Thursday, July 26, 2007

How to Move From Teaching Law Outside a Law School to a Law School Position?

Reader Rob Frieden writes:

I am interested in starting a thread on lateral entry into a law school by non law professors. I am a law professor "without portfolio" in the College of Communications at Penn State University.

I have a J.D from UVa (1980). My research agenda has brought me increasingly in league with legal scholars, typically with an interdisciplinary perspective.

I would appreciate hearing from readers what they think would constitute the best strategy for securing a visiting or lateral appointment. Is the AALS FAR worth pursuing for someone with 50 publications and an interest in something beyond an entry level appointment? Are their other ways to hear about actual vacancies in addition to scanning the Chronicle on Higher Education and this blog for leads?

Thanks to you and your colleagues for offering insights.

I usually advise law professors looking to make lateral moves not to use FAR, but one primary reason is that it advertises to all their colleagues their interest in leaving, which can be awkward, especially if other opportunities do not arise.  Ordinarily, law professors looking to make lateral moves are better served by writing directly to hiring chairs at particular schools.  Someone outside law schools can take the same approach, but might also consider using FAR, though noting in the comments that one is interested in a tenured, not tenure-track, post.  That strikes me as an efficient way to make one's interest known to a wide audience.  But comments are open for others who have advice.  Post only once, as comments may take awhile to appear.

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Ideally, someone interested in this sort of lateral move would have a multi-year strategy, working first on building their reputation and contacts within the legal academy. From what I've observed among those who've tried, there are some real challenges. An important step should be publishing work in major law reviews. But law reviews (not blind or peer reviewed, etc.), have rejected work that is then accepted in a leading journal in another field. To get past this hurdle, the best thing to do might be to seek out symposium issues in your area. How do you do this? Get to know the law profs in the field who might end up organizing things like this.

To become known in the field and develop contacts, a non-law school legal scholar should attend conferences and participate on panels with law facutly (law and society, legal history, empirical legal studies, etc.). If there is an interdisciplinary workshop or reading group at a law school in your geographic area, you might be welcomed as a participant.

In other fields, lateral hiring happens primarily through open advertising for positions. In law, much of it begins through word-of-mouth. This makes the lateral market more idiosyncratic in law. In Communications or other fields, you could simply apply for the jobs you knew were open. This is why building a reputation within the legal academy is so important.

One more thought: because this market will be difficult for some folks to break into, if someone has their heart set on the legal academy, don't overlook administrative positions.

Posted by: Mary Dudziak | Jul 26, 2007 8:16:46 AM

Mary Dudziak's advice strikes me as exactly right.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jul 26, 2007 1:58:17 PM

Can you please follow up by what you mean by considering administrative positions. Are you saying that a Dean of Students position can lead to FT position?
Mitch Rubinstein

Posted by: Mitchell Rubinstein | Jul 26, 2007 2:12:37 PM

No, I was suggesting that someone wanting to be in the legal academic world, but having trouble making the switch, might find an administrative position attractive. There are two reasons I brought that up. First, and not always for good reasons, some folks will find it quite difficult to switch over from a faculty position outside a law school to a law faculty position. For folks who aren't able to find tenured/tenure track law faculty positions, most will probably prefer to keep a non-law school faculty position. But some folks might most want to be in a law school environment. In that case, there are lots of attractive administrative positions. At many law schools, the various Deans are welcomed as full participants in the school's intellectual community, even if they don't participate in appointments, and don't have the same perks and opportunities for scholarship. Some Deans teach. It depends on the position and the law school. So it's an option some might choose, over not having an opportunity to move into a law school at all.

Posted by: Mary Dudziak | Jul 26, 2007 5:57:35 PM

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