Still Publish or Perish

By Powell, Tracie | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, November 30, 2006 | Go to article overview

Still Publish or Perish


Powell, Tracie, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Laws schools increasingly choose scholarship over practical experience when identifying instructors.

When Beverly Moran decided to stop practicing tax law and start teaching, law schools were looking for job candidates just like her - people who had more than two years of legal experience, she says.

"People now take a very different route from the one that I took," says Moran, who left an established practice in 1987 to enter the academic world and is now a professor of law at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. "Academics is now weighed much more heavily than practical experience."

While law schools generally look to grades and total experience when hiring instructors, the new trend is for job candidates to have an additional advanced degree in a field other than law, and schools hold in even higher esteem job seekers who have already produced scholarly work, according to Moran and faculty members responsible for hiring law school instructors.

An increasing number of newly hired law instructors teach without ever having stepped into a courtroom.

Writing and successfully publishing legal scholarship is increasingly a better indicator of how well job candidates can teach law, as opposed to how well candidates can practice law, say legal scholars.

"We're not in the law practice business, we're in the business of scholarship," says Jon Weinberg, a law professor and chairman of the Faculty Appointments Committee at Wayne State University in Michigan.

While Wayne State still considers traditional experience, Weinberg says, "More and more, we look for job candidates who have a juris doctorate with an additional degree in something else, like sociology, history, economics, finance or business administration." He added: "People who know something in another field can make significant contributions to legal scholarship. We want them to know something about the area in which they want to teach, but being a great litigator or some other kind of practitioner does not translate to being a great law professor."

More important than an additional degree, job candidates need to be able to demonstrate that they can write and publish scholarly work.

"If you want to teach law, one of the things you're going to need to be is someone who is really driven to publish," Weinberg says. "A person who has spent 20 years in practice and has a sterling record as a litigator, but who has never tried to do any publishing, is a person I'm probably not going to hire because that's a person who isn't driven to do scholarship. …

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