Law teaching is a terrific job. Law professors think about interesting ideas, work in stimulating and collegial environments, and enjoy a large amount of autonomy and flexibility. But legal academia is not for everyone.
Before you start down the path toward academia, consider whether you are cut out for the job:
- Think about whether you are truly interested in scholarship and the life of an academic, or whether you seek to move out of another position you find uninspiring. Law teaching is not an escape from long hours in practice. There are many demands on the time of law professors – scholarship, administrative duties, answering student questions, faculty meetings, workshops, lectures, law school events, writing exams and (everyone’s favorite!) grading. A new faculty member often spends five to ten hours preparing for every hour spent teaching, and high quality scholarship takes a substantial amount of time. In addition, professors spend time during the summer months working on scholarship. You will gain greater control over your schedule and the content of your work, but your overall work hours will not necessarily be reduced.
- The market for law teaching is highly competitive. You will need to perform at a high level during law school and produce one or more (usually more) pieces of quality legal scholarship prior to entering the market. You will need academic mentors who can support you. And, even for those candidates with strong credentials, there is no guarantee that you will receive offers from schools ranked highly or near your preferred city or region.
- Also take into account the fact that your income, particularly if you are currently at a law firm, likely will be substantially reduced. Most law professors make less than first-year associates at large law firms.
- Finally, you should be aware that you must be geographically flexible if you hope to succeed as a law professor. The law teaching market is competitive everywhere, but even more so in the cities and locations many people want to live.
These caveats are not offered to deter you; they are here so that you can be realistic about the costs and challenges associated with pursuing a career in law teaching. Whether this career path is right for you depends on how you view these costs and challenges as compared to how much you would enjoy being a law professor.
So, will you enjoy the work of a law professor? At the vast majority of law schools, a professor’s primary job is to produce legal scholarship. Teaching is very important but a distant second. Are you truly excited by addressing unanswered questions and difficult problems and working to find answers and solutions? Do you love to write? Do you enjoy spending significant amounts of time alone with your research? Do you enjoy discussing and defending your ideas in front of others? Are you willing to invest the time and energy to learn to use new analytical tools and incorporate new perspectives in your work? If your answer to each of these questions is yes, you may find a career in law teaching both rewarding and satisfying.