Friday, July 30, 2010

Becoming a Law Professor: A Candidate's Guide

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Brannon-denning Several years ago, I published a little essay about making the leap into tenure-track legal academia well after the time in which most long-standing faculty members would have expected one's theoretical and scholarly synapses to have burned away.  Simultaneously, Brannon Denning (Cumberland, left) and Marcia McCormick (St. Louis, right) were preparing a book manuscript on what it would take to become a law professor "the hard way," i.e., if you didn't have the usual elite law school-law review editor-Court of Appeals clerkship pedigree.  Brannon and Marcia invited me to join their project and it quickly turned into an all-purpose guide for aspiring law professors, accumulating much of the wisdom and lore that you can find in various places on the web. Mmccor20

Thanks primarily to Brannon's perseverance, we got the interest of ABA Book Publishing, and Becoming a Law Professor:  A Candidate's Guide will hit the streets in just a few weeks.  Rick Paszkiet, our editor at the ABA, has graciously allowed us to post the Table of Contents and the introductory chapter on SSRN.

Here's the abstract from SSRN:

This is the Table of Contents and the Introduction to a forthcoming book from the American Bar Association. The authors provide detailed advice and resources for aspiring law professors, including a description of the categories of law faculty (and what they do), possible paths to careers in the legal academy, and "how to" guides for filling out the AALS's Faculty Appointments Register, interviewing at the Faculty Recruitment Conference (the "meat market"), issues for non-traditional candidates, dealing with callbacks and job offers, and getting ready for the first semester on the job.

We have had a nice response from the pre-publication readers, and Larry Solum has contributed an insightful forward, which he has posted separately on SSRN:  The New Realities of the Legal Academy.  Here's Larry's abstract:

This short paper is the Foreword to Brannon P. Denning, Marcia L. McCormick, and Jeffrey M. Lipshaw, Becoming a Law Professor: A Candidate's Guide, American Bar Association, Forthcoming.

One of the great virtues of Denning, McCormick and Lipshaw’s guide is that it reflects the changing nature and new realities of the legal academy. Not so many years ago, entry into the elite legal academy was mostly a function of two things—credentials and connections. The ideal candidate graduated near the top of the class at a top-five law school, held an important editorial position on law review, clerked for a Supreme Court Justice, and practiced for a few years at an elite firm or government agency in New York or Washington. Credentials like these almost guaranteed a job at a very respectable law school, but the very best jobs went to those with connections—the few who were held in high esteem by the elite network of very successful legal academics and their friends in the bar and on the bench. The not-so-elite legal academy operated by a similar set of rules. Regional law schools were populated by a mix of graduates from elite schools and the top graduates of local schools, clerks of respected local judges, and alumni of elite law firms in the neighborhood. In what we now call the “bad old days,” it was very difficult indeed for someone to become a law professor without glowing credentials and the right connections.

But times have changed. When the Association of American Law School’s created the annual Faculty Recruitment Conference (or FRC) and the associated Faculty Appointments Register (or FAR), the landscape of the legal academy was forever changed. The change was slow in coming. For many years, candidates were selected for interviews at the FRC on the basis of the same old credentials and connections, but at some point (many would say the early 1980s), the rules of the game began to change. In baseball, a similar change is associated with Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland Athletics, who defied conventional wisdom and built winning teams despite severe financial constraints by relying on statistically reliable predictors of success. The corresponding insight in the legal academy (developed by hiring committees at several law schools) was that the best predictor of success as a legal scholar was a record of publication. It turns out that law school grades, law review offices, and clerkships are at best very rough indicators of scholarly success. But those who successfully publish high quality legal scholarship are likely to continue to do so.

This foreword explores the implications of the new realities of the legal academy for candidates seeking to become law professors.

Take a peek at the SSRN teasers and look for the book!

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Do you know the likely publication date? I hope to consume it immediately upon arrival.

I come from the world of trial and appellate advocacy, and have been teaching undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral business law and ethics. Making the jump to full-time academia is daunting and difficult, and I could certainly use your assistance!

Posted by: Paul Croushore | Sep 10, 2010 1:38:44 PM

Should be within a few weeks. Keep checking the ABA "Store" online.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Sep 11, 2010 10:53:18 AM

Thank you very much; I look forward to it!

Posted by: Paul Croushore | Sep 13, 2010 11:22:11 AM

Looks great--I plan to read it thoroughly.

Quick question, if you think you can offer some perspective on it: I'm choosing between Cardozo and a higher-ranked (c. 20) law school. Cardozo seems the more intellectually stimulating and focused, but is ranked considerably lower by U.S. News. Will the poor ranking prove too great an impediment to entering the legal professoriate to make it worthwhile going there for the educational advantages?


Posted by: Wayne Lee | Mar 19, 2011 9:15:24 PM

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