Help Wanted: LawProfs, No Experience Desired

As Louisville Law School Dean  Jim Chen warms the cockles of my heart by  suggesting there is intelligent life in law schools, along comes some  Harvard dilettante to break it in two.  This guy, Daryl Levinson (no, the other brother Daryl), has this to say in “The Record,” the independent Harvard Law School newspaper, about who gets to be a law professor:

Even 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.”

Yes, you read that right.  We don’t want no stinkin’ lawyers teaching kids to be lawyers.  We want scholars.  In fact, if some professor shows up at your jail cell to offer assistance, scream for the guards to take this mutt away.  Unless her name is Jennifer, in which case you can chat her up a bit.

Did I miss something in the “law porn” (don’t ask, it’s way too controversial) brochure that neglected to mention what they think they’re doing at that fancy Tier 1.729 law school?  Seriously, guys, is there anything law schools can possibly do to further disconnect from their mission? 

It has become painfully clear that law schools do not want to be law schools.  They do everything in their power to not be law schools.  How long will it take before the top law schools in the country figure out that they would do far better in their scholarly endeavors if they could just convince the students to stay home, mail in their checks and home-study their way to the bar exam, assuming the students feel compelled to take it. 

Though I write this post with some attempt at humor, I am in reality sickened by this misguided, pompous approach to “teaching” the law.  I put “teaching” in quotations because the lawprofs are not only not ashamed of their base failure, but proud of their disdain, their contempt, their open and notorious rejection, of teaching.  They are above teaching.  They are . . . scholars.

My inclination here is to indulge in yet more snide, snarky and sarcastic commentary about the lost boys (and girls) who comprise the corps de philologus, but I could not possibly present a more demeaning explanation than Daryl Levinson (no, the other brother Daryl) does himself at the bottom of the article:

Question and Answer with Prof. Levinson

Q: So how easy is it to get a job as a law professor?

A: There are two ways to read the numbers. The discouraging interpretation is that out of 1,000 applications for teaching positions last year, 150 were hired. On the other hand, out of that 1,000 you can automatically throw out about half because they didn’t go to a top 20 law school (that’s just how the academic world works), and you can throw out another twenty-five percent because they didn’t attend this presentation and have no idea what it takes to be a law professor – maybe they think they like teaching, but not scholarship, or maybe they’ve been practicing for a long time and think it would be nice to retire into a professorship. So when you look at the pool of viable, serious candidates, and the students in that pool who graduated from Harvard Law, virtually all of those applicants got academic positions of some sort.

Q: What’s hardest: getting the entry-level job, getting the next job, or getting tenure?

A: Tenure is relatively easy – presumptively everyone gets it, and those who don’t are the exception, not the rule. In the schools with the strictest requirements, about one out of every four professors don’t get tenure. More important is getting the entry-level job, than to care about where that job is. There is plenty of mobility, and some of the lowest ranked schools have faculty indistinguishable from the faculty at Harvard or Yale. Chances are once you get your first job, you’ll be able to move someplace geographically preferable, or with a higher rank.

Q: What if you have geographical limitations? What are your chances then?

A: Levinson noted that there are about 200 law schools in the country, so it shouldn’t really be a problem unless your limitation means, for example, that you can only work in Idaho. April Stockfleet, the OCS advisor on careers in legal teaching, warned students against mentioning a geographical limitation on their AALS application, however. She said schools may interpret this as being too picky.

Q: How do you get a fellowship?

A: Fellowships require a “watered down” set of the same things law schools look for: a good reference from a professor, a well-developed idea, and other indicia of whether you can pull it off, including any papers you wrote during law school and other ways you spent your time as a student.

Q: What constitutes good legal scholarship?

A: Legal scholarship is very heterogeneous. There is less doctrinal scholarship these days, although there is still a fair amount of it. Increasingly there are policy papers and interdisciplinary papers. The tools that students are formally taught in law school tend to be inadequate, since students basically just learn case analysis. You likely need to do more than that, but you can only get a sense of what “that” is by reading scholarship. Most would say your best bet is to be interdisciplinary.

Q: If you are going to be a law professor, do you have to teach any 1L classes?

A: No. Usually it’s a good idea to be able to teach a class that lots of people want to take, or that most law schools offer, in addition to one covering your obscure research interest. Generally, professors teach at least one “meat and potatoes” class, but this doesn’t have to b a first year class – it could be an upper-level class near the area of your expertise.

Q: What should students do during their summers?

A: Whatever they want. The highest value experience is probably a summer writing fellowship, which can also be paired with another job. You can also do something non-academic to see what it’s like and make sure you wouldn’t be happier doing that, at least for a while.

Q: How important are clerkships?

A: Clerkships are important less as a credential, and more for the time and space they give you. The fact that you see so many professors with clerkships is probably more a result of correlation than causation.

Q: Do law schools care what firm you worked at?

A: Not at all. In fact, it might be better to go to a terrible firm than one like Cravath, because chances are you will have more time to write at the terrible firm. You’re going to get expertise in document review, but not much else. This won’t disqualify you, but it will just be a neutral fact about you.

Q: What’s the salary range for law professors, from the lowest-ranked school to the top school?

A: There isn’t very clear data on this. However, as a general rule, law professor salaries will track, or be slightly below, law firm associate salaries in the same market, but without the huge raise you get as a partner, of course. The salaries are much closer to those of associates even up to seventh and eighth-years, than to Arts & Sciences faculty salaries.

Q: What do you most dislike about being a professor?

A: It’s a bad job for people who don’t like a lack of structure. It’s also bad for people who like to make a difference in the real world. Increasingly, this is an ivory tower profession.

If you made it this far, you too can be a Harvard Law Professor, provided you lack any competency in any area remotely resembling the practice of law.

2 thoughts on “Help Wanted: LawProfs, No Experience Desired

  1. SHG

    So if they don’t teach . . . and they don’t practice law . . . and they have no experience . . . and they don’t make difference in the real world . . . what reason do they have to exist?

Comments are closed.