Demystifying the Academic Track
By Carla C. Lee and Cynthia B. Jones
Carla C. Lee is a solo practitioner focusing on corporate law and intellectual property issues in Seattle and can be contacted at Cynthia B. Jones practices in the area of commercial litigation and is currently an associate at Rafel Law Group in Seattle. She can be contacted at
If you want an academic career, you need to educate yourself about the process. Law faculty recruiters typically look for highly credentialed candidates with a minimum of five years of practice experience who have demonstrated scholarly as well as teaching objectives.
Getting started
If you want to be a law professor, you need to know about the Association of American Law Schools’ (AALS) Faculty Recruitment Conference, which is held every year in Washington, D.C. The AALS Conference is a formalized process where law schools from across the United States congregate to conduct short interviews with faculty candidates for teaching positions at their respective schools. Attendees report that the short AALS interviews are sometimes more exhausting than the bar exam, so preparation is key.
Preparing for interviews
Preparation for the interview is crucial, but if you want to land that interview in the first place, being published helps greatly. Start submitting your work to scholarly law publications now. You can publish a doctrinal or nondoctrinal article in a scholarly publication; however, publishing a doctrinal article will increase your chances of receiving an AALS interview. Many law schools look at whether the teaching applicant’s scholarly agenda fits within the school’s curriculum. If you know where you want to teach, you must pay particular attention to the school’s curriculum objectives. You want to make sure your scholarly agenda is consistent or at least compatible with their current curriculum needs.
Because the competition is stiff, it is critical for you to distinguish yourself from the 850 to 1,000 applicants looking for law teaching positions. Having a doctrinal scholarly objective will allow you to distinguish yourself. Ideally, during the interview you should emphasize your core scholarly area first and then explain your specialty area. Keep in mind that your scholarly objectives do not have to match your teaching objectives. For instance, you might want to focus on critical race theory as your specialty scholarly work but teach contract law and/or civil procedure. While more emphasis is on your scholarly objectives during the interview, your teaching objectives are important as well. And of course, a law professor must also be comfortable with public speaking, so be prepared to showcase that skill as much as possible during the interview.
To thoroughly prepare for this rigid, formalized process, it is a good idea to enlist the help of your law school professors in a mock interview. A mock interview will give you an opportunity to anticipate questions and prepare to share your scholarly knowledge with the AALS panel.
Working with AALS
Once you have clearly identified your scholarly and teaching objectives and researched the curriculum of the law schools you are interested in, you are ready to contact AALS to learn more about the process. For a small fee AALS will initiate the formalized process, allowing you time to focus on the interviews. AALS will list your name in the Faculty Appointment Register, send you copies of its Placement Bulletin, and invite you to the Recruitment Conference. AALS will ask you to submit information about your educational background, your teaching experience, the subjects you want to teach, your employment history, a list of any publications, and a list of your bar admissions. They will also ask for a list of references. Be sure that these references are people who support your application and believe in your ability to teach law.
Participating in the interviews
It is good to arrive a day earlier than your scheduled interviews to familiarize yourself with the conference hotel because not much time is scheduled between interviews. If you already know the layout of the hotel, you can focus all your energy on your interviews rather than trying to find where your interviews are located. The interview process is a thirty-minute discussion where the registrant meets with a panel of law professors, faculty recruiters, and administrators. The registrant is expected to engage the panel of faculty in scholarly conversation. After the thirty-minute interview, you may or may not receive a call back. A call back usually involves an interview at the university, and then hopefully an offer.
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This article appeared in a different form in the June 2007 De Novo, published by the Washington Young Lawyers Division.