Adding additional responsibilities to your plate can be difficult, especially when they extend beyond your direct legal practice or your family. However, serving as an adjunct professor can be extremely rewarding. It can provide numerous benefits for your practice, including, but not limited to, reinforcing substantive legal knowledge, creating additional compensation streams, networking with new talent, and forging relationships among the legal community. While the experience of serving as an adjunct professor may vary, depending on the program, course, and substantive practice, the opportunity to serve as a legal expert can propel you forward in your leadership, confidence, and mastery beyond your years of practice.
Differences among Adjunct Teaching Positions
Opportunities to serve as an adjunct professor are growing as legal education evolves, allowing you an increasing number of ways to fit adjunct teaching into your professional and personal lives. For example, many law schools offer daytime and nighttime classes, and many adjunct-taught courses are scheduled during the evening hours. In addition, many law schools offer some of their courses entirely online. Unlike the variations discussed below, the compensation for teaching during the day versus evening versus online may be similar. Depending on your availability, you may apply to teach for any (or all) of these times.
You can consider courses that meet in one or two sessions, over a weekend or week, for a half-semester or the full semester. These opportunities may largely differ and correspond to the type of course offered, as discussed further below, and the compensation will fluctuate. The time commitment for these courses, corresponding to the number of credit hours, varies and may also depend on your familiarity with the topic and ability to customize the syllabus to your strengths and experience.
Regarding the types of courses that you could teach, consider whether you prefer to teach a clinical, practice-oriented, or doctrinal course or all of the above. The skillset required for each and the time involved in preparing for and teaching them are very different. For example, preparation to teach a practice-oriented course, such as contract drafting, may largely be taken from your own practice with redacted sample contracts to be reviewed and discussed. For a doctrinal course, however, you may need to read and summarize a substantial number of cases, either as a review or as new material, for the course lectures.
Depending on your other professional and personal obligations, it’s important to consider which course fits your availability; however, don’t forget that course compensation may depend on the required time. With this many options, it’s important to have a candid conversation with the program directors and deans before committing to teaching.
How to Obtain an Adjunct Professor Position
An initial question I’m often asked is how to obtain an adjunct professor position. After graduating with my Tax LLM for a graduate accounting program, I began teaching in the fall. This was after they found my resume as a local attorney and emerging tax expert, particularly in estate and gift taxation. You may also look to your alma mater law school for your initial placement, such as in its legal writing and advocacy program, clinics, or lawyering lab. Many law schools now have courses devoted to the practical application of a legal discipline, such as contract drafting, arbitration and negotiation, and will drafting. These courses can be ideal for aspiring adjuncts, given applicable experience and emphasis on the practice of law rather than on legal theory or discussion of case law.
If you have moved geographically away from your alma mater, look to a local university, either in its law or legal studies programs, including at the undergraduate or graduate level. In addition, many universities are now offering masters in legal studies, which can offer opportunities to teach more doctrinal coursework and develop courses for these new programs. As a word of warning, the development of new doctrinal courses requires substantially more preparation than teaching a practice-oriented course.
Another opportunity for those with less time to commit or who wish to explore adjunct teaching before making further commitments is to offer to guest teach a lecture for another professor. Some professors, at all levels, may appreciate your offer to teach one- or two-course sessions on a given topic of their expertise. This opportunity allows you to discover whether you like being in front of the classroom and developing course lectures.
Finally, the opportunity to obtain an adjunct position depends on your practice area. While niche practice areas may offer fewer total teaching opportunities, the pool of applicants may be smaller and, therefore, may be easier for you to distinguish yourself. The path to adjunct teaching is different for everyone, and it may help to ask other adjunct professors about their paths, which can be a great way to distinguish yourself when you’re ready to apply.
Value Added and Next Steps
The value of teaching as an adjunct professor depends on your professional goals, practice area, and current and future professional aspirations. For me, the ability to reinforce the legal principles and best practices within tax and estate planning has proven invaluable for communicating with clients, advocating for them, and publishing on legal trends and best practices in these disciplines. The confidence gained in presenting and developing curriculum in these practice areas has been essential for my professional development. I’ve developed referral sources from prior students in my courses, established myself as a legal expert in these practice areas, and helped to cultivate the next generation of practicing attorneys in my fields. While the compensation from these teaching placements may not compare with my compensation as a practicing attorney, these experiences have paid dividends over the tenure of my practice so far.
For those I may have convinced of the value and opportunity of adding adjunct teaching to your professional lives, you may wish to conduct your research next. Consider where you would teach, in what practice areas, and in what types of courses (including timing and scheduling). For more specific information, consider contacting those at your alma mater law school, local universities or law schools, or others within your professional network. As a matter of best practice, before this outreach, update your resume to emphasize your legal writing and presentation experience, as well as any accolades in your chosen discipline. Your resume may be further customized and expanded as a curriculum vitae, especially as you add teaching placements to your professional experience.
Adjunct teaching can be an excellent way to establish yourself as a legal expert, confident public speaker, and valuable resource. Furthermore, this teaching can fit within and supplement your current practice while affording additional compensation and flexibility in the types of courses taught. If you are interested in paying it forward and cultivating the next generation of attorneys and legal professionals, adjunct teaching is a great addition to your work.