Still Publish or Perish
Laws schools are increasingly choosing scholarship over practical experience when identifying instructors.
When Beverly Moran decided to stop practicing tax law and start teaching, law schools were looking for job candidates just like her — people who had more than two years of legal experience, she says.
“People now take a very different route from the one that I took,” says Moran, who left an established practice in 1987 to enter the academic world and is now a professor of law at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. “Academics is now weighed much more heavily than practical experience.”
While law schools generally look to grades and total experience when hiring instructors, the new trend is for job candidates to have an additional advanced degree in a field other than law, and schools hold in even higher esteem job seekers who have already produced scholarly work, according to Moran and faculty members responsible for hiring law school instructors.
An increasing number of newly hired law instructors teach without ever having stepped into a courtroom.
Writing and successfully publishing legal scholarship are increasingly better indicators of how well job candidates can teach law, as opposed to how well candidates can practice law, say legal scholars.
“We’re not in the law practice business, we’re in the business of scholarship,” says Jon Weinberg, a law professor and chairman of the Faculty Appointments Committee at Wayne State University in Michigan.
While Wayne State still considers traditional experience, Weinberg says. “More and more, we look for job candidates who have a juris doctorate with an additional degree in something else, like sociology, history, economics, finance or business administration.” He added: “People who know something in another field can make significant contributions to legal scholarship. We want them to know something about the area in which they want to teach, but being a great litigator or some other kind of practitioner does not translate to being a great law professor.”
More important than an additional degree, job candidates need to be able to demonstrate that they can write and publish scholarly work.
“If you want to teach law, one of the things you’re going to need to be is someone who is really driven to publish,” Weinberg says. “A person who has spent 20 years in practice and has a sterling record as a litigator, but who has never tried to do any publishing, is a person I’m probably not going to hire because that’s a person who isn’t driven to do scholarship.”
The trend is especially common among elite law schools like Harvard and Yale, he says, and the general marketplace is increasingly demanding it. It reflects an overall trend in the legal academy where increased attention has been placed on scholarship as opposed to practical experience, agrees Okianer Christian Dark, associate dean for academic affairs at Howard University.
“The best advice I can give to someone entering the market today is that the most productive thing they can do is to work on scholarship,” she says. “Write articles and make sure that the article is complete and published, or at least about to be published. That will give them a chance at being more marketable.”
Most law schools use hiring committees composed of tenured and/or tenure-track faculty members who review applications and make hiring recommendations (the deans of most law schools have limited roles in hiring). The weight given to grades versus clerkships or law firm experience versus public service depends on who is sitting on the committee, experts say.
Meeting the specific needs of the law school, such as diversifying staffs, is considered when filling job openings, says Veryl V. Miles, dean of the Catholic University School of Law.
“Depending on whether the candidate is an experienced faculty member or an entry-level faculty candidate, law schools are generally looking to hire individuals who are effective classroom teachers or demonstrate promise as such,” says Miles, who is one of the few Black female law school deans in the country.
“Law schools are also very interested in the scholarly productivity or the candidate’s potential for scholarship, and how the candidate will contribute to the specific needs of the institution,” Miles adds. “Sometimes schools have specific course or practice areas that need to be filled. They may be looking to increase more diversity on the faculty; and I use this term in the broadest sense when I speak of diversity which could include a range of characteristics such as gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religious background, socioeconomic background and even ideology.”
At the time Vanderbilt’s Moran entered teaching it was required that instructors have between two to six years of practical experience, she says. “Now people come out of school and go directly into teaching. It’s a very different profession.”
— By Tracie Powell
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