Frequently Asked Questions
What will Columbia do for me before I'm ready to go on the law teaching market?
Each spring, we offer an open weekly lunchtime session for current students in your position, as well as those who are not sure whether a career in law teaching is for them. A different faculty member conducts each session, providing advice and answering questions on a variety of subjects. More broadly, the faculty commitment to individual mentoring of students provides opportunities to develop as a beginning scholar. In concrete terms, funds are available for graduates and, in rare instances, current students who need time to write a law review-length article in preparation for the teaching market.
Do I have to qualify for the Program on Careers in Law Teaching?
No, we do not believe it is our role to identify prospective law faculty at the beginning of the law school experience. Rather, the diverse experiences of our alumni in law teaching and our own faculty suggest that it is nearly impossible to predict in advance the people who are interested and likely to be successful in legal academia. Anyone who is admitted to Columbia Law School as a student has the potential to be a law professor. The purpose of this program is to assist those who are interested in that career path or think that they might be interested in it some day.
Does Columbia have a course and/or seminar in legal scholarship?
Yes. Although it is not offered each year, we offer a seminar on legal scholarship. It is open to Associates in Law, second- and third-year J.D. students, and LL.M. students. The faculty committee that oversees the Program on Careers in Law Teaching also urges students to hone their research and writing skills in seminars and to work on other projects in subject matter areas that interest them. Students interested in the possibility of a career in law teaching should also view the Major Writing Credit requirement as an opportunity to receive training in producing legal scholarship from Columbia faculty.
Do legal research and writing positions provide a useful entry to teaching?
It depends. Teaching legal writing and research, in and of itself, has little to commend it as an entré to law school teaching unless that is the subject you wish to teach. A number of schools do have permanent legal writing and research faculty, some tenure-track. A few schools have programs, like Columbia’s Associates in Law program, that are specifically structured to appeal to and assist young scholars who aspire to an academic career, but do not yet have the portfolio of writings (and, perhaps, mentors) that will contribute most to their likelihood of success. Recent Associates now teach at American, Buffalo, Cornell, St. Louis, Washington & Lee, and other American law schools, as well as at leading schools in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The program is designed to provide time and support for writing and learning about teaching, and faculty works hard to assure associates’ successful placement. The Bigelow program at the University of Chicago is among those offering similar support.
How about adjunct teaching?
In general, adjunct teaching is not a good way to break into the legal academy, although it can help you learn whether teaching will be a source of gratification for you. Few faculties monitor their adjunct teachers closely, or regard them as a source of future full-time colleagues; adjunct teaching at another school will be of minor interest to a faculty you are applying to, save possibly as a source of teaching evaluations.
How can I produce a substantial scholarly article while working full time?
This is undoubtedly a real challenge, and there are no easy approaches. You might want to consider a fellowship. Some prospective law professors enroll in J.S.D. programs that require a measure of teaching in exchange for a stipend and time to write with input from faculty members. However, the competition for these positions is stiff, and the opportunity cost of roughly two years is high. If you have the self-discipline and an accommodating employer, you may do better to give yourself a “fellowship,” i.e., to take off roughly three months from work to write an article. If you plan to do something like this, you should develop the idea and do some preliminary research before your leave of absence begins. If this course is not feasible, you may have to write during weekends and evenings, notwithstanding your day job and family obligations. Setting a realistic timetable is essential. The sort of work that a fulltime academic could produce in less than a semester may take an aspiring academic a year or two. But given that your writing will play a major role in whether you land a teaching job, you should take the time necessary to produce a paper or papers that showcase your abilities.