What makes a strong tenure-track candidate?
Until recently, the conventional wisdom about the qualifications necessary to enter law teaching was that you must have attended a selective law school, earned a high GPA, served on a law review, and perhaps had a post-graduate judicial clerkship. Although these credentials remain meaningful, it is also true that the most significant qualification for a tenure-track position is demonstrating your scholarly ability. This generally translates to having at least one well-crafted, polished publication before entering the law teaching market.
For those who did not write or publish while in law school, this prerequisite may appear to create an insurmountable barrier. It is impossible to turn back the clock. This raises the question of whether it is possible to begin to develop a scholarly profile even after graduating from law school. The good news is yes, there are a variety of ways to start on the path to being a scholar. Three such pathways are earning an advanced degree(s), gaining a law teaching fellowship or Visiting Assistant Professorship (VAP), or writing and publishing while working.
Advanced degrees can enhance a candidate’s profile. The most common advanced degree held by law faculty is the Ph.D. One source found in 2018 that nearly 50% of entry-level hires had a Ph.D. or equivalent degree, such as S.J.D., J.S.D., D.Phil., an increase from about 26% of the candidates in 2011.*
A fellowship/VAP is a one or two year position in which the full-time fellow or visiting assistant professor (VAP) can write in a scholarly environment, gain teaching experience, and obtain a better understanding of the work life of law professors. One source suggests that between 70% to 80% of entry-level faculty hired yearly between 2011 and 2018 had either a fellowship or had been a VAP.*
Working and writing at the same time is required for candidates who do not have an advanced degree nor a fellowship or VAP. Practical experience as a working lawyer can be beneficial to some types of positions.
Qualifications of Entry-Level Hires, 2011 – 2018
*These data, which are self-reported by recently hired law faculty or, in some cases, their schools, were collected by Professor Sarah B. Lawsky for PrawfsBlawg. Professor Lawsky’s report is also provided as a downloadable spreadsheet. These data include “information for tenure-track, clinical, or legal writing full-time entry level hires.”