Careers in Academia
Academic Opportunities in Law Schools and Universities
Full-time tenure track teaching slots in ABA approved law schools are rare and competition is keen. As a general rule, certain credentials are necessary to be a strong contender for such slots: a top notch academic record from a top tier law school such as Cornell, writing experience such as through a law review note, perhaps a prestigious judicial clerkship and/or teaching fellowship (more below), often followed by at least several years of law practice experience either in a notable law firm or in a prestigious agency such as the Justice Department or a U.S. Attorney’s Office. However, the ranks of America’s tenured law professors contain a number of exceptions to the above, and all interested students are urged to consult with a career counselor, faculty advisor, or Dean Lukingbeal about this subject.
For recent graduates aspiring to obtain entry-level, tenure-track positions, it may be quite beneficial to consider a one or two year teaching fellowship. While fellowships vary by institution, typically they provide fellows with the opportunity to gain teaching experience and to write substantive articles for publication. Increasingly at highly competitive institutions, entry-level candidates with scholarly publication histories are most favorably considered.
The Association of American Law Schools (A.A.L.S.) publishes a Faculty Appointments Register which consists of a brief biographical summary entered on a standardized form. Law schools interested in new faculty review these forms and meet with candidates at the Faculty Recruitment Conference, held each November in Washington, DC. Candidates should complete their "Faculty Appointments Registration Form" online. Also, the A.A.L.S. publishes the A.A.L.S. Placement Bulletin, which contains announcements of law school teaching positions. It is distributed six times a year between September and April. The Career Services Library maintains a notebook of the Bulletin.
Clinical legal education is an alternative for those who want to combine practice with teaching. There are many clinical education models. While the Cornell Legal Aid Clinic provides legal assistance to indigent persons in civil matters, clinical teaching can cover a wide variety of practice areas and types of programs. Many clinicians have prior legal services experience, but there are a number of exceptions with backgrounds similar to those for tenure track positions. (Clinical positions may or may not be tenure track.)
In addition to the above teaching opportunities in law schools, positions occasionally open up for part-time adjunct professors, writing instructors or lecturers in various subjects. As an alternative, graduates with an interest in teaching may wish to consider academic opportunities at the undergraduate level: many universities now offer courses in legal subjects directed at the undergraduate population.
For an overview of finding a position in the legal teaching market, read Cornell Professor Brad Wendel’s first-hand advice to students.
Positions in Academic Administration
An increasing number of current students and recent graduates are interested in working on the administrative side of universities. Academic administrators around the country have contributed to "From Lawyer to Administrator (pdf)," a handbook of personal narratives about these types of careers. This resource contains specific options and strategy suggestions for pursuing careers in higher education. If this is an area of interest for you, speak to the professionals in the Career Services Office and read the Chronicle of Higher Education, which routinely lists faculty and administrative openings in colleges and universities nationwide. The A.A.L.S. Placement Bulletin also lists openings law school administration; back issues are maintained in the Career Services Library. On Symplicity are listed positions which come to the Career Services Office via list servs and other resources.
Darian Ibrahim (’99)
Assistant Professor of Law
University of Wisconsin Law School
Law teaching is a dream job. It allows for an intellectual exchange with students and faculty on a daily basis, as well as the opportunity to explore topics of particular interest in one's writing. Its great rewards, however, when coupled with the limited number of positions available, means that positions can be difficult to get. Although paths to law teaching may differ, most successful applicants share certain credentials. While in law school they do very well in their classes, serve on law review, and get to know one or more of their professors (who can later become advisors and recommenders). After law school they obtain a clerkship (preferably with a federal circuit court), spend a few years in practice, and publish one or more law review articles. Post-law school publications used to be a bonus -- now they are a requirement. Because publishing is an essential part of a law professor's job, schools view these early publications as a proxy for both interest and success in writing. Also, applicants must be geographically mobile -- they must be willing to go where the jobs are. In short, it can be tough to get your foot in the door, but well worth the effort!
# American Association of Law Schools
# Chronicle of Higher Education
# Advice from Cornell Faculty Member