In the past, law graduates were often appointed as professors on the basis of their practice experience or academic pedigree, before they had ever written any scholarship. Today, most law schools make academic appointments on the basis of scholarly achievement. At these schools, the single most significant factor in a hiring decision is typically the portfolio of academic writing that a candidate is able to present. Also important are a candidate’s areas of expertise, practice experience, and potential teaching ability as evidenced by the capacity to lead a workshop or classroom discussion. Recommendations are also highly significant. Traditional markers of success, such as grades, law journal positions, and clerkships, remain relevant, although their influence is declining.
There is no precise combination of factors that guarantees success on the law teaching market. Hiring decisions depend upon the nature and educational mission of a law school, upon whether a candidate is applying for an academic or clinical position, and even upon a candidate’s subject-matter expertise. Tax law scholars, for example, are typically expected to have more practice experience than constitutional law professors.
There are many paths to a career in academia. While some people know they want to become law professors before entering law school, many others do not decide to explore this possibility until they are already enrolled. Still others decide to become law teachers only after they have spent some time in practice.
In this website, we explore pathways to teaching careers at the many schools that do expect candidates to produce scholarship in order to demonstrate scholarly potential. At points, we note variance in expectations among schools, and also offer advice about the special forms of preparation expected of applicants seeking appointment as clinical professors.