Legal research and writing faculty are an integral part of a law school and responsible for teaching the important writing, research, and analytical skills that law students will use in their professional lives. There are six categories of employment law schools use for legal research and writing (LRW) faculty, and the qualifications they seek when hiring will vary for each. See the Association of Legal Writing Directors & Legal Writing Institute’s most recent Annual Legal Writing Survey for more information.
If you seek to teach LRW, be sure to understand the status of the position for which you are applying. Once you accept a position at a certain status, it may be difficult to change your status at that same law school unless the school decides to shift the nature of its entire LRW program.
There are two tenured models and several non-tenured models:
Under this model, law schools have one set of hiring, promotion, and tenure standards for all full-time faculty, including LRW faculty. All tenured faculty share the same rights of governance and the same security of position. In the most recent Annual Legal Writing Survey, 52 of the 182 responding schools (29%) reported that they employ legal research and writing faculty as tenured or tenure-track with traditional tenure. Faculty in this category often teach at least one non-LRW course.
Qualifications vary, based on how a school values scholarship. The traditional criteria remain relevant: graduation from a well-regarded law school, strong academic credentials, and relevant work experience. Work experience is valued highly, and candidates are less likely to be viewed negatively by hiring teams if they have spent significant time in practice.
Increasingly, LRW candidates for positions with programmatic tenure benefit from having at least one published article. In the survey, 17 of 23 respondents at schools with programmatic tenure stated that scholarship was required or expected for promotion or tenure. The type and quantity of scholarship expected will vary from school to school. For example, some will expect traditional law review articles while others may value a series of bar journal or shorter articles.
Long-Term Contract With 405(c) Status
Subsection (c) of American Bar Association Standard 405, though specifically about clinical faculty, is often applied to LRW faculty as well. This rule requires that schools provide clinical faculty who meet certain criteria with a “form of security of position reasonably similar to tenure.”
According to the most recent Annual Legal Writing Survey, this is the most common category for LRW faculty positions with 81 of the 182 schools (45%) reporting that their school employs LRW faculty as long-term contract with 405(c) status.
Law schools that adopt this model for their legal writing faculty employ LRW faculty for a set term of years, most commonly five years 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. Some universities cap the number of years of any multi-year contract at three. The ability of faculty in this category to participate in faculty governance tends to be more limited than for tenured faculty. Just 6 of the 80 schools (7.5%) in the survey who have 405(c) faculty and provided information about voting rights reported that those faculty have full voting rights.
The traditional criteria remain relevant, with an emphasis on practice experience and potential for excellent teaching. As to scholarly production, more than half of the full-time LRW faculty in the survey reported that scholarship was not a requirement of their job. There is no data available to assess whether candidates with scholarship may be favored by schools over candidates without scholarship; in general, it seems prudent to have at least one publication.
Long-Term Contract Without 405(c) status
Law schools that employ LRW faculty in long-term contracts without 405(c) status account for 38 of the 182 schools (21%) responding to the most recent Annual Legal Writing Survey. These schools instead follow ABA Standard 405(d), which provides that “A law school shall afford legal writing teachers such security of position and other rights and privileges of faculty membership as may be necessary to (1) attract and retain a faculty that is well qualified to provide legal writing instruction as required by Standard 303(a)(2), and (2) safeguard academic freedom.” Positions in this category have less job security, limited access to support for scholarship, and more limited voting rights and participation in faculty governance.
The traditional criteria remain relevant, with an emphasis on practice experience and potential for excellent teaching. Only a very small minority of schools in the survey expected faculty in this category to produce scholarship, so hiring teams are unlikely to expect candidates to have published. Though a published article may enhance a candidate’s viability, candidates vying for positions in this category may consider entering the market without a record of scholarly production.
Law schools employ full-time, short-term LRW faculty under contracts that are shorter than five years and are not presumptively renewable. Seventy-one of the 182 schools (39%) in the most recent Annual Legal Writing Survey reported employing faculty in this category. For a variety of reasons, law schools rarely conduct national searches for short-term legal research and writing faculty. Generally, faculty in this group have a very limited role in faculty governance.
Many faculty in this category also devote tremendous service to the law school. Many run advocacy programs, coach advocacy teams, advise law journals and journal students, and hold a variety of administrative positions.
Traditional hiring criteria remain relevant, but practice experience tends to be of highest importance. Generally, law schools do not expect faculty in this category to produce scholarship; schools expect faculty in this category primarily to be focused on their teaching and service to the law school. Of the 72 survey respondents at schools with employees with this status, only 6 reported expecting or requiring scholarly production for retention or promotion. As the vast majority of schools do not expect or require faculty in this group to produce scholarship, having a record of scholarship is understandably less important in the hiring process.
LRW Fellowships and VAPs
Fellowships and VAP programs are designed to help candidates prepare for the teaching market. Anecdotally, it appears that few LRW faculty have had a fellowship or VAP. Law schools offer a range of different types; three are relevant for prospective LRW faculty:
- General programs to prepare candidates for podium/subject-matter teaching. These fellowships tend to focus heavily on providing an opportunity for candidates to produce scholarship. Mentoring in these programs will be focused on assisting with scholarship. Although the majority require some amount of teaching and may offer a broader range of teaching opportunities, they are not designed specifically to prepare candidates for LRW teaching positions.
- Programs in which the candidate teaches legal research and writing while preparing for podium/subject-matter teaching. Although these programs involve teaching LRW, they are not designed to prepare candidates for future LRW teaching positions. Mentoring in these programs will be focused more on assisting with the pursuit of a podium/subject matter position. The Bigelow and Climenko Fellowships are examples of this type of fellowship.
- Programs designed primarily to prepare candidates to be LRW faculty. Very few fellowships fall in this group. LRW teaching fellowships provide an intense teaching experience focused primarily on skills and pedagogy. While candidates also may produce scholarship, the focus tends towards teaching. They may provide fewer opportunities to have scholarship reviewed. The extent of this support varies amongst programs.
If you want to produce scholarship and are considering anything other than a general program, you should expressly explore this with fellowship directors before choosing a fellowship. Review a more detailed discussion of general fellowships and VAPs here.
Qualifications for fellowships vary widely and should be researched individually.