, excellent post!

I agree that a Law Degree is excellent to fall back on. For instance, if you were to get your law degree then continue on to Phd but for some reason drop out of the Phd, you can still go back to Law. The same could be said about maybe starting a business with some friends then going back to Law.

I have a few follow up questions:
1-Are there any other websites to talk about these topics?
2-What is the minimum salary or monthly/hourly pay for someone with T-14 Law degree? Assuming, this person doesn't go to big law. For instance, if I were to drop out of a Phd program and then want to start charging for legal consultations or contract work.

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Re: How hard is it to get into legal academia?

Post by Anonymous User » Sat May 07, 2022 9:52 am

There are some law blogs that talk about legal academia/hiring - https://www.thefacultylounge.org/ is the one I'm most familiar with, and maybe https://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/? Brian Leiter also talks a great deal about legal academia, but I find him a really awful human being, just FWIW. (But he does have a PhD in Philosophy so may be especially helpful for you.)

It's almost impossible to talk about minimum salary for non-biglaw jobs. It's just too big a range of options, and I personally don't know what kinds of rates attorneys charge for what you suggest. I would say, though, that if you went JD --> PhD, then dropped out of the PhD program, striking out on your own as a solo would be tough (it's always tough for anyone without practice experience). You'd be much better off getting some experience in a formal job first.

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Re: How hard is it to get into legal academia?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun May 08, 2022 3:11 am

While it's technically possible to get a legal academia job with just a JD, these days it's pretty much de facto required to get a PhD and clerkship as well. Joint JD/PhD programs are sometimes compressed to 6-7 years but you still gotta finish that dissertation. So you're not saving time.

Plus you simply don't know going in if you're going to do well enough to clerk. So going into a JD program expecting academia is extremely risky. I know someone who went into law school with a PhD and got median grades. Is now practicing corporate law with no expectations of ever getting into legal academia.

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Re: How hard is it to get into legal academia?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun May 08, 2022 10:23 am

FWIW, a PhD degree isn't quite required, but certainly becoming more and more common. If you look at https://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsbla ... -2021.html, it breaks down hires in 2021 and shows that the trend is continuing for 40+% having PhDs. (I realize that's a lot, but it's not de facto required that you have a PhD.)

However, plenty have other advanced degrees, and the numbers also show the importance of a fellowship (and clerkship). So while "you have to have a PhD and clerkship" isn't strictly true, the gist is pretty close.

And I've definitely known people with PhDs who've ended up with very average grades in law school. TBF, the philosophy PhDs I've known have done really well, but I agree that the PhD isn't a guarantee of anything.

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Re: How hard is it to get into legal academia?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun May 08, 2022 11:06 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Sun May 08, 2022 10:23 am
FWIW, a PhD degree isn't quite required, but certainly becoming more and more common. If you look at https://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsbla ... -2021.html, it breaks down hires in 2021 and shows that the trend is continuing for 40+% having PhDs. (I realize that's a lot, but it's not de facto required that you have a PhD.)

However, plenty have other advanced degrees, and the numbers also show the importance of a fellowship (and clerkship). So while "you have to have a PhD and clerkship" isn't strictly true, the gist is pretty close.

And I've definitely known people with PhDs who've ended up with very average grades in law school. TBF, the philosophy PhDs I've known have done really well, but I agree that the PhD isn't a guarantee of anything.
I stand corrected, thought it was higher than 40%. I'm probably biased by having gone to a T14. Nearly all my profs who were under 60 had PhD and appellate clerkship. Can only think of 1 prof who didn't (and that prof went to Yale, clerked SSC, and worked for a decade before teaching).

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