Law fellowships and visiting assistant professors (VAPs) may give aspiring law professors time to write in a scholarly environment, to gain teaching experience, and to better understand the work life of law professors before they go on the teaching market. VAPs and fellows are full-time employees, but they are not on tenure-track. Most of these positions are for two years, although some may be one year. One source suggests that around 70% to 80% of entry-level faculty hired between 2011 and 2018 had either a fellowship or had been a VAP.*
Each program is different, so refer to program websites for specific information and emphases. The sample list of programs is a useful place to begin your search. Although programs vary, the following are some general characteristics of many of these programs:
- Teaching. Most programs require participants to teach. At some institutions, they teach legal writing or professional skills; at others they teach doctrinal courses. Generally, fellows have lighter teaching loads than VAPs. A VAP often includes teaching a doctrinal course, often one each semester of the program. This may leave less time for scholarship. Fellows often teach legal research and writing, however, which is time intensive, and thus also can impinge upon the time fellows have to produce their own scholarship.
- Formal mentoring for scholarship. Some programs have a director who is responsible for ensuring participants have a productive experience. These programs offer support for scholarship. Often the program has faculty members who are familiar with the participants’ research areas who act as formal mentors, may read drafts and provide feedback, and will offer advice on navigating the hiring process as well as the scholarly publication process.
- Informal mentoring. A great deal of informal mentoring can occur during a program, from faculty at the host school to other current and past program participants. Even when formal mentors are assigned, the participants often seek out additional faculty members for advice and feedback. Groups of fellows frequently form their own cohort and provide a support network for one another.
- Preparation of materials for AALS Faculty Recruitment Services. Most entry-level tenure-track law faculty hiring happens via an annual cycle of faculty recruitment services hosted by AALS. You may want to learn more about these services. There are strategies for every stage of the process, and many programs provide this information to participants as part of the formal mentoring process. Some strategies are discussed here.
- Courses. Some programs offer courses for participants and others interested in law teaching on writing for law reviews, strategies for navigating the hiring process, and strategies for compiling a compelling application package in preparation for the hiring season.
- Mock job interviews. Faculty mentors or program directors may arrange mock screening interviews in preparation for the AALS Faculty Recruitment Conference.
- Moot job talks. Faculty mentors or program directors may arrange for participants to present their job talk papers to faculty prior to attending the AALS Faculty Recruitment Conference.
- Faculty workshop presentation. Some programs will arrange for the participants to present their draft to the faculty at a regularly scheduled faculty workshop or colloquia. Additionally, you may be able to attend without presenting.
Financial Benefits & Resources
- Salary. All programs provide a salary to participants. VAPs generally earn higher salaries than do fellows, but this too varies from program to program.
- Materials and travel budget. Many programs provide participants with a budget for books, software, datasets, and other materials helpful for their scholarly endeavors. Budgets also include money to travel to attend conferences or to present papers at faculty colloquia at other schools.
- Housing stipend. Programs in cities with a high cost of housing may provide a housing stipend.
- Health care. Participants are commonly offered the opportunity to participate in the health care benefits offered to employees.
Overview of Application & Selection Process
Hiring Life Cycle
Programs vary, but many begin soliciting applications in the early fall and end in the spring. Candidates submit their materials, which are reviewed by a selection committee. Many programs then conduct a phone or video screening interview. Programs that conduct an off-site screening interview will often offer a limited number of candidates an on-campus interview. Some programs skip the screening interview and conduct only one interview on campus. Most programs accept candidates on a rolling basis.
Most programs require a CV, transcripts from all degree-conferring institutions, a list of references (preferably academic), a cover letter that includes a research agenda or a separate cover letter and research agenda, and a writing sample. Increasingly, the writing sample sought by programs is a law review note, comment, or previously-published article.
The on-campus interview varies widely in length; for some programs, it is less than 2 hours, for others it is a half day. Some programs arrange for the candidate to meet with faculty in their offices; others limit the interviewers to the program director and faculty advisors to the program.
These interviews are similar to the interviews that are conducted at the AALS Faculty Recruitment Conference. For sample job interview questions refer to the Screening Interviews section.
Tips for a Successful VAP/Fellowship
- Guard your time. Remember that your goal is to end the program with at least one, if not two, publication-ready pieces of scholarship.
- Actively search out mentors. Some faculty members may not be interested in assisting you by reading and reviewing drafts. Don’t be discouraged; be persistent in finding faculty who are open to assisting you.
- Be aware of cultural differences in programs. Each program has its own norms and values. Investigate the cultural climate, both of the host school and the program itself, before deciding whether to accept an offer to be part of the program.
- Write, write, and write. Resources that may be of assistance to the novice writer are listed on this page.
- Keep reading scholarship in your field. One way to keep abreast of new scholarship is to sign up for Westlaw’s alert service in your field.
- Attend academic workshops and conferences at your host school and in your field. The AALS website regularly publishes a list of upcoming symposia at law schools.
- The legal scholarship blog is another useful source of information for conferences, symposia, and workshops.
- Create opportunities to present your paper at faculty workshops. One strategy for accomplishing this is to contact the Associate Deans for Research (sometime known as Deans for Faculty Development or similar title) in your region and let them know that you are interested in presenting your paper at a faculty workshop hosted by that school. The director of your fellowship program also should have useful advice about circulating drafts and eliciting feedback.