As a law school graduate considering the law teaching market, you need to keep in mind the three things that matter most in legal academic hiring - writing, references, and your law school record. Of course, by this time your law school record is what it is, so do not spend time obsessing about why you did not write onto a journal or worrying about the fact you clerked for a district court judge instead of a circuit court judge. Focus instead on the things you can control now, your writing and your references.
Nothing is more important to a law school’s appointments committee than your scholarly potential. And the best evidence of scholarly potential is a history of published work, because this history shows you are committed to and interested in scholarship, and provides the appointments committee with something they may evaluate. Although there are always exceptions (for example, a candidate who clerked for the Supreme Court), one should go on the market with no less than one published piece and one manuscript (which you will job talk). An ideal candidate might have published one piece as a student, two pieces post-graduation, and have a fourth piece to job talk.
Do not let the discussion of quantity misdirect your attention from quality. While a number of publications may help you get screening interviews at the AALS Hiring Conference, the quality of your work is what will convert interviews into callbacks and offers. There is such a thing as writing too much if the quality of your writing suffers because you are rushing the process.
Writing while you are working at a busy law practice can be challenging, but many people find a way to publish while they work. Candidates have taken leaves of absence, saved and then used vacation time, and worked nights and weekends in order to focus on their scholarship. Others practice for some period of time and then apply for fellowships or legal research and writing programs, such as NYU’s Lawyering program, which allow time and provide resources for research and writing. There are various alternatives, but all of them will test some combination of your energy, commitment to teaching, and finances. If you have questions about the process, or how you might find time to write, feel free to contact the Academic Careers Program.
Maintaining relationships with your law school professors and building relationships with new mentors is vital to success on the law teaching market. By and large, law schools want to hear about you from other law professors, preferably ones who can comment in detail on your scholarship in addition to your personal traits.
If you have been out of law school for a number of years and have lost touch with the faculty who knew you best (perhaps they wrote clerkship letters of references, or you worked for them as a research assistant), here are some steps you can take to re-establish contact. You want to do this as soon as you get serious about the law teaching market – do not wait until a few months before you submit your FAR form to the AALS.
- Send the faculty member an email reminding them of who you are (e.g., “I graduated three years ago, was a senior editor of the Law Review, and graduated Coif”), how they knew you (“I received an A- and an A from you during law school”), and letting them know that you plan to go on the law teaching market in 2-4 years. The goal here is to build a relationship with the faculty member so that he or she knows your scholarship and will speak positively on your behalf. Thus, you should describe your areas of interest and the focus of your current scholarship – again, if you do not have any current scholarship, you should. Attach a copy of your CV, anything you have published, and any works in progress. And ask for feedback.
- If there is a faculty member at NYU (or elsewhere) who works in your area from whom you would like comments on a paper, do not be shy about contacting him or her to ask for assistance. If you are just starting out on a paper, ask for feedback on your topic. But do not ask if they know of any interesting topics for articles – that is your job, and such a question suggests a lack of scholarly initiative on your part. If you already have a draft in the works, ask the professor to read your piece. Some faculty members may not be willing to help, either due to disinterest or lack of time, but many are quite happy to read works in their area.
- If you have a manuscript and are having difficulty finding readers, get in touch with the Academic Careers Program.
- Stay active in the NYU community by attending lectures, workshops, and colloquia. Alumni of NYU Law need only check the law school calendar to stay engaged in the intellectual life of the law school. Particularly if you are in the New York City area, take advantage of the wealth of opportunities offered by NYU.
Finally, a word about when you should go on the law teaching market. At some point, typically after eight to ten years of practice, finding a teaching job becomes extremely challenging because it may be difficult to convince hiring faculty that you are genuinely interested in scholarship (rather than simply looking for an exit strategy from your current position). To overcome this perception, you must demonstrate a serious commitment to scholarship. Your law school publications and scholarship from early in your career typically will no longer help, so you need to produce a number of new pieces. Thus, if you have been in practice a long time, you need to think strategically about how to produce two or more new pieces of scholarship before you enter the market. On the other hand, it is exceptionally rare for a person to go on the law teaching market directly out of law school or even directly from a clerkship. Instead, candidates usually spend from three to five years doing one of three things (and sometimes a combination of the three things).
The first option is to practice as a lawyer. If you intend to be a member of a clinical faculty, this is an absolute requirement. Many candidates work in law firms, although that is by no means a requirement. Prestigious government positions, such as working for the Department of Justice or the Solicitor General's Office, also are excellent starting points, as are many public interest jobs.
A second option is to pursue a graduate degree, particularly a Ph.D., in a related area. Consider whether graduate training may be of interest to you and helpful to your scholarly agenda. Do not pursue a graduate degree simply because you believe it is necessary to become a law professor - it is not. Ask NYU School of Law faculty members for their advice about specific graduate programs.
The third option is to participate in a fellowship program or work as a legal research and writing instructor. This work on its own rarely improves a candidate's chances of obtaining a tenure track faculty position. However, if the program provides you with opportunities to write or provides greater flexibility so that you can find time on your own to write, it is worth considering. Also look at whether the program encourages you to engage in the intellectual life of the institution. For example, the NYU Law's Acting Assistant Professor of Lawyering program is intended to produce future law professors and provides an excellent opportunity to both teach and pursue scholarly endeavors. This option is the least favored on its own, but is fine combined with either practice experience or an advanced degree.