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So You Wanna Be a Law Professor, Part II

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10 Responses

  1. Robert Rhee says:

    Perhaps a section on “How to Market the Article If You Are Not a Prof” is in order. I think non-profs have a distinct disadvantage, and perhaps some thoughts on how to place the piece would be good advice. Many non-profs, for example, may not know about the March-August cycle, etc. Also, a topic on “How to Select an Appropriate Topic or Thesis” would be good since many non-profs may not have colleagues to bounce ideas.

  2. I have to confess, I winced when I read this statement: “you need to figure out whether this is something you could make yourself do day-in-day-out at least until you receive tenure.” That may be accurate — unfortunately — but do you really want to encourage people to see tenure as the writing finish line, instead of as an invitation to do more interesting kinds of writing, pace Rosa Brooks?

  3. I have to confess, I winced when I read this statement: “you need to figure out whether this is something you could make yourself do day-in-day-out at least until you receive tenure.” That may be accurate — unfortunately — but do you really want to encourage people to see tenure as the writing finish line, instead of as an invitation to do more interesting kinds of writing, pace Rosa Brooks?

  4. Kate Litvak says:

    I am seriously (not rhetorically) wondering who the intended audience of this advice is. A person who wants to be a professor but doesn’t know that the job involves writing is like a person who wants to be a ballerina but doesn’t know that the job involves dancing.

  5. Brannon Denning says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    Robert: Yours is a great point.

    Kevin, of course, you’re right, and I certainly wouldn’t encourage someone to adopt that attitude. My only point was that you have to write enough to actually *get* tenure; if you really, really don’t like to write, then you probably won’t last that long–though some do and are never heard from again, which I think is an argument in favor of raising the bar higher than it is set at most law schools.

    Kate: Your comment made me chuckle, but I wonder whether it is entirely apt. For a lot of would-be law professors, particularly those at non-elite schools, they have only seen the classroom teaching side of their professors’ jobs. The writing aspect certainly isn’t necessarily on display (except, perhaps, the literal displays of reprints, etc. that schools maintain). Thus, I think it remains something of a mystery; I certainly didn’t understand how central it was to the enterprise when I first had thoughts that “hey, I’d like *their* job.” Moreover, I think that even if “writing” is understood as important, the type of writing that is important is not. To return to your analogy, the teaching part is what students see and graduates remember, just like it is obvious that being a ballerina involves dancing. But since writing and scholarship is not necessarily visible to present or former students, it is would be like someone who liked to dance and wanted to be a ballerina, but then discovered that skill in accounting or something was central to becoming a successful ballerina. At any rate, the centrality of scholarship and writing is, I think, more apparent at elite schools, but I think that there is room in the profession for others, too. Those “others” are the intended audience.

  6. Scott Moss says:

    A person who wants to be a professor but doesn’t know that the job involves writing is like a person who wants to be a ballerina but doesn’t know that the job involves dancing.

    That’s me! I’d wanted to be a ballerina just because of the cool tights they get to wear, but then I found out about the dancing part….

    Kate is right about the salience of writing, but I’d choose an analogy that’s less hard on those who don’t know about “the writing part” — after all, to a non-academic, being a professor may seem to be all about the teaching.

    I’d say the analogy is to people who want to be a high-paid lawyer because they like to speak and argue — but don’t like, or know the job entails, mostly paperwork.

    I also think there is plenty of room in legal academia for folks who like writing but haven’t don’t, and won’t do, very academic writing. Say you love teaching and, in law practice, you wrote lots of CLE and bar journal articles (which was my situation in 2003). Frankly, there are many, many schools — probably most American law schools — where you can get tenure writing 15,000 word articles on doctrinal developments. It’d be unfortunate if legal academia had nothing other than that stuff, but I think those folks are quite valuable to law schools and the legal profession.

  7. Ben Barros says:

    I’m not a big fan of the phrase “laundering” a non-elite JD, and I’m a bit skeptical of the utility of an LL.M. If you can write, it is not clear to me that you need one. Extra time to write before going on the market is great, but for people who aren’t in a life situation that will allow them to go back to school for a year, going directly on the market can work. Otherwise the advice seems sound.

  8. Brannon Denning says:

    Dear Ben:

    I’m not sure how others use it, but I use the “laudering” phrase ironically; I got a great legal education at Tennessee, but many hiring committees want validation from elsewhere. And I agree with you about the utility of LL.M. programs–whatever else they do, they certainly *don’t* give you extra time to write, in my experience. But I think that if you’re looking to maximize your chances, the LL.M. at one of the Ivys helps a great deal.

  9. Andy says:

    Doesn’t this really beg the question whether a candidate’s JD really serves as a reliable proxy for that individual’s ability to produce legal scholarship. If scholarship is the name of the game, I fail to see why a candidate’s chances should not turn on the quality of his/her scholarship. Should graduates of mid-tier law schools really be forced to “launder” their JD if they have produced high quality work that can be evaluated by hiring committees?

  10. Brannon Denning says:

    Dear Andy:

    You’re absolutely correct. In fact, there is evidence that the best proxy for ability to produce scholarship in the future is whether someone has published at least one piece of scholarship other than what one might have written as a student on law review. In a just world, you are correct: candidates would be evaluated on their merits, regardless where they went to law school. However, law schools and law school faculty are slow to change. Many law professors — particularly those who went to elite or Ivy League law schools — have a tendency to want to replicate themselves on the faculty. Further, I think that when committees have to sort through hundreds of the Faculty Recruitment Forms, there is a tendency to fall back on heuristics like where a candidate received one’s J.D. to winnow the pool quickly.

    Thus, I think writing is of utmost importance, but to maximize one’s chances if one has a J.D. from a non-elite school, hiring committees being what they are, I think that an LL.M. at an Ivy League school will provide the extra validation that might get committee members to read the things that you’ve written.

    Yrs,

    BPD

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