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The Hardest Legal Market of All: The Law Professor Track

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By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on November 20, 2013 6:02 AM

The past few years the entire legal market has been suffering, but a new study that will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, shows us that the hardest legal nut to crack may be that of law professor.

Granted, most people who attend law school don't want to go on to become law professors, but for those who do, the paper's findings are disturbing. Though well qualified, the most important factor in hiring will be the law school that the applicant herself graduated from.

Seventy-five percent of professor applicants, who were hired, graduated from a Tier 1 school -- that is, a "Top 50" school ranked by U.S. News & World Report, according to Inside Counsel. And, of that 75%, the majority graduated from three schools... can you guess? Harvard, Yale or Stanford.

That's not to say that it's impossible to get a professor job is you didn't go to a Tier 1 school, just almost impossible. If your heart is set on becoming a professor, then try to stick to this game plan.

1. Go to a Tier 1 School

The sentiment of the paper is clear: "One factor looms large after the initial screening interview stage: where the candidate attended law school." It makes sense that you should be at the top of your class if you want to be a law professor, but that may not be enough.

It may be more important to be at a Tier 1 school, even if you are at the bottom of your class there. In fact, many Tier 1 schools have done away with rankings so no one would know what your class standing was anyway. So, if you don't get into a Tier 1 school initially, consider transferring to a Tier 1 school if you can.

2. Journal Experience

Some may doubt the importance of journals in the legal industry at large, but when it comes to a future in academia, journal experience doesn't hurt. It's a resume enhancer, and a necessity if you're not at a Tier 1 school.

3. Clerk

Clerking, like journal experience, is one of those things that is a great learning experience, and something you normally see on the resume of someone pursuing legal academia. That said, it's not required, but necessary if you're not at a Tier 1 school.

4. Publish or Perish

This is the old saying for professors -- in, and out of, the legal industry. If you want to be a professor, you must publish. The thing is, this whole Tier 1 school thing not only affects whether you will become a professor, but what your career path will look like. The paper also reiterates that professors that teach at Tier 1 schools, are more likely to be published. And so the cycle continues ...

Wanting to become a law professor is a lofty, if not realistic, career goal. While not impossible, if you don't have the school, grades, experience of publications to take you to professor heights, your time may be better spent pursuing other legal goals. For those of you who fit the bill, then go for it, and best of luck.

Have dreams of becoming a law professor?  Let us know on LinkedIn.

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