If you are currently a J.D. student, you have a number of years to work towards becoming a strong law teaching candidate. And, fortunately, almost everything that you can do at this point to strengthen your candidacy will help you become an excellent lawyer, should you decide that law teaching is not for you.
As you progress through law school, you should keep in mind what matters in academic hiring - writing, references, and your record (e.g., grades, law journal membership, a clerkship). Many of these factors are somewhat interdependent. For example, good grades and law review membership will certainly help you find a prestigious clerkship. The primary goals for your second year of law school should be to develop relationships with faculty mentors and push forward your writing by having a draft of your student note finished by the end of January. In your third year of law school you should work on a second piece of scholarship.
So, what should you do now?
Register with the Academic Careers Program
The ACP's registration form serves as a template that will guide you toward appropriate writing and scholarship opportunities during and after law school. It also allows the ACP to keep you informed about relevant programs and events.
Get the Best Grades Possible
If you want to be in the academy, you need to take law school and your scholarly pursuits seriously. If your grades are not as good as you would like, make an effort to improve them now. Grades are just one part of the equation, but they are a significant one. Although it is possible to overcome less-than-stellar grades, it is preferable to not find yourself in that position. Thus, do not let other law school activities distract you from giving your coursework the attention it deserves.
Compete in Journal Writing Competitions
Participate in the law journal writing competition
at the end of your first year. You should do all that you can to be on a journal and then you might try to be an editor of one of the journals. A list of student journal Web sites is located here
Develop Relationships with Professors
You will need strong academic references. Your best source will be the professors who know you and with whom you have worked. These relationships develop slowly over time and often (but not always) begin in the classroom. Some of the ways you can do this are:
Work as a Research Assistant
During the summer following your first year of law school, there is no better job than working for a member of the faculty. We strongly urge you to consider being an RA after your first year of law school. Working as a research assistant gives you an insider’s view on the process of scholarship and allows you to work closely with a faculty member on their work. Summer research assistants are also in an ideal position to begin work on their own scholarship, as they are in close proximity to faculty members who may assist them and are invited to a weekly lunch seminar that is intended to help them develop student note topics. Finally, references are extremely important, especially when you apply for clerkships. Working as a research assistant allows you to develop a relationship with a professor who can serve as a mentor or reference. I
f you cannot work as a Research Assistant during your first summer, consider working for a faculty member during the academic year.
Participate in Class
It is difficult to imagine how you will develop the necessary relationships with faculty unless you participate in class. First, this gives your professors an opportunity to evaluate and get to know you. Second, you should consider that if you do not find most of your law school courses intellectually engaging, it is unlikely you will be engaged in the legal scholarship necessary for a successful teaching career.
Select Courses Wisely
Use the course schedule to accomplish goals. Again, you need to have references from law professors both for clerkships and for academic positions. Consider taking a few professors with whom you have done well for more than one class, particularly in subjects that interest you. Make sure you take a seminar in an area of interest to you during the fall semester of your second year -- this provides a starting point for a work of publishable quality and can lead to a relationship with a professor who is familiar with your writing. Make an effort to select NYU professors (not visitors or adjuncts) who are publishing scholars and are thus connected to the academy.
During your second year, make an effort to discover an area of particular interest to you; you may focus on that area during your third year. Plan to take corporations and constitutional law (and perhaps tax) no later than your second year. Also take a few foundational courses within possible areas of interest, such as international law, administrative law, or environmental law. Recognize there is a market for law teaching and that some areas are more in demand (tax, intellectual property, corporations) than others (public law, international). Consider taking credits for directed research.
As a third-year student, you should also enroll in at least one Law School colloquium in an area you find interesting. Colloquia are a challenging and exciting way to learn how scholarship and academic discourse occurs. If you think you may want to teach in a clinic, take a clinic, but be aware of potentially heavy credit demands.
Secure a Judicial Clerkship
Apply for a judicial clerkship
in the late summer before your third year. Faculty hiring committees look favorably upon clerkships, particularly on a federal circuit court (where the clerk tends to do extensive writing). A clerkship can also give you an opportunity to work on your own scholarship.
Writing should become both a habit and a love. Some candidates, typically those with an extremely strong record and excellent references, do fine on the market with only one published student note and a serious manuscript. More and more, however, hiring committees are looking for greater evidence of scholarly potential, and the best way to demonstrate this is to have a portfolio of high quality published work. For example, a top candidate will write a student note in law school, and at least begin another piece (although the second may well be polished and published post law school). Then, after law school it is ideal to publish a piece, and prepare a manuscript on yet another to use in a job talk.
Stay in Touch with the Academic Careers Program
Make sure your ACP registration form
and contact information is up to date. Ask us questions and attend our programs. Let us know that you are serious about a career in law teaching and get to know us while you are a student, so that we can assist you more when you are a graduate and working toward entering the teaching market.