Teaching the teachers
Post Date: April 2006
New HLS programs prepare students and alums to jump academia’s hurdles
The following article was published in the April issue of Harvard Law Today.
by Seth Stern '01
Harvard law students and recent graduates thinking about careers in academia now have more opportunities to prepare for that path.
For the first time, a dozen students will spend this summer as on-campus academic fellows sharpening their legal writing skills.
The school will also host a one-day session in May for alumni thinking about working in academia. Led by Professor Jack Goldsmith, the program will cover topics such as academic writing, selecting a field of scholarship and the importance of recommendations.
During the school year, students are reading and debating legal scholarship with faculty during small, for-credit workshops on subjects including public and international law. Goldsmith is also hosting sessions during the school year for students thinking about an academic career.
“The new efforts are designed to make it possible for those people who want to go into teaching to be prepared and know the possibilities,” he said.
Of course, the school’s graduates don’t exactly have a hard time in the academic job market: HLS already produces the largest number of professors of any single law school, according to the Association of American Law Schools.
But the new initiatives are aimed at helping aspiring professors adjust to changes in the job market. Top grades, clerkships, glowing recommendations and a few years at a prestigious law firm are no longer enough, says Bill Burke-White ’02, who became an assistant professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania in 2005.
Applicants for entry-level positions say they are expected to have significant writing experience, and an increasing proportion are also earning Ph.D. in fields such as economics or history.
As a result, would-be law professors need to plan for academic careers earlier. The new workshops, information sessions and summer writing opportunities are designed to get students focused on teaching long before they graduate.
“You have to start preparing early,” said Burke-White. “It doesn’t have to be day one, but you have to get to know faculty. And you need to write because the first job at a firm doesn’t provide the time.”
Matthew Stephenson ’03, who became an assistant professor at HLS in 2004, agrees. “The most important thing to do in law school [is getting] the opportunity to write in one form or another,” he said.
Waiting until after graduation isn’t too late, but aspiring professors often have difficulty focusing on intensive research and writing.
Erin Murphy ’99, now an acting professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, worked on her law review article between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., after a full day as a public defender in Washington, D.C. “I felt a lot of pressure,” she said. “It was hard to keep my academic voice going at the same time I was keeping my advocate’s voice going.”
The dozen students who stay on campus this summer as fellows will have the chance to work on their writing under less stressful conditions.
The summer fellowships will also help students with another key to success in the academic job market: developing relationships with professors who can serve as mentors, recommenders and editors of academic articles.
Granted, not all law professors plotted their career tracks during law school. Another program, the Climenko Fellowship, is aimed at those who have already graduated from law school. It focuses on legal scholars preparing for the academic market and offers participants a two-year fellowship during which they can work on their scholarship, teach research and writing to 1Ls and sometimes even lead upper-level seminars. ø
Promising Scholarship and a Good Law School Record are important prerequisites to becoming a law professor, but there is no single path into the career. Just look at the divergent routes taken by these four recent graduates
Bill Burke-White ’02, now an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, earned a Ph.D. in international relations at Oxford. He served as a special assistant to former HLS professor Anne-Marie Slaughter ’85 when she took over as the dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Matthew Stephenson ’03 earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard and then clerked for D.C. Circuit Court Judge Stephen Williams ’61 and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy ’61 before becoming an assistant professor at HLS in 2004.