If you know you want to teach eventually, or are at least considering teaching as a possible career option, there are a number of things you can do while a student to put yourself in a better position to get a teaching job. Our pre-academic program is designed to encourage and facilitate them.
One of the most important criteria for getting an academic job is the candidate’s publication record. There are some practical steps you can take as a student to publish scholarly work.
- Develop Research Ideas: Take classes in which you will have the chance to write scholarly papers and get to know professors. As you take classes, start a file of ideas that might become articles. It is advantageous, although not essential, that there be some intellectual relationship among your different articles, so as to form a coherent research agenda. This doesn’t require that they all deal with the same subject matter (e.g., environmental law). They could instead share a common set of concerns (e.g., distributional fairness; the (dis)incentive effect of legal rules on individual behavior; the litigation process) or a common set of methodological tools (e.g., historical, qualitative empirical investigation, experimental, econometric, philosophical) that you are applying in different substantive areas. But the most important thing is to get writing done, and on subjects you care about, even if the various papers don’t obviously cohere.
- Write an article: If possible, you should try to produce at least one paper while at law school that you can turn into a publishable article (or student note).
- Write a book review: Many law reviews like to publish book review essays regularly, and often have fewer such submissions from established faculty than they would like. If you pick out a book on a hot topic or by a prominent professor and submit a review to a flock of law reviews, there is a good chance of having it published, even while you are a student.
- Unlike other disciplines, in law the book review essay is often article-length and gives the author space to develop independent ideas. At the same time, book reviews are easier to write than conventional articles because they typically don’t require extensive independent research or a freestanding thesis. They count less than articles, but are much better than no publication.
Law Review Participation
Many students think that law review membership or editorship is a prerequisite to academic careers. This used to be true, but no longer is. Traditionally, employers (including law school hiring committees) valued membership on law review primarily because it correlated with very high grades, or provided the only opportunity for law students to familiarize themselves with the scholarly side of the enterprise. At many law schools, including Stanford, law review membership is no longer connected to grades, a fact well known to most hiring committees. Moreover, if hiring committees care about grades, they can just look at them directly. And there are now a wealth of other opportunities for law students to engage with the scholarly enterprise.
As a result, many law schools recruiting new faculty place no weight on membership or officership on law reviews. Once again, this is more likely to be true the more prestigious the law school. On the other hand, some law schools still value it, it will give you some exposure to current legal scholarship, and it is unlikely to hurt you anywhere. But these possible benefits of law review should be weighed against the costs. If you do law review, chances are you will be spending a lot of time doing routine work editing other people’s articles. If you would use that same time instead to do more of your own writing, or even work as a research assistant for a professor, those alternative uses of your time will in many cases be more advantageous.
The above advice, however, goes only to the direct value of the bare credential of law review membership or officership on the academic market. There are two collateral benefits that may flow from membership that may have some independent value on the academic market. The first is the opportunity to publish a student note. Most student-run law reviews will publish student work only if the student is a member of their own editorial board. You should not overvalue that opportunity, however. In most cases, having a good idea and turning it into a good article is the hard part. Finding a place to publish it is relatively easy. Specialty journals and faculty-run (peer-reviewed) journals willpublish student work. In addition, you can write while a student, but wait until you graduate to send it out to conventional law reviews for publication as an article.
The second possible benefit is that, because many judges still value law review membership, being on law review is (all other things being equal) likely to boost your chances for a prestigious clerkship, which will be a mild plus with most law school. Again, however, one would want to weigh those advantages against the opportunity costs of time spent on law review.
Third, serving on an articles or notes committee may furnish an opportunity for engaging with contemporary legal scholarship and evaluating what works and what does not. This can furnish helpful insights for your own scholarship. Again, however, one would want to weigh these advantages against the opportunity costs of time spent on law review.
The law school faculty is the single most important resource for any student contemplating an academic career. Here, Stanford’s advantage over most peer schools is significant. The small size of the school, the high faculty-student ratio and the accessibility of the faculty make it very easy for students to get faculty assistance on research projects as well as more informal mentoring throughout their three years at the law school. Once you are ready to go on the market, the professors whom you have gotten to know can help enormously in the job search. While most law firms and other private-sector employers never contact faculty for references, the situation is very different for aspiring academics. A strong recommendation from one or more faculty members at Stanford can help you get your foot in the door at many schools, and will often be critical in the ultimate hiring decision. In this respect, law school hiring increasingly resembles hiring in Arts and Sciences departments, where one’s thesis advisor and dissertation committee are crucial intermediaries on the job market.
The simplest way to get to know a professor is to seek him or her out during office hours. For those who would prefer to get to know faculty in more structured situations, there are a host of opportunities to take seminars or paper-writing courses, which will allow professors to get to know you and your work.
Working as a research assistant may also be a good way to establish a solid relationship with a professor. You can do this either during the summer or during the academic year. A summer job as a research assistant may pay less than other opportunities you have, but you may find that the job is a valuable investment in your future. Most professors hire their research assistants on an ad hoc basis. Professors typically hire in the spring quarter for their summer R.A.s, and hire during the beginning of the fall quarter for the rest of the academic year. The best way to find a job as an R.A. is to approach a professor you are interested in working with, or check the Weekly Brief posted by the Office of Student Affairs.
Finally, when you have a paper topic in mind (whether for a course or independent research credit) you should seek out the advice of professors who teach and write in the area. Their input can be invaluable, particularly at the early stages of a project, and enlisting their help may enable them to speak knowledgably about you as scholar down the road.
Should you pursue a joint degree?
There is no simple answer to this question. It depends upon a number of factors, including your areas of scholarly interest, the methodological approach you expect to take, your academic background and relevant skills coming into law school, and whether you are willing and able to devote the extra time to a second degree.
Although PhDs are increasingly valued on the market (the higher the law school’s rank, generally the more value placed on them), they are by no means necessary, and their instrumental value varies widely depending upon your areas of scholarly interest. If you are in doubt about what makes sense for you, we encourage you to talk the matter over with relevant faculty members (the teaching placement committee, scholars in your areas of interest) either before you start law school or once you are here.
If you decide to pursue a joint degree, there is simply no better place in the country to do it than Stanford. Stanford’s joint degree programs are very generous, judged both in tuition forgiveness and minimizing time to complete both degrees.
We currently have 27 formal programs established with other Stanford schools or departments and will work with students to design a tailor-made program if none of the already existing ones fits the bill.
How much do law school grades matter?
Of all the traditional criteria for hiring, grades probably continue to have the most significance at the entry level. But—at least for Stanford graduates—they matter much less than they used to, and much less than most prospective applicants think they do. In general, law schools will be nervous about people who didn’t graduate in the top third of the class. But even that will not be fatal if other things in your record (writing, references, job talk, interviews) give them confidence that you are smart and will be able to command the respect of your students in conventional law courses. For graduates with a Ph.D. in an allied field, law school grades seem to have even less significance than for other applicants.
Once you land your first teaching job, your academic record as a law student will become largely irrelevant. What matters in moving laterally is the quality of your writing, teaching, etc.
You can also get some teaching experience under your belt as a law student by working as a teaching assistant for undergraduate courses or for some law school courses.
If the teaching opportunities open to you will give you a chance to demonstrate your teaching skills and be evaluated on them by students and you do a bang-up job, that will be a mild plus with elite schools, and can help to counteract concerns about teaching that are generated by a less than stellar job talk. But teaching experience will not count for a lot, as compared to your scholarly and academic record. At less elite schools, in contrast, a successful teaching record may well count for more, particularly if it demonstrates your competence in core areas of the curriculum.
Even if a teaching assistantship does not help you gain credibility with a hiring committee, you may find it useful in figuring out whether you like teaching and whether you are good at it. In addition, your first experience teaching in an academic position will be less daunting if you do have some prior teaching experience.
If you want to opt to teach while in law school, the Center for Teaching and Learning on campus can furnish valuable resources. Please see http://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/ta-support/grad-teaching-stanford
We strongly encourage you to seek out opportunities to give academic presentations of works-in-progress while you are in law school or subsequently. There are a number of conferences, such as Law and Society, Law, Culture, and the Humanities, American Society for Legal History, and the Conference on Empirical Legal Studies, that accept student presenters. You can also ask faculty mentors to keep you apprised of smaller conferences and workshops in specialty areas.
Law school classes can furnish more local opportunities for presentation. The Legal Studies Workshop is designed around the distribution, presentation, and discussion of student works in progress; students can currently enroll for an open number of quarters as long as they agree to share a piece at some point during their time in the Workshop. A number of other seminars or informal student/faculty gatherings allow students to present their work as well.
Other workshops at Stanford outside SLS may permit graduate student presentations and are worth attending to learn about related areas of scholarship. These include the Political Theory Workshop, Ethics and Politics, Ancient and Modern Workshop, the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law Seminar, and various workshops at the Stanford Humanities Center.
Presenting your ideas in all of these settings will give you valuable experience before you go on the job market. In addition, speaking at academic conferences will allow you to meet other academics and to get your name circulated before you are officially a job candidate. Presenting in your law school classes will give your professors an opportunity to vouch for your teaching skills first-hand. Finally, presenting your work to others is an important part of an academic’s life, and being able to list such presentations on your CV signals to committees that you understand this, and are eager to participate in that part of the job.