Sunday, January 22, 2006

how schools approach conversion to tenure-track LRW positions

Over the past few years, the American Bar Association (which is the organization recognized by the United States Department of Education as the body responsible for accrediting law schools) has adopted new standards and interpretations which encourage law schools to enhance the status of legal writing professionals to more closely approximate the protections afforded to tenure-track faculty. Probably at least in partial response to this, an increasing number of schools are now in the process of adopting a system of presumptively-renewable long-term contracts, or outright tenure-track, for legal writing professors who were previously hired only for successive short-term contracts. The Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville and Western New England College of Law are just two of the schools now going through that process.

While it is fantastic to see these schools finally recognizing the worth of LRW professors and elevating them to the status they all deserve, the process of elevating professors is not without risk. For example, many schools which move to tenure-track or long-term-contract-track require professors now teaching in those programs to go through a national search and basically re-apply for their job. One could argue that it is unfair not only to the current incumbents but also to potential applicants, who have to compete against one or more “insider” candidates. Are the “national” applicants just window dressing? Is all the effort that goes into the national search really worth it?

Next, assuming that the incumbents are re-hired (which is often the case), they typically are hired with zero credit towards tenure even though they may have been teaching for many years. Many of them may have published extensively before they are hired onto the new “secure” tracks, but the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” nature of the tenure review process may be blind to all of that work. And many schools may enforce a six-year or so “waiting period” before they are even allowed to apply for tenure, despite their long records of excellent prior teaching, scholarship and service.

I’d be interested to see what others may think about these issues. What are the pros and cons of engaging in a national search? What “credit” should be given for teaching under the prior short-term contracts? Please append your comments to this post.

(kdc)  (contributing editor Kenneth D. Chestek, Clinical Associate Professor of Law, Indiana University School of Law---Indianapolis, 530 W. New York St., Indianapolis, IN  46202, (317) 278-8574, mailto:[email protected])

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Legal writing faculty will not achieve equality in the academy until we have tenure on a par with doctrinal faculty. The separation of skills teachers from doctrinal teachers is an unnecessary remnant of an approach to legal education that dates to the nineteenth century (Langdell). Legal scholars long ago rejected the syllogistic reasoning of Langdell’s era; we should similarly reject his approach to legal education. Skills teachers are as important to law students’ education as doctrinal faculty, and we should be treated the same.

This change, however, will not be easy. We must first convince our colleagues (and sometimes ourselves) that this change is necessary. Then we must determine how best to make this change.

The original post points out two of the problems with making the transition to tenure for legal writing faculty. First, how do we treat the existing legal writing faculty. If we are demanding tenure, we must expect to be held to the same requirements as other faculty on the tenure track. However, many legal writing teachers will have taught for many years at a school before the school has a tenure track for legal writing, while must doctrinal faculty begin their teaching careers on the tenure track. This means that when most schools convert to tenure track for legal writing that they will want to do a national search. This seems only fair considering the increases in salary, job security, and status. Of course, there is also the problem of those outside that school who are seeking the newly-advertised positions. Recent conversions to tenure track status for legal writing faculty have shown that such conversions usually favor insiders. This seems fair because schools should be able to favor its faculty with know records. This is not unfair to outsiders because they should know when they apply for such a job that insiders might also be applying for the job and that insiders have a natural advantage.

The other question concerns how should a legal writing teacher’s work prior to attaining tenure-track status be treated. I think the answer should involve a flexible approach. Many legal writing teachers do not do scholarship because scholarship is not expected of them. Those in this class should be treated just like doctrinal professors who slowly build up their scholarly portfolios. On the other hand, many legal writing teachers have already produced considerable scholarship. These teachers should have a faster tenure track, with their work prior to their tenure-track status considered in the tenure process.

(esf) (Scott Fruehwald, Professor of Legal Research and Writing, Hofstra University)

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Jan 22, 2006 1:58:35 PM

Thanks for your comment, Scott.

I'd be curious to hear from somebody who has recently been through the hiring process, either as an "insider" candidate or an outside candidate. How did you perceive the process? If you were an outside candidate, what were you told of the nature of the process and the fact that the current incumbents were applying? Also, if you considered applying for such a position but did not, was the fact that you would be competing with the incumbents factor in to your decision to apply or not?

Obviously, anonymous responses to this question are acceptable and encouraged. If you've recently been involved with a national search for a legal writing position at a school that has recently adopted a tenure-track or long-term-contract-track system, please share your thoughts.

Posted by: | Jan 24, 2006 12:11:17 PM

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