Teaching Lessons, continued
Professors as Mentors
Each student generally follows a set of basic steps to prepare for the teaching market. At the core of the process is the mentoring role of faculty, who guide students in focusing their research, writing, and publishing, and in interviewing at law schools.
"I advise students to take the conventional route," said Slaughter. "I tell them to get the best grades they possibly can, get on the Law Review, and try to clerk for the Supreme Court. This is still the safest route to teaching, although by no means does it guarantee a job. I also say that if that doesn't work, don't give up. Come back and see me and we'll design a less traditional way."
Warren says that students need to work as closely as possible with as many different professors as they can. "We're here to help," she said.
According to recent HLS graduates who are now teaching, that faculty guidance was crucial to their surviving the challenges of scholarly work.
"The mentoring role was very important, and Harvard had that for me," said John Pottow '97, who spent much of last fall and winter on the teaching market. In March he accepted an appointment at the University of Michigan Law School, where he will teach Bankruptcy and Commercial Law, Civil Procedure, and Contracts.
In his first year at HLS, Pottow took Civil Procedure with Professor Arthur Miller '58 and became so enthralled that he stayed on to work for Miller that summer. "Once you meet faculty members on a more individual level like that, it really starts you in the academic process," he said.
Pottow also praises Professors Elizabeth Warren, Mary Ann Glendon, Daniel Meltzer '75, Richard Fallon Jr., and Andrew Kaufman '54 for their help with recommendations and references, and the opportunities they gave him in research and scholarship.
For Sharon Dolovich '98, connecting with HLS faculty while she was a Liberal Arts Fellow a year before she started the J.D. program made all the difference in the way she approached her professors when she was a law student.
"As a law student, I was lucky to get to know several professors--Martha Minow, Carol Steiker '86, Jerry Frug '63, David Wilkins '80, David Charny '82, Richard Fallon--who were all very generous to me," she said. Dolovich has been teaching Ethics of the Legal Profession, and Prison Law at UCLA School of Law for the last two years. "When I was on the job market, they helped me by mooting my job talk, reading my papers, and giving me fantastic comments. I could never thank them enough."
While the majority of aspiring law professors do write for the Harvard Law Review and spend some time clerking and practicing, many students come to teaching by more unconventional means.
Spencer Overton '93 decided to pursue an academic career after clerking, practicing for four years, and giving local politics a try.
"I really enjoy wrestling with tough legal issues and writing about them," said Overton. "Once I realized that politics was not compatible with my personality--because there was no writing and too little intellectual honesty--I looked into teaching." He says he contacted one of his former professors, Frank Michelman '60, who encouraged him to apply for a fellowship at HLS.
Overton says he spent the fellowship year learning how to be a scholar and working closely with Michelman and other faculty members. "It was a very valuable experience," said Overton, who has been teaching Property, Voting Rights, and Legislation at University of California- Davis School of Law since the fall of 2000.
The invitation to be a partner in his law firm prompted S.J.D. candidate Doug Harris to pursue a teaching career. "It was a watershed moment," said Harris, a native of Toronto, who had practiced corporate law at a Toronto firm for seven years. "I had always thought I'd teach, so I took stock and realized it was now or never."
Coming to Harvard, says Harris, was an "acid test" that helped him realize the academic environment is where he belongs. He has worked closely with Professor John Coates, who shares his interest in corporate law. "I took his Corporations course not only to learn about U.S. corporate law, but also to learn how to teach it," said Harris. "I was fortunate because he's a wonderful teacher. He brings to bear what I hope to bring to my class: a combination of academic rigor and real-world experience."
Harris has accepted an appointment at the University of Toronto Law School, where he earned his J.D. He will begin teaching his first course, Advising a New Economy Business, this fall.
Now that he's been teaching for a while, Doug Kysar says he can see why his HLS professors were such enthusiastic mentors and role models.
"To watch first-year students, in the space of a semester, become 75 percent lawyer is truly extraordinary," said Kysar. "The whole way in which they reason and argue is altered dramatically. To have a role in bringing about that transformation, to me, is an awesome gift and responsibility."
Margie Kelley is a freelance writer from Quincy, Mass.
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