It is important to recognize that there is usually not just one answer to a question, but rather a variety of perspectives that may change from person to person or from institution to institution. The answers to each question may vary depending on your individual circumstances, on the law school, and on whom you ask. The majority of this information is factors to consider rather than clear, absolute answers.
What are the various kinds of law teaching jobs?
What is a law teacher?
Generally speaking, “being a law professor” involves three job components: teaching, scholarship (writing articles and books), and service (service usually means being a member of a law school or university governance committee and participating in service to communities and professional organizations). However, there are many different kinds of law teaching jobs, some of which may not require all three components. For example, at some law schools, working as a legal writing professor or a clinical professor may not require any scholarship. Regardless of the position, a major goal of any law teaching position is to develop critical thinking and analysis in law students.
What are the different types of law teaching positions?
Tenure-track law faculty are tenure-track or tenured law faculty who teach courses that focus on the legal doctrine in an area or field as well as the moral, theoretical, historical, and social questions and assumptions that have shaped that doctrine, including any and all critiques. Examples of courses that tenure-track law faculty members teach are most first-year law courses (e.g., Contracts, Torts, Property) and second and third-year courses such as Evidence, Corporations, Securities Regulation, Family Law, Criminal Procedure, Public International Law, First Amendment, Employment Discrimination, Feminist Legal Theory, and Critical Race Theory. Most of the courses that students take during law school have traditionally been taught by tenure-track law faculty.
Clinical faculty instruct, monitor, and assess the work of law students on cases with actual clients. Typically around eight students work in each clinical course per faculty member. Depending on the law school, clinical faculty may or may not be tenure-stream faculty. If clinical faculty are on the tenure-track, they are often required to do scholarship in addition to working on their cases, teaching, and service. At some institutions, tenure-track clinical faculty do not cover cases in the summer so that they can devote time to scholarship.
Legal writing faculty instruct students on legal research, analysis and writing. Legal writing courses are usually taught in small sections. Writing exercises may include drafting client letters, office memoranda, pretrial briefs, and appellate briefs; advocacy skills are also developed through oral exercises such as client interviewing and oral argument. In addition to lectures, legal writing faculty usually engage in one-on-one conferences with students. Depending on the law school, legal writing faculty may or may not be tenure-track faculty; many legal writing faculty positions are contractual and may not come with the same voting rights as those held by tenure-track faculty positions.
Academic support faculty focus on providing students advice on how they can best succeed within the law school environment. They arrange and offer sessions on topics such as how to brief a case, how to take notes for a law school course, how to prepare an outline to study for a law school exam, and how to take a law school exam. Academic support faculty also focus heavily on providing assistance to students who may be struggling academically in law school; however, academic support faculty can and do work with all students. At some institutions, academic support positions are not faculty positions; instead, they are contract positions on the administrative staff. Like legal writing faculty, academic support faculty, if they are faculty and not staff, tend to be in contractual positions that may not come with the same voting rights (or the same scholarship or teaching duties) as those held by tenure-track faculty positions.
Adjunct professors are part-time faculty who usually teach one upper-level or specialized course. Usually, adjunct faculty are local practitioners who have applied or have been recruited to teach a particular subject at a law school. These positions are always contractual and compensation is usually based on a set amount per credit hour taught.
Professional skills faculty provide students with instruction on the skills that they will need for legal practice. They often have students practice necessary litigation and corporate skills through role-play exercises, and then, they offer substantial feedback to students on their application of those skills. Examples of courses that they teach include Trial Advocacy, Appellate Advocacy, and Corporate Drafting. These faculty members are often adjunct faculty members, although some schools have other categories of faculty teach these courses. Online or distance teaching instructors are generally part-time, contract faculty who usually teach one course over the Internet.
Exact titles, duties, and expectations vary from law school to law school. For example, tenure (addressed below) is not a feature of all teaching positions. Many are contract positions, the terms of which will vary. Some will be long-term while others are short-term; some of these contracts will ensure a tenure-like status, with a presumption of renewal, while others will not offer the same level of job security.
Expectations around scholarship also vary. Depending on the law school and the position, some faculty members will have requirements to write and publish articles, while others won’t but will function under other requirements. There can be tremendous differences between schools in how positions are designed and compensated. Tenure-track faculty with scholarship requirements are often compensated at higher levels than are contract faculty who teach clinics, legal writing, academic support, or other skills courses when those faculty do not have scholarship requirements. It is best to get specific information, if possible, from each law school.
What is tenure?
Tenure is a form of job security that a faculty member receives after successfully fulfilling university and the law school requirements during a probationary period of four to seven years; the length of the probationary period varies from school to school. After obtaining tenure, faculty members continue to fulfill their role of teaching, scholarship, and service. The purpose of tenure is to preserve academic freedom and protect law professors from being fired for their controversial personal or political beliefs or for personality conflicts or disagreements with administrators.
Tenured and tenure-track faculty participate in institutional governance. For example, these faculty typically make decisions on the curriculum, faculty hiring, and tenure.
The standards for obtaining tenure vary. Generally, tenure-track faculty are evaluated in three areas: scholarship, teaching, and service. Scholarship is widely viewed as the most heavily weighted of the three categories, but schools vary on this as well, with scholarly emphasis often being greater at more research-focused institutions.
Two forms of tenure have developed over time: 1) unitary tenure and 2) programmatic tenure. Unitary tenure is a system under which the hiring, promotion and tenure standards are the same regardless of whether the faculty member teaches substantive, experiential or research and writing courses. Programmatic tenure is tenure under which the hiring, promotion and tenure standards are specifically crafted for those teaching either experiential or research and writing courses.
What is a “contract” faculty member?
A contract faculty member can be either long-term or short-term. Long-term generally means a faculty member with a contract of five years or more; short-term is less than five years. The degree to which contract faculty are integrated into the law school varies from school to school.
Is it true that law professors get the summers off?
No, it is not true. During the summer, although many are not required to teach, law professors are researching, writing, and presenting papers, speaking at events, and preparing course materials. Additionally, faculty who teach and direct clinics or externships often will continue to do so over the summer; clinics represent live clients, and thus their cases do not follow the academic calendar. In other words, most law professors remain active and engaged over the summer.
If you want to be a successful faculty member, you should expect to work as many in academia as you did in practice. You can, however, expect to have more flexibility in determining those hours.
Who makes the hiring decisions for teaching positions?
At many law schools, the tenure-line faculty votes on hires for most positions. A hiring committee interviews candidates and then narrows the list of candidates who will be invited for an on-campus callback interview. At some law schools, the dean has the authority to make hires for adjunct and certain contract positions. This may vary for the hiring of experiential and legal writing faculty. Some schools will have separate hiring committees for tenure-track faculty and experiential and skills faculty. The ability of contract faculty to vote on faculty hiring and other governance matters varies from school to school.
What is the Faculty Recruitment Conference?
The Faculty Recruitment Conference (FRC) is the hiring conference sponsored by AALS to facilitate new faculty appointments at law schools. During the conference, held over three days each fall in Washington, DC, hiring committees meet and conduct screening interviews with law faculty candidates that they have identified via the Faculty Appointments Register (see below). Individual interviews with law schools at the conference are usually scheduled every 30 minutes; thus, with time for travel between interviews, the actual interview time is usually about 20 to 25 minutes.
What is the Faculty Appointments Register (FAR)?
The Faculty Appointments Register (FAR) is the central platform, sponsored by AALS, where candidates interested in becoming a law teacher submit their application. Hiring committees commonly begin their screening processes here. Each candidate submits detailed information that is condensed into a one-page form for the committees to review; this form is the key part of an application for a faculty position, so information must be included with great care, thought, and strategy. This is often your first introduction to a hiring committee.
The FAR form requests a wide variety of information, including: institutions attended; degrees earned; student leadership positions held; community service; law journal positions; employment history, including clerkships; courses of interest (both primary and secondary); publications; and names, positions, and contact information for references. In addition to submitting your FAR form, you can upload a separate CV and research agenda or research plan.
AALS collates FAR forms and releases them to schools in three groups, called “distributions.” Candidates who submit their applications before the first cutoff date will become searchable in the online FAR database on the date of the first distribution, and will remain so for the rest of the hiring cycle. Candidates who submit their applications after the first cutoff date but before the second will become searchable on the date of the second distribution, not on the date they submit their applications. Candidates who submit their applications after the second cutoff date but before the final cutoff date will become searchable on the date of the third distribution.
It is important to submit your FAR form in time to be in the first distribution; the cutoff dates are available on the AALS website. Many hiring committees start their review of the FAR forms in the summer, so being in an early distribution is crucial to maximize your chances of getting an interview. The first distribution is generally in early August; the second in late August; and the third in mid- September.