Fellowships and Types of Fellowships

Fellowships (and Visiting Assistant Professorships or VAPs) typically provide prospective law teachers funding to spend one or two years at a law school preparing to enter either the academic or clinical law teaching market. Academic fellowships typically provide candidates time to research and write and access to a school’s resources. Some may also provide mentorship. Clinical fellowships are similar, with a focus on practice (and the supervision of student practice) rather than writing. These fellowships can be roughly placed in five categories, although the exact nature of fellowships may vary greatly, even within these categories. When considering fellowships, some factors to consider are:

  1. What is the role of fellows at the school? Is there an organized fellowship program? Will you have a cohort of similarly situated peers or will you be on your own? Are the fellows integrated into the faculty?
  2. How (and how much) do fellows receive mentoring? Is there an institutionalized method for mentoring fellows or must fellows seek out their own mentors? Are there particular professors at the school with whom you would like to work? Have they agreed to work with you?
  3. How much teaching or other work will be required of you? Will you have time to write or will you be too busy teaching or supervising students?
  4. How long is the fellowship? Fellowships are typically one or two years. The law teaching hiring process starts in early August, so if you are hoping to produce significant scholarship before going on the market, you will probably want a two-year fellowship.
  5. Does the law school providing the fellowship also provide institutional support for its fellows when they enter the market?
  6. What is the fellowship’s track record for placing fellows in the kind of teaching job you would like to obtain?

Types of Fellowships

Teaching Legal Research and Writing

Perhaps the most common kind of fellowship requires prospective law teachers to serve as legal research and/or writing instructors for first-year law students. Fellows must perform these teaching duties even as they do the writing needed to secure appointment as a professor. An advantage to this kind of fellowship is that schools take the selection of fellows very seriously, since they will be instructing their students. Another advantage is that such fellowships often require a critical mass of instructors, which means that you will have both a community of peers and an institutionalized role at the school. A disadvantage of this kind of fellowship is that its teaching requirements may leave you little time for your own writing. You want to find a program that is dedicated to supporting its fellows in completing their own scholarship, and not just using them as inexpensive labor. You should ask past fellows about the kind of academic support they received while in the program.

Specialized Fellowships

There are several fellowships that focus on a particular field (for example, “legal history” or “law and economics”). A significant advantage of these fellowships is that they often do not require fellows to teach. But whereas a school may hire a relatively large cohort of fellows to teach legal writing, and they may provide a concomitant degree of institutionalized support for these fellows, schools may hire only a very few specialized fellows. Accordingly, they may provide less institutionalized support, and specialized fellows may lack a cohort of peers to support them. Before accepting such a fellowship, you might check with alumni of the program to make sure that you will have the support, guidance, and mentorship you need while writing.

Visiting Assistant Professorships

An increasing number of schools offer a position known as a “Visiting Assistant Professorship” (VAP). VAPs generally teach one to three courses and are offered the opportunity to participate in faculty workshops and other activities. Although VAPs offer prospective law teachers a unique chance to integrate into the faculty of a law school, the teaching load of a VAP can be quite demanding. Some schools treat VAPs like fellowships for future academics; others see them as a way to cover curricular needs. Be sure you are able to distinguish one from the other. If you chose to pursue a VAP position, it is important to be sure that you will have time to write. Again, you may wish to check with alumni of the program.

Research and Writing Only

Some fellowships provide support for prospective law teachers to conduct their own scholarship without requiring that the fellows teach or write in a particular field. These fellowships are increasingly rare.
Several schools offer something like an unpaid fellowship, often called a “visiting scholar” or “visiting researcher.” Visiting scholars are usually given library privileges, have access to all workshops and programs at the law school, and can audit classes with a professor’s permission. While some schools may have a formal application process for these positions, they are frequently arranged on an informal basis. In arranging such a position, important questions to consider include whether you will have opportunities to meet other scholars at the institution who can provide community and mentorship and whether you will have access to workshops, lectures and other academic resources.

Clinical Teaching Fellowships

Clinical fellowships help train experienced lawyers as clinical law teachers by offering them the chance to supervise students in a clinic, formulate scholarly research and publishable work, and develop strong mentoring relationships with clinical faculty. As with VAPs and research and writing fellowships, the supervision, practice, and teaching obligations of a clinical fellowship may leave less time for scholarship. Nevertheless, candidates do occasionally use clinical teaching fellowships as an opportunity to separate from a life devoted exclusively to law practice, reconnect with the legal academy, develop one’s own scholarship, and then proceed onto the academic law teaching market. Unlike academic fellowships, which are frequently available to new law school graduates, most clinical fellowships require applicants to have at least two to five years of practice experience. Like academic fellowships, it is important to evaluate whether a clinical fellowship program provides the mentoring and supervision you need; whether you will have a cohort of peers; and whether you will have time to accomplish what you need to go on the job market.