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November 01, 2010

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Anon

So, um, how does someone get teaching experience in a first year doctrinal subject? Even most teaching fellowships don't provide that sort of opportunity... I can't imagine a decent school allowing a non-faculty member to teach 1Ls.

John Nelson

Mr. Lewyn,

Thanks for the info. I have a question about teaching experience.

My mentors have suggested two avenues for me to improve my chances on the meat market. One is getting a general LLM at a place like Harvard or Yale. Cost, my already having an LLM from a year of study abroad, and the lack of teaching options limits this for me.

The second is a fellowship/VAP. This seems to provide some of the teaching experience missing in the LLM route along with the LLM's publishing opportunities. (I.E., time to write while not trying to bill a full weak of hours.)

My question is this: How are VAP/Fellowship teaching experiences considered in your experience? Did it matter if the experience was through a VAP/Fellowship program? Did you notice any differences between candidates who taught in VAP/Fellowship programs as compared to others?

I'd understand any hesitation to answer the last one if you feel it might break the confidentiality of the interview process, or if you didn't have a chance to make such a comparison.

Just thought I'd chime in. I do appreciate your input quite a bit and, once again, thanks for taking the time!

Michael Lewyn

Re VAP vs. LLM: VAP much better - my sense is that LLMs aren't worth nearly as much as actual teaching experience (Caveat: not true outside the USA; in Canada, an LLM is a necessity).

Haven't really thought about (let alone seen a distinction between) VAPs vs. tenure track faculty trying to move on- for me personally the dividing lines are "law school vs. undergraduate" and "teaching our curricular needs vs. teaching something else."

As Anon points out, the hardest step is the first. How do you get your first (non-tenure-track) teaching job? I started off teaching legal writing in a program that allowed me to teach doctrinal courses; though I was not teaching 1Ls, I was allowed to teach courses that were 1L courses in other schools (e.g. criminal law). Teaching as an adjunct is another common "foot in the door." I'm not sure how hard it would be to get a VAP job without teaching experience, never having tried it myself.

David Banner

You seem to be suggesting that if the stars align just right, having a J.D., plus law school classroom experience (if only as a lowly legal writing instructor or clinician), plus practical experience (which essentially all legal writing and clinical instructors have) could, under some circumstances, if the candidate is JUST right, be seen - potentially - as being, at least arguably, as being as good a candidate with none of those things except the JD but who went to a law school that US News says makes them elite?

Good heavens, what will become of us? I think I need some air - this is too much to take.

TJ

Not having been on an appointments committee, I may not know what I am talking about. But my impression is that teaching (though not publishing) is still not strictly required at some schools. I know some recent successful candidates who had zero teaching experience, and I had none myself when I was on the market only three years ago.

Hollee

Just wanted to point out that not all legal writing professors (note the terminology, friends) are "lowly." In some schools, they are tenured. In others, these professors enjoy teaching practical skills and writing about their passions (sometimes for something other than the glory of law review publication). Food for thought.

JML

Your statement about clinicians and legal writing teachers was uninformed and an insult to thousands of law professors. I'm a legal writing teacher, I'm tenured, and I've been teaching for over a quarter century (and I've often been on the hiring side of the table). Legal writing teachers can teach ANYTHING in the curriculum, and teach it well, unlike most of our casebook colleagues, who often approach teaching as a necessary evil and students as an unavoidable cost of being a professor. We work harder, teach better, and produce scholarship that is actually important, useful, and well-written (as compared to most of the fodder out there). And our students know it.

And if it took you this long and that many positions at several law schools to figure out what a law school hiring committee might be looking for in a candidate for any position, then that's sad.

Michael Lewyn

Just to clarify- I hope (and assume) that JML and Hollee were referring to David Banner's statement and not mine. I am all for legal writing professors (and was one myself some years ago!)

AnonNYC

Michael,

I think what JML and Hollee are pointing to is what they perceive as condescending tone in your original post when you suggested that legal writing instructors (most are "professors" now, but that's a separate issue) and clinical professors would have to "convince" you that they could teach a doctrinal course.

Implicit in that statement is that clinicians and legal writing profs are somehow inherently less qualified to teach doctrinal courses and have a burden to overcome to convince you or your committee otherwise.

I think David Banner's post is pretty obviously tongue-in-cheek.

Michael Lewyn

Perhaps I was a little too tongue-in-cheek myself; before I came to Florida Coastal, I had always thought that many schools were unwilling to hire former legal writing professors to teach doctrinal courses, and I was trying to make it clear that we did NOT share that view.
Obviously, we like legal writing instructors/clinicians, and do consider them amply qualified to teach doctrinal courses.

Having said that, I do think that if we need a given subject, someone who has taught that subject is more likely to get a interview/callback than someone who teaches either legal writing or an unrelated doctrinal subject. But I don't think that the legal writing professor is less qualified than the person who teaches the unrelated subject.

JML

AnonNYC correctly pointed to my reaction to the condescending tone in one part of the original blog post (not the comments). And there's more in the next paragraph, when you refer to a "leap" to doctrinal teaching.

A good teacher of LRW often lacks the time and support to do the scholarship called for in a candidate for a doctrinal or casebook course, or the school looks askance at asking a writing professor to teach a doctrinal course because getting someone to cover the writing course isn't easy.

On average, LRW professors spend 20 hours per week every semester on individual student work (critiques and conferences), in addition to the time spent by the other faculty on teaching and preparation. And many schools won't give LRW professors summer grants, or they lock clinicians into year-long contracts because cases don't stop over the summer months.

MGA

I have been a member of a law faculty for almost twenty years. I am tenured, have a fancy named professorship, and teach both LR&W and other courses. In my experience, I think one of the best training grounds for law school teaching in any subject is teaching LR&W. Professors who teach LR&W (including moot court) get to know students and what makes them tick. We get to see their thought processes as they struggle to learn to read and analyze the law. We experiment with different teaching methods and constantly update our materials to keep them relevant and effective. We are able to engage in a Socratic dialogue with students in small groups and one-on-one, which allows us to truly facilitate our students' learning in a way that is difficult to do in an 85-person civ pro class. Because of those experiences, I suspect that I am a better professor in my 85-person civ pro class!
As the interviewer, I always assume that the faculty candidate who has taught LR&W and done well doing it has an edge over the candidate with no teaching experience or teaching experience in other areas, because that person has been in the trenches of teaching and has an insight into students beyond the insight of other candidates.

Michael Lewyn

I completely agree that legal writing professors, as a group, work harder at teaching than doctrinal faculty, and that (as MGA points out) legal writing teaching is indeed excellent training for teaching other subjects. I apologize for failing to leave this impression earlier.

Michael Lewyn

And after a bit of sleep, another elaboration/correlation: anyone who has taught anything at any law school is, in my opinion, much more qualified than someone who hasn't taught at all, no matter where they went to school.

The difference between the candidate who taught what we're looking for and the one who teaches something else (whether it be legal writing, clinic, or a doctrinal subject that we are less enthused about) is basically the difference between an A and an A-. I humbly thank the commenters for reminding me of this reality- one that I temporarily forget to emphasize after a weekend interviewing nothing but A and A- candidates, and focusing on the small differences among them.

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