Teaching Lessons

Guided by their professors, students find HLS a training ground for academic careers

[Summer 2002]

Doug Kysar '98 arrived at Harvard Law School in 1995 fully expecting to become a practicing attorney. But, in a sense, the law school talked him out of it. An unexpected chance to be a teaching assistant gave Kysar a taste of the academic life, and he had an epiphany: Practicing law was no longer enough. Kysar had to teach it.

"I'd had academic ambitions before," he said. "But I knew the job prospects in most disciplines were dismal, so I hadn't considered it a viable career possibility."

That is, until he was "plucked out of the crowd" by his first-year Torts professor, Jon Hanson, to be his T.A. Hanson mentored him in teaching and research, and Kysar taught review sessions and full lessons for the class. He eventually coauthored several articles and a book chapter with Hanson. "It was a truly life-altering experience and made me realize this is my passion," he said.

Kysar credits several of his professors, among them Hanson and Christine Jolls '93, with helping him prepare for the academic job market. After clerking and then practicing briefly in Boston, Kysar accepted an appointment as an assistant professor at Cornell Law School in the spring of 2000. Since then, he has been teaching a course on professional responsibility, a seminar on consumerism, and a first-year Torts course.

"It is, emphatically, my dream job," he said.

Kysar's experience of Harvard Law School as a training ground for academics may have surprised him, but HLS is in fact the largest supplier of law teachers in the overall teaching market, according to Associate Dean for Research Howell Jackson '82. He found in a recent survey of alumni records that more than 1,300 HLS graduates are currently teaching law. In addition, of the 57 entry-level positions filled at the elite law schools of Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, and NYU since 1990, 22 have gone to grads from HLS--more than any other law school.

"I think some people see Harvard as a factory, just churning out corporate attorneys," said Jackson. "It's just not true. Harvard is a premier research university, and the law school produces a huge amount of top-flight scholarship. One of the ways we contribute to research is by training the next generation of law professors."

Students hoping to become law professors can take one of several avenues at HLS. If they've already completed a J.D. and have had some practical experience, they can enroll in the master's program (LL.M.) or the doctoral program (S.J.D.).

"The S.J.D. program is designed to prepare students to teach," said Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter '85, the Graduate Program director. "We have about 50 students at any one time. Most are foreign students who are going back to their own countries to teach, but a growing percentage are also going onto the American teaching market."

Every year, the S.J.D. program sponsors the Law Teaching Colloquium, a series of informal talks by faculty and guest speakers about the process of preparing for an academic career. Topics range from practical matters, including publishing and going on the job market, to theoretical issues such as a historical perspective on interdisciplinary legal scholarship given this year by Professor Duncan Kennedy.

Since an increasing number of J.D. candidates are also pursuing teaching, Jackson says HLS has been adding programs to help them prepare for academic careers.

In the new First-Year Lawyering Program, students learn legal writing and research skills along with practical lawyering skills. Those who wish to teach in the program must take the Introduction to Law Teaching course.

"They may not know it now, but a number of J.D. candidates will spend time teaching during their careers," said the program's director, Visiting Professor Michael Meltsner.

back to top

contents send feedback about this article

Contact: bulletin@law.harvard.edu - www.law.harvard.edu/alumni/bulletin - 617.495.3118
© 2002 The President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.