Thursday, July 16, 2009

Careers in Academic Support/Success

I want to take this time during the summer when I have relatively few ASP student-related updates to tackle another subject: getting a job in academic support/success. I have received a number of emails over the last 2 years asking for advice and support looking for ASP jobs. Here is some general advice:

1) Every job and every school is different. the title Director of Academic Support/Success is very broad, and each school has their own idea about what they want when they post an Academic Success/Support position. 

2) Make sure you tailor your job search to the skills you bring to the table. Not all ASP jobs require the same skills or experience. If you have experience working with clients in a one-on-one setting, you are a better fit with an ASP position that requires one-on-one tutorials with students than a job that requires extensive classroom teaching.  If you have experience teaching classes, don't assume you are going to be a fit with an ASP position that focuses solely on one-on-one counseling. 

3) The salary is...variable. In my limited experience and knowledge, the starting salary for a non-tenure track, administrative appointment with either limited or no ASP experience ranges from 40-80k (I am including assistant directors, who start at a lower range, along with directors, who start at a higher point. I am not including people with "dean" in their title, or those who get faculty status). Locale makes a huge difference in salary.  The type of experience (undergraduate teaching? paralegal/community college teaching? private practice?) makes a difference in salary. The expectations for the position make a difference in the salary (year-round? 9-month appt? teaching responsibilities? first-year, first-year and bar prep, or just bar prep? outcome measures?).  An experienced ASP Director can command a much higher salary, but you need 5-10 years experience in ASP to be over six figures (exceptions are in very large, very expensive urban locations where the cost of living is several times higher than the average).  Don't assume schools have a lot of room to negotiate salary; one problem I have come across in both hiring an assistant director and negotiating my own salary is the lack of wiggle room in law school budgets.  If you are coming from private practice, don't assume that a law school operates like a private business; they can't just find the money even if they think you are ideal for the job.  If they tell you they want to start you at 45k, don't assume they can move to 60k--most of the time, they just can't.

4) Moving from practice to academia is hard. Moving from practice to ASP is even harder without a background in education or counseling. If you want to be in academia, do not assume that ASP will be the way to get your foot in the door. Academic Support requires its own skill set that differs from the skill set necessary to succeed in the traditional legal academy position.  Most ASP jobs are not about producing voluminous numbers of journal articles, but you are spending long hours with emotional distraught students, students in crisis, and students suffering from a range of physical and mental ailments.

5) Your grades in law school are unlikely to help you land a job, and high grades may make it difficult to understand your students. There are many brilliant, exceptionally talented and successful ASP professionals who did outstanding in law school, graduated with honors and earned Order of the Coif.  However, if law school came easy to you, you need to ask yourself how you are going to relate to students who find law school academics impenetrable.  You need to be able to break down law school skills into elemental components; if legal reasoning "just makes sense" to you, you may struggle breaking down "how you get there" to students. Law school grades are not irrelevant, but unlike other jobs in the legal academy, they are not a major factor in hiring.  I have found this to be true even when position postings state that grades are important. 

6) If you found your way here, you know this is where to look for jobs. ASP jobs are plentiful for those with experience, and very hard to come by if you are new to the field. It is worthwhile to check out The Chronicle of Higher Education and the AALS job bank. Check the Legal Writing Blog.  I know of people who had to look for more than 4 years to get a position in ASP.  Geographic flexibility is critically important; you should expect to find it very difficult to find a position if you have a narrow geographic range.

7) The burn-out rate in ASP is high, so there does tend to be a significant degree of turnover in the field. If you are coming from private practice, it would be dangerous to assume ASP is a job on Easy Street.  Many find the demands of the job overwhelming and emotionally draining.  It is not unusual for people who came to ASP from private practice to leave within 5 years.  In an interview, ask about the turnover rate in for the position, and be careful if the only person/people to stay in the job for more than a couple of years is an alum.  Some schools expect their ASP department to perform miracles, to be remedial tutors to students who can't handle the law school curriculum, change the mind of students who don't want to be in law school, fix inadequate doctrinal teaching to raise their bar pass rate, bring angry faculty members on board to your program, and help change the teaching methods of professors who are not beloved by students.  Administrators have been known to toss responsibilities onto the ASP department, while giving the director little or no support.  In sum, don't assume it will be easy, and make sure you are asking questions.

I love academic support. But I love it because I came into the field with my eyes open.  I have been blessed by working at some amazing schools where I was treated exceptionally well by the people I have worked with.  I know some schools do not treat everyone as well, and there are horror stories. 

Once you find an ASP job, go to the conferences, befriend those who are new as well, and find mentors!

(RCF)

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