In an effort to bring more diversity to the legal academy, faculty from the Southern Illinois University School of Law presented a workshop during the Illinois State Bar Association’s December 2007 midyear meeting on how practicing lawyers can transition into law teaching jobs.
Dean Peter Alexander said the workshop was developed as a recruitment tool for law schools nationwide and for the SIU School of Law in particular.
“This workshop enables us to talk about our school’s public interest mission with individuals who may not know much about our institution,” he said. “It also serves as an important public service insofar as we provide valuable information to persons from historically underrepresented populations who might not otherwise know how to apply for a law teaching position. The workshop and all of the efforts of the SIU School of Law will, we hope, result in more diversity in law school classrooms across the country.”
During the workshop, Professor Alice Noble-Allgire shared some of the reasons that she found law teaching to be an intellectually stimulating and rewarding career.
“The pay may not be as enticing as that offered by some of the large law firms, but what I find most attractive about this job is the opportunity to make a difference – in so many ways,” Noble-Allgire said. “First and foremost, you can make a difference through your teaching. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than to see the moment when the ‘lightbulb goes on’ for a student—when the students ‘get’ what you’re trying to teach them.”
She said it is also rewarding to watch students develop from young adults fresh out of college into confident and polished professionals. “There’s a great sense of pride when you watch them mature over a period of three years and know that you’ve played a role in their development,” she said.
Noble-Allgire said that law professors can also make a difference through their research and scholarship. “Writing law review articles and books gives you the opportunity to share your ideas and perspectives on legal issues,” she said. “There’s a great sense of accomplishment when you see your work cited in a court case or someone else’s scholarship and know that you are contributing to the development of the law.”
Law professors also have the opportunity to make a difference through the third major component of their jobs: service. Noble-Allgire told the group that she has had the opportunity to encourage diversity in the legal profession through her work on the Illinois State Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Minority and Women Participation. She has also worked with the American Bar Association’s Probate & Property magazine, the American Law Institute and the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
“I find that each part of my job reinforces the others,” Noble-Allgire said. “My scholarship and service make me a better teacher, my teaching and service provide me with ideas for scholarship, and my teaching and scholarship open doors and give me credibility in my service.”
Former Associate Dean Wenona Whitfield told the audience there are two ways to apply for law teaching jobs. One method is to submit an application directly to individual law schools in response to job openings advertised by the school, much the same as any job application process. This method allows applicants to target schools where they most want to teach and address the faculty hiring committee with a personalized resume, cover letter, and other supporting documentation the applicant wants to submit.
The second method is to use the Faculty Appointments Register sponsored by the Association of American Law Schools. This process allows the applicant to reach AALS member schools across the country by submitting a single application via the standardized form provided on the AALS Web site, <http://www.aals.org/services_recruitment.php>.
Dean Whitfield said that after reviewing the Faculty Appointments Register and direct applications, hiring committees will conduct screening interviews. Although some interviews are conducted by telephone or at the law school itself, most screening interviews take place at the AALS’s Faculty Recruitment Conference, also known colloquially as the “meet market.” The conference, held in late fall, offers an opportunity for all law school hiring committees to interview applicants in one location over the same two-day period, thereby maximizing the number of applicants that each law school can interview. Applicants also benefit from the ability to schedule interviews with a number of law schools in a short period of time in one location.
Based upon these screening interviews, Dean Whitfield said, law schools invite a handful of candidates back to campus for more interviews with faculty, students, and administrators. During the campus interviews, candidates are typically asked to give a presentation—also known as a “job talk”—on a legal topic. This presentation gives the law school an opportunity to gauge candidates’ scholarly potential by engaging them in an intellectual discussion of their topic. It also permits the faculty to observe the candidate’s speaking skills, which provides some evidence of how the candidate might perform in the classroom. The interview process typically culminates with job offers issued to the top candidates in December or January for positions to begin the following August.
Although all law schools are looking for candidates who will perform well at teaching, scholarship, and service, schools place varying emphasis on applicants’ credentials and experience. Professor Mark Schultz told the audience that many resources (blogs, law review articles, former professors) will emphasize the credentials necessary to get an entry level job at a highly-ranked school, thereby overlooking the hiring criteria of the vast majority of law schools.
Schultz said the standard advice “has an ideal candidate in mind”: someone with a J.D. from one of a few top schools and perhaps a Ph.D. in another field, as well as a prestigious judicial clerkship (ideally from the Supreme Court, but if not that, then a prestigious federal appellate clerkship), publication of several law review articles after law school (demonstrating a track record of scholarship), and just a few years of practice experience at an elite law firm.
“In reality, this advice is misguided for most schools,” Schultz said. “Many schools are focused on practical preparation. Although almost all schools value scholarship more than ever, they also continue to value practical experience because it is helpful in both the classroom and in your scholarship. You can get a terrific teaching job even if you do not fit the profile of the ideal candidate. The process is competitive, so you do need something to distinguish yourself from others. But you need not meet the narrow criteria often stated by those giving advice to people who aspire to begin their careers at top 20 schools.”
Schultz said significant practice experience makes candidates better teachers. “Understanding what really matters in practice helps you make more relevant choices in designing a class,” he said. “It helps you to understand the material better. Talking about your experience makes the material more interesting and compelling to students. It helps provide context. It helps in creating in-class problems, exam questions, and other materials.”
Practical experience also provides a solid foundation for scholarship. “It gives you perspective as to what really matters,” he said. “Your experience may contradict conventional wisdom among academics, and such contradictions are often the seeds of good articles, as are intriguing questions from practice.”
Having made the transition to law teaching fairly recently from an intellectual property practice at Baker & McKenzie in Chicago, Schultz offered some advice on how to prepare for an academic job search while in practice.
“Prepare to become a scholar,” he said. “Read the literature in your chosen field. Ask former professors or other scholars what to read. Subscribe to e-mail alerts from ssrn.com and bepress.com to find new, interesting papers. You should review the legal academic literature much like a new Ph.D. student does to prepare for writing a thesis. Prepare to enter and contribute to the current scholarly conversation in your field. You must be able to discuss the academic literature intelligently in job interviews.”
Schultz said that immersion into the literature will help a candidate to prepare a written research agenda. “Formulate a few ideas for future research,” he said. “Prepare a document summarizing them – perhaps five or six pages. Your research agenda will show that you are interested in scholarship and have an abundance of ideas – and you should have an abundance of ideas. These ideas should emerge from your engagement with the literature and demonstrate a coherent (even if very general) direction to one’s scholarship. It’s okay if your writing ultimately takes a different direction from the one your agenda describes, but you need to show ambition, enthusiasm, and thoughtfulness.”
The next step, Schultz said, is, “Write if you can. More and more law teaching candidates have articles written when they go on the market. If you did not at least publish a good student note, then you should write something, and it needs to be more than a two-page bar journal piece. Academic writing is difficult, and you need to give people some reason to think you can pull it off.”
Schultz acknowledged that finding time to write a law review article while in private practice can be very difficult, especially as one becomes more senior and has greater responsibilities. He found it impossible to write while working 60- to 70-hour weeks, raising a young family, managing demanding client relationships, and supervising junior attorneys. “But I did devote most of my spare time for six months to learning the literature, creating a research agenda and preparing to go on the job market,” he said. He noted that he knew other successful candidates with similar preparation, but he also knew others who took time off as a fellow or visiting professor to write before going on the academic job market. “So it’s not necessary to publish, but very helpful. And increasingly common,” he said.
Schultz’s final suggestion was for prospective law teachers to get some advice from people who have successfully navigated the hiring process.
“The academic hiring process is unique,” he said. “Preparation, practice interviewing, and knowledge of the process are essential. You should know how the AALS ‘meet market’ works, what questions are asked, and have good responses ready. Know what a ‘job talk’ is, what a good one is like, and have one ready and well-practiced. You will need mentors and advice. It’s a new world; prepare for it.”
Professor Suzanne Schmitz concluded the program by encouraging participants to include the Southern Illinois University School of Law among the schools to which they apply. Anyone who could not attend the workshop but is interested in receiving the handout materials may contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 618-453-8712.