Becoming a Law Teacher

Law teaching is an extremely rewarding profession. It has been difficult to enter in recent years, however, because there have been relatively few openings at law schools each year. For this reason, and to increase diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints in the legal academy, AALS is committed to making the process of obtaining a teaching job as transparent as possible, and to providing as much information to potential candidates as we can.

This information on becoming a law teacher is intended to provide a broad introduction to teaching in the legal academy and to the law faculty hiring process. Generally speaking, “being a law professor” involves three components: teaching, scholarship, and service (service usually means being a member of a law school or university committee or participating in service to communities and professional organizations). A major goal of any law teacher is to develop critical and analytical thinking in law students. There are, however, some law teaching jobs 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 producing scholarship.

These materials provide information on the three different types of teaching positions: tenure-track, clinical, and legal research and writing. Presenting a comprehensive overview of law teaching is difficult because of the variety of American law schools, the variety of hiring practices followed by those schools, and the variety of nomenclature used by law schools to describe the different types of faculty positions. The terms used in these materials, “tenure-track,” “clinical,” and “legal research and writing” are intended to capture the majority of faculty teaching positions in law schools. These categories are fluid; at some schools, tenure-track faculty may teach in clinics, and clinical faculty and legal writing faculty may be eligible for tenure and may teach doctrinal courses. These materials are intended to reflect the ways all faculty contribute to the academy whatever title or status they have.

In these pages:

  Tenure-track faculty means faculty hired primarily to teach subject-matter courses and who are eligible for tenure.

  Clinical faculty means faculty hired primarily to teach in live-client clinics.

  Legal research and writing faculty means faculty hired primarily to teach legal research and writing.

Tenure-Track Faculty

This category includes tenure-track and tenured faculty who teach courses that focus on legal subjects (e.g. Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, Property) as well as the ethical, theoretical, historical, and social questions and assumptions that have shaped their subject area or field. Most of the courses that students take during law school traditionally have been taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty.

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Clinical Faculty

Clinical teaching faculty includes clinical, externship, professional skills, and academic support faculty.

Clinical faculty instruct, supervise, and assess the work of law students on cases with actual or simulated clients. The most common student-teacher ratio in clinical courses is 8:1, though some are larger or smaller. In some law schools, clinical faculty are eligible for tenure. If clinical faculty are on the tenure-track, they are generally required to produce scholarship in addition to working on their cases, teaching, and service.

Externship directors develop and manage the three chief components of externship and field placement programs, which include full-time agency, full-time judicial, and part-time externship programs. Directors may teach the classroom components of the externship programs and other courses and related workshops. Directors are responsible for creating new externships and for ensuring that students are adequately supervised. Depending on the law school, directors may be eligible for tenure. If directors are on the tenure-track, they are generally required to produce scholarship in addition to fulfilling their other faculty obligations.

Professional skills faculty provide students with instruction on the skills that they will need in legal practice. These faculty members are often adjunct faculty members, although some schools have other categories of faculty teach these courses.

Academic support faculty provide advice to students on how they can best succeed in law school. Academic support positions are not always faculty positions; they may be contract positions on the administrative staff. If they are faculty positions, academic support positions tend not to be on tenure-track and may not come with the same voting rights (or the same scholarship or teaching expectations) as those held by tenure-track faculty.

Legal Research & Writing

Legal research and writing (LRW) faculty teach students legal research and writing. Writing exercises may include drafting client letters, office memoranda, pretrial briefs, and appellate briefs. Advocacy skills also are developed through exercises such as simulated client interviewing and oral argument. In many law schools, legal writing faculty are eligible for tenure. In some law schools, legal writing faculty positions do not come with the same voting rights as those held by tenure-track faculty.

Becoming a Law Teacher grew out of work first undertaken by the AALS Committee on Recruitment and Retention of Minority Law Teachers and Students, and continued in 2018 by the Committee on Becoming a Law Teacher.

Further acknowledgments