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How to Become a Law Professor: Part 1 - Tips & Resources for Landing a Jobs in Academia

published April 15, 2023

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Becoming a Law Professor is a dream career for many law students. It requires a range of skills, such as knowledge of the legal system, an ability to teach, and research and writing capabilities. The process of becoming a Law Professor can be complicated and lengthy, but with the right preparation and dedication, it can be done.

To become a Law Professor, you'll need to obtain a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from an accredited law school. You'll also need to take the bar exam in the state you aspire to practice in and pass it. Once you have your Juris Doctor, it's time to start building experience in the field. This can mean getting a job in a law firm, clerking for a judge, or interning at a legal organization.

With experience under your belt, it's time to make sure your resume stands out. You can do this by participating in moot court competitions, doing research, and applying for writing awards. You should also join professional organizations and attend workshops and conferences related to your field.

In addition to gaining experience and making your resume impressive, you'll also need to be a competitive candidate when applying to law schools. It's important to do well on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and make sure your letters of recommendation are strong.

Once you've been accepted to a law school, you'll need to excel in class. This means studying hard and doing well on exams and papers. The grades you receive in law school will be a major factor in determining your chances of becoming a Law Professor. After you've graduated law school, you can apply for a post-JD job or an LLM degree.

A post-JD job is a fellowship or teaching assistant position that will give you experience and help you land a professor position. An LLM degree is an advanced law degree that will give you more expertise in the field and make you a competitive candidate for professor positions.

In conclusion, becoming a Law Professor is a complicated process that requires dedication and experience. You'll need to obtain a Juris Doctor and pass the bar exam, gain experience in the legal field, make sure your resume stands out, do well on the LSAT, excel in law school, and apply for post-JD jobs or an LLM degree. With the right preparation and commitment, you can achieve your goal of becoming a Law Professor.

Become a Law Professor: An Overview

Law professors are law experts who instruct, study, and research the legal system and law. Becoming a law professor usually requires post-secondary education, a complex understanding of the law, and excellent communication and teaching skills. As a law professor, you will typically need to complete a Juris Doctor degree, a Doctor of Laws degree, or a similar degree.

Acquiring a Juris Doctor Degree

In order to become a law professor, most schools require you to possess a Juris Doctor (JD) degree and a Doctor of Laws (LL.D.). This degree program typically takes three to four years to complete. During the program, you will learn the fundamentals of the legal field. Once you have completed the program, you will need to pass the bar exam in order to practice law.

Gaining the Necessary Experience

In addition to the required degrees, a significant amount of experience is usually needed to become a law professor. Law professor candidates typically need to complete a clerkship or judicial externship and gain several years of experience working in the legal field. During this time, individuals must develop an extensive understanding of the legal system and gain in-depth knowledge of the law.

Developing Teaching and Research Abilities

Law professors must be strong teachers who are able to deliver instruction in a clear and concise manner. Teaching skills can be developed through classes, workshops, and other courses. Research ability is also important since law professors are often required to conduct research and write scholarly documents. In addition, excellent writing and communication skills are essential for law professors, who must be able to draft and interpret legal materials.

Becoming a Law Professor: Summary

Becoming a law professor requires a high level of legal knowledge and expertise. You must possess a Juris Doctor or Doctor of Laws degree and have experience in the legal field. You also need to develop exceptional teaching, research, communication, and writing skills. With the right education, experience, and skills, you can become a successful law professor with a rewarding and fulfilling career.

In the first of a two-part series on becoming a law professor, LawCrossing investigates the traditional academic route to this career. Next week's installment will examine how those who do not fit the classic mold may still pursue a career in teaching law.
Becoming A Law Professor, Part 1

The love for the law is what sent Darian Ibrahim on a path toward a career in academia. As one who enjoys thinking and talking about the law and working to make the law better and more equitable, he was a law professor in the making.

His interest in becoming a law professor began while working as a research assistant for one of his professors at Cornell Law School. The experience would ultimately lead him to land a teaching position at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law—his first choice—where he will begin teaching this fall.

"For law students who may want to join academia, working for a professor is something I wholeheartedly suggest. It will allow you to step inside that world for a short time and see whether it's right for you," explained Mr. Ibrahim. "The professor can also serve as a good source of information down the road and, perhaps more important, as a reference."

Mr. Ibrahim, who earned his J.D. from Cornell in 1999, attributes part of his success to the advice of Associate Professor W. Bradley Wendel, who joined the faculty at Cornell in 1998 and has served as his mentor. Mr. Wendel, who has a J.D. from Columbia University and his J.S.D. and LL.M. from Duke, is a self-described "survivor of the teaching market." In his online FAQ, "The Big Rock Candy Mountain: How to Get a Job in Law Teaching," he lays out the most important steps to securing a future law teaching position. These include obtaining a J.D. from one of the top-15 or so law schools; high class-standing; law review service; judicial clerkship; a few years of practice experience; at least one post-law school publication published in an academic law review; and recommendations from faculty members.

"Law review is part of the resume of most candidates who are competitive on the teaching market, but it's more of a proxy for good grades than for having learned anything about writing," said Mr. Wendel. "As for writing, many people would remark on the trend over the past 10 years or so toward post-law school publications as a requirement for getting an entry-level job. My strongest advice to teaching candidates is publish, publish, publish substantial articles in law reviews after you've graduated from law school."

Where in practice Mr. Wendel said there is little pressure to publish since the main focus is on the needs of clients and meeting the demands of court schedules or timing of the deal, for a law professor, writing is a major feature of the job. "As I say on the website, prospective law teachers shouldn't think of this as a teaching job. It's really a writing job. If you don't like researching and writing a 50-70 page article, this is definitely not the job for you because you'll be expected to do that several times over in order to get tenure."

Mr. Wendel also stressed that clerkship is part of the standard resume and is a proxy for high academic standing. "Court of appeals clerkships are generally more competitive, so their credential value would be higher than district courts. But either kind of clerkship is an invaluable experience," he said.

Mr. Ibrahim who was in the top 10% of his class at Cornell, an Articles Editor on the Cornell Law Review, and published two law review articles post-graduation, said the traditional advice given by Mr. Wendel has proven accurate.

"Perhaps the best advice he gave me was that interviewing for law faculty positions is a fluky process, and your self-worth cannot be affected by which schools do or don't take an interest in you. I found his advice to be dead on," said Mr. Ibrahim. "It's unlike applying to law schools as a student. In that process, you figure that if you're admitted to a top school, the lower-ranked schools will likely follow suit. But law faculty hiring is a bit more of a mystery. You may be a top-tier school's first choice and a bottom-tier school's tenth choice."

Lawrence Solum is a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law and tracks the hiring trends at top law schools in the country. Mr. Solum, who holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School, said that most entry-level law professors hail from a small number of elite law schools, and about half are from Yale, Harvard, and Stanford.

Mr. Solum also notes that in the law school teaching profession, pay varies widely.

"Pay varies enormously, from under $50,000 for some non-tenured positions to salaries that are competitive with large-firm salaries for first-year associates at the entry level," said Mr. Solum. "Senior, tenured, and very accomplished law professors at the best-resourced law schools earn salaries as much as $300,000 or more. Even entry level salaries vary enormously from school to school."

Eric Goldman is an Assistant Professor at Marquette University Law School and received a J.D. and an M.B.A. from UCLA. Mr. Goldman said that oftentimes a student's choice of law schools can keep him/her from securing a law professor job.

"A student at a top-5 law school meets the initial criterion. A student at a top-20 law school can have a chance. A student at other law schools faces long odds," said Mr. Goldman.

However, like Mr. Wendel, he said that despite what school a student attends, adding as many "prestigious" things as possible—law review, Order of the Coif, judicial clerkships, a job with big-name law firm, lots of writing—can bolster one's odds of success. Above, all, he said that students should have realistic expectations and those really interested in becoming law professors may want to develop and implement a multi-year plan to reach their goal.

"The more prestige on your resume, the more likely that your resume will catch the eye of someone reading through this enormous stack," Mr. Goldman said, referring to the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) law professor hiring process.

Most teaching jobs are secured through participation in the AALS's annual hiring conference and directories. Those interested in entering law teaching can be listed in the coming academic year's job registry. Applicants fill out a one-page resume which is mailed out in binders by the AALS to all member law schools at intervals during the year. Jane M. La Barbera, Associate Director of the AALS, said that typically 1,000 people fill out registration forms each year. Law school hiring committees then comb through binders, identifying candidates they are interested in interviewing at the annual hiring convention, also known as the "Meat Market," which is typically held in October or November.

"I applied for teaching jobs last fall, undergoing the AALS hiring process in all of its harrowing fullness," said Timothy K. Kuhner, who graduated from Duke University School of Law in 2004. "In actuality, it's a great experience. You get to meet and talk shop with many interesting people and, through these interviews and campus visits, get a sense of the great variety of law schools and law professorships in this country."

It was Mr. Wendel who encouraged him to register with AALS to see where he stood in the law teaching job market, advice Mr. Kuhner now says was "the most important career advice that I've received as a lawyer." Mr. Kuhner has since accepted a tenure-track position teaching torts, public international law, and human rights at Roger Williams University School of Law.

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published April 15, 2023

( 504 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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