The path to academia — is practical experience disqualifying?
posted by Jennifer Collins
Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr writes about an interesting talk recently given by Harvard Law professor Darryl Levinson to aspiring law professors. Like Orin, I was particularly struck by the following remarks from the article: “practical legal experience is not a good predictor of scholarly ability, and, Levinson noted, ‘is pretty nearly disqualifying.’ Levinson pointed out that today’s younger professors have no significant practical experience, and that if they tried to become involved in the world, ‘the world would probably recoil in horror.’” Since today is the start of the infamous meat market, I don’t want all those aspiring law professors with practical experience to be discouraged! First, I think that many, although certainly not all, younger professors do have significant practice experience. I worked for a long time as both a defense attorney and as a prosecutor, and I know that both my teaching and my scholarship are far richer for the experience. At least in the criminal field, I can think of numerous colleagues who have experience on either the prosecution or the defense side (or both). Second, if we are indeed moving to a world where new professors do not have any practical experience, I think that would be a tremendous loss for students, for law schools, and for the profession. We are after all training most students to be lawyers, not academics. I wish that we could move away from this view that having practice experience, in other words being a good attorney, and being a great scholar are incompatible. I believe that it is eminently possible to be both.