Every law faculty member has, at one time or another, had to sit down with someone interested in the teaching market and explain the criteria used by most law schools in selecting faculty. Anyone who has participated in the appointments process at a law school knows that random factors always intervene. Moreover, since law schools only typically require a JD (and some not even that), every graduate meets this criteria. As a result, law schools have to use other factors to reduce down the pool of candidates.
In providing insight into this often Delphic process, the usual advice is likely to involved recommendations of a judicial clerkship, the publication of a law article (notes in law school for the most part do not count), and perhaps the teaching of a law class.
An empirical article about the market for law faculty titled The Labor Market for New Law Professors and written by two faculty members, Professors Tracey George at Vanderbilt Law School and Albert Yoon at the University of Toronto, provided some statistical analysis that may refine these answers. The piece examined the factors that went into obtaining a short interview at the AALS conference, a callback interview, and a final offer. The article used survey data from 2007-2008 and does not account for any shift in hiring market dynamics that have occurred since then. The article also relied on survey data that was supplemented by "limited biographical information" from other sources.
The article suggests that stage of career matters. The optimal time to apply for law teaching is within a decade of graduation. Judicial clerkships are a plus (not at the screening stage but at the job talk phase) as are published articles. Notably, as one might suspect, the type of teaching experience matters. Non-law teaching does not provide a plus in the hiring process. Moreover, while writing is a plus, the publication needs to be in a top 100 journal. See Id. ("A top-100 law journal continues to be an important plus: such candidates were 18-20% more likely to have job talks.").
As the article describes:
- Candidates who graduated within the last ten years were 30-37% more likely to receive an offer than those who graduated outside of this window. A judicial clerkship improves the probability of being hired by roughly 9-19% (the effect diminishes sharply once controls are added for rank of law school attended). Prior experience in law teaching increases the probability by 25-27%. (But non-law teaching experience does not improve one’s chances.) An article in a top-100 journal increases the probability by 18%-20%.
Other factors matter in an uneven way. Increasingly, candidates seem to come to the teaching market with JDs and PhDs. PhDs can help. As the article notes: "Non-law doctorates, regardless of subject, are statistically significantly related to the probability of being asked for a call-back".
With respect to hiring, however, a PhD affects placement. Those with PhDs "who were no more likely to be hired, but conditioned on being hired, more likely to end up at a Tier-1 law school". As the article concluded:
- This means that conditioned on being hired, applicants with a PhD are less than half as likely to end up at Tier-3 or Tier-4 schools as applicants without PhDs, but more than twice as likely to end up at a Tier-1 school. In other words, having a PhD may not affect one’s chances of getting a tenure-track job, but appears to have a significant and positive effect on placement.
Perhaps the most interesting factor is the importance of law school teaching or a fellowship position. The statistics showed that this group had a 34-35% greater likelihood of obtaining a job talk. See Id. ("The largest factor came from professional employment: respondents from a law school teaching or fellowship position were 34-35% more likely to have job talk offers than the baseline group. In pair-wise comparisons, they were also at least 25% more likely to have job talk offers than respondents from any other employment.").
There are any number of explanations for this "bump." One is that teaching at a law school provides an indicia of how the candidate will succeed at one of the major tasks on any law faculty. In short, the information to some degree reduces hiring risk. More likely, however, the fellowship programs often try to set themselves up as a feeder for teaching positions, likely obtaining higher quality candidates. To the extent this is true, the programs may provide assistance in the faculty job market, whether assistance in creating a strong record or in preparing for the rigors of the AALS interview process.
Finally, what everyone also knows, is that the law school attended matters. Id. ("As expected, Tier-1 graduates and law teaching fellows fared better than other applicants").
So the advice today? Mostly the same: clerk, publish (even if not in the top 100, its important to show a culture of writing), and teach, with the proviso that a fellowship program is a good idea if it has a strong record for faculty placement. Finally, if you want a top law school teaching post to an elite law school get a PhD.