Clinical faculty refers to clinical, externship, professional skills, and academic support faculty. These faculty play a critical role in legal education: they instruct, supervise, and assess the work of law students on cases with actual or simulated clients. There are five categories of employment law schools use for clinical faculty, and the qualifications they seek when hiring will vary for each. According to the Survey of Applied Legal Education conducted every three years by the Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education (“CSALE”), 65% of those teaching in a clinic or field placement course in any of the five categories are employed full time by their school.
The five general categories are:
Unitary Tenure Track
Under this model, law schools have one set of hiring, promotion, and tenure standards for all full-time faculty including clinical. All tenured faculty share the same rights of governance and the same security of position. Per the CSALE survey referenced above, 21% of full-time faculty in 2019-2020 had tenure or tenure-track status.
The traditional criteria for tenure-track jobs remain relevant for this group: graduation from a well-regarded law school, strong academic credentials, and relevant work experience. A demonstrated scholarly ability is becoming increasingly important—generally translated as having at least one publication prior to entering the hiring market. Anecdotally, it appears that schools with a unitary tenure track often prefer clinical candidates who have teaching experience as a fellow or a staff attorney. This article from spring 2021 offers some of the first hard data available on clinical fellowships and post-graduate experience.
Clinical Tenure Track
Also referred to as “programmatic tenure,” law schools that adopt this model have a particular set of criteria for hiring, promotion, and tenure of full-time clinical faculty. Faculty governance and participation rights may be more limited compared to those granted under the unitary tenure track model. The CSALE survey referenced above reports that 22% of law schools have a clinical tenure track.
Qualifications vary, based on how a school values scholarship. The traditional criteria for law school faculty hiring remain relevant for this group: graduation from a well-regarded law school, strong academic credentials, relevant work experience, and prior teaching experience. Increasingly, candidates benefit from having a minimal amount of scholarship and a fellowship or other teaching experience.
If a clinical faculty position requires academic scholarship, it may require less of it: in the CSALE survey, 63% of faculty at schools with programmatic tenure reported they are required to produce fewer publications than podium faculty. These schools may also have broader parameters regarding the type of scholarship that is acceptable.
The CSALE survey reports that 47% of schools with programmatic tenure put a greater emphasis on the quality of teaching for clinical tenure-track faculty than for podium faculty. Both prior teaching experience and work experience may be very highly valued, as law clinic teaching involves the practice of law. Clinical fellowships are valuable as they demonstrate relevant prior clinical teaching experience.
Law schools adopting this model employ clinical faculty for set term of years—most commonly 5 years, but sometimes 7 or more—under contracts that are presumptively renewable. Often, there is a shorter probationary term that may last one to three years before converting to the longer-term contract. The ability of faculty in this category to participate in faculty governance tends to be more limited than for tenured faculty. The CSALE survey reports that 67% of law schools have a long-term contract track.
The CSALE survey reveals that nearly 90% of full-time long-term contract respondents were not required to produce publications, or to produce fewer of them, as part of their job. Generally, a record of scholarly productivity is less important for contract faculty than for tenure-track faculty across the legal academy. This is not to say that it isn’t helpful. Rather, candidates for contract faculty positions have a better chance of being considered seriously without having done a fellowship and without a record of scholarship.
The traditional criteria remain relevant for this group of clinical faculty, with an emphasis on practice experience.
Full-time, short-term clinical faculty are employed under contracts that are shorter than five years and generally not presumptively renewable. For a variety of reasons, law schools often do not conduct national searches for short-term clinical faculty. Generally, they have a very limited role in faculty governance.
Traditional hiring criteria remain relevant, but practice experience tends to be of highest importance. Faculty in this category are not expected to produce scholarship; schools expect faculty in this category to be focused on their teaching. As there would not be expectations of scholarly production, having a record of scholarship is of little importance in the hiring process.
Fellows are not permanent members of the faculty and thus usually are excluded from faculty governance and have no voting rights. The scope of activities in which they may participate will vary from school to school. Generally, they are designed to help candidates prepare for the teaching market. Law schools offer a range of fellowship programs. Two are relevant here: general programs intended to prepare candidates for podium teaching and clinical programs designed to prepare students for both podium and clinical teaching positions.
- Scholarship: General fellowships tend to focus on providing an opportunity for candidates to produce scholarship. While the majority require some amount of teaching, they are designed to prepare candidates podium, not experiential, teaching positions. Clinical teaching fellowships vary by school, but often focus on the skills and pedagogy involved in experiential teaching. While candidates also may produce scholarship, the focus tends towards teaching.
- Mentoring: Fellowships provide candidates with guidance on preparing for the teaching market, though this guidance may differ from mentoring offered to traditional podium hopefuls. For example, because the focus is on experiential teaching, clinical fellowships may place less emphasis on opportunities to review scholarship as part of their mentoring program. The extent of this support varies amongst programs, so candidates will do well to explore this with fellowship directors or past fellows. Some law schools have mentoring programs for their own graduates who are interested in teaching, in which fellows may also be able to participate.
- Teaching and case management: Candidates will be actively involved in assisting students as students represent clients or participate in externships. Many clinics and externships operate through the summer, so candidates may be expected to work through the summer, leaving less time to produce scholarship. This, too, is something to ascertain while exploring fellowships.
Candidates considering a clinical teaching fellowship who also want to produce scholarship during the fellowship should expressly explore this with fellowship directors before choosing a fellowship. A more detailed discussion of general fellowships and VAPs can be found here.
Qualifications for clinical teaching fellowships vary widely; check their websites for information. However, generally candidates benefit from practice experience.