Law Teaching Careers–PART I

I find it interesting how many people are interested in law teaching as a career, and how many law professors have espoused their views on this subject. I have contributed to this discussion in part with some thoughts already.

With some trepidation, I am going to say more about this subject. I am prompted to do so by an email interview I had for a story. I was asked five pointed questions that inspired me to put together some of my thoughts. A lot of this rehashes what others have said, but I do have some new perspectives to add (and, for those of you who are researching this issue from scratch, this will provide a basic overview as well). I will serialize my response over this week, starting today with the first question.

1) What are the pros and cons of becoming a law professor?

The pros of a law professor job

* I help students accomplish their goals

* I work with interesting colleagues

* I can set my own agenda. I have a lot of flexibility to choose how to allocate my time. If I want to take on a project, I can. If I’m not interested, I don’t. If I want to delay some extra efforts because of other priorities (like a new child), I can lighten my workload substantially without needing anyone’s permission (although I can’t do this forever if I want to get tenure!).

* The things I work on are the things I did with my free time when I was in practice. In other words, my job now is what I used to consider my hobbies.

* I get the opportunity to say what’s on my mind. I don’t have to hold back for fear of alienating a client or my employer. Occasionally, people are even interested in what I have to say!

The cons

* I earn a lot less than I would in practice

* Getting a job is difficult, and it requires flexibility (for example, in my case, I had to move from California to the Midwest)

* There are relatively few clear metrics for measuring my success. In a law firm, associates are measured by billable hours and performance reviews. In a corporate environment, success is measured by profit. In the academic world, there are many possible dimensions to measure success. Thus, there’s no natural boundary on when I’ve done “enough”–there is always something more to do, usually very interesting, and thus it is easy to take on too much.

* The job is not as much of a “lifestyle” job as people normally assume. To be an excellent teacher, scholar and community member takes a lot of time. I do get the summers and holidays “off,” but I need to work on grading exams, preparing for the next semester, and writing papers. Some might complain that they get paid a 10 month salary for a 12 month job.

More on this topic tomorrow.