Becoming a Law Professor: A Guide for Black Applicants

becoming a law professor


If you’re a lawyer, you’ve clearly met a few law professors.  You may have even considered becoming a professor yourself.  Nevertheless, you may not know how or where to begin the process of becoming a law professor.  This entry will provide some direction.  It will provide valuable tips for African-American applicants as they navigate the process of becoming a law professor.


Why You Should Apply

Researchers recently found that African American K-12 students excel in classrooms lead by teachers of color.  Surprisingly, the same holds true for law school students.   A 2016 study reported that Black law school students in classes taught by white professors fared far worse than Black students in students taught by professors of color.  Clearly, African American professors make a difference in the classroom.

Despite the need for law professors of color, law schools continue to struggle with faculty diversity.  While accurate data are hard to come by, the most reliable available information indicates that more than 75 percent of American law professors are white.  By some reports, only six percent of all professors are Black.  If you are on the fence about applying, hopefully these statistics will give you something to consider.


Yes, YOU Should Apply

Some potential candidates will avoid applying for law school positions because they don’t think they are qualified.  (This is particularly true for people of color.)  Most people think that legal academia is limited to those who earned top grades and served as law review editors at top-ranked schools.  While it is certainly true that some law schools want elite credentials, what a given law school wants will vary depending on the position.  Moreover, there are ways for those who were not stellar students to enter academia.  So, don’t talk yourself out of the position before you’ve applied.

One quick note:  There is one group who should not try to enter the professoriate.  People who want to be law professors to “get the summers off” should not apply!   Law professors must complete many projects over the summer months, including writing law review articles, preparing lesson plans, and planning law school events.  So, if your motivation for applying is more free time, you may want to rethink your plans.


Where to Start the Process of Becoming a Law Professor

The classical route to becoming a law professor is for those who were standouts in law school and entered prestige jobs after graduation.  These applicants are likely looking for doctrinal (Torts, Civ Pro, etc.) positions.  If you want to follow this route, you will want to make sure you publish a law review article.

Increasingly, law schools are realizing that not all candidates enter the job market with stellar credentials and published papers.  As a result, law schools created Visiting Assistant Professor (VAP) programs.  In these programs, promising candidates are hired and then given the opportunity to write and teach while being paid a stipend.  Some of programs are geared toward recent graduates, but others will take applicants who have been out of law school for some time.  Most recent academic hires have completed a fellowship, so serious applicants should consider these positions as well.

Though the classical route is the most popular, there are other ways.  Some people enter academia as visitors or adjuncts. In these positions, aspiring candidates get the opportunity to impress the faculty.  Others enter academia after working in law school administration.  There are a variety of ways to create opportunities.


Where to Find Law School Jobs

The easiest and most popular way to find law professor jobs is to register with the American Association of Law Schools (AALS).  The AALS runs the annual Faculty Recruitment Conference (FRC).  The FRC is held each fall in Washington, D.C.  Representatives from law schools across the nation attend the conference to interview applicants.  Successful candidates are flown back to campus for a second interview.

In preparation for the FRC, applicants should register with the AALS.  For a fee, the AALS will place your resume in a database so schools can contact you.  You will also be sent bulletins with job listings so you can reach out to law schools directly.  Interviews will take place in 30-minute slots during the three-day conference.  Luckily, the Section on Minority Law Professors and the Section on Women in Legal Education host events to help candidates navigate the conference.

Many applicants prefer the AALS route because it allows them to reach the maximum number of employers in the least amount of time.  However, there are other methods.  Some applicants apply to each school directly.  This approach works best when your job search is limited to one city or state.  Academic websites such as The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, and HigherEdJobs.Com post law school jobs as well.  Networking with your former professors is also a good way to learn about positions.  There are legal blogs that regularly post positions.  Once you make a list of desirable schools, research them regularly and speak to your contacts about them to find out about any openings.


Teaching the next generation of lawyers can be quite rewarding.  For more tips on becoming a law professor, follow The African American Attorney Network.  The Network will continue to provide career advice and a place for African American attorneys to connect.