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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Reflections on Doing an LRW Fellowship

This blog has many readers who are on the meat market.  One path to law teaching careers is through an LRW teaching fellowship—Stanford’s program, the Climenko, the Bigelow, etc.  This is the path I took, and if you are on the cusp of a law teaching career, but not quite ready, you might consider it.

It has been done before, but I thought I would offer some pros and cons of such programs.

Cons

•    It can be very difficult to produce scholarship while teaching lrw.  It is likely your first time teaching, and teaching LRW in particular is time-intensive as it requires you to constantly read your students’ work and give meaningful oral and written feedback;
•    Depending on the school, LRW instructors may not get much love from the doctrinal faculty, and your status may be low;
•    You may not have the opportunity to develop mentorship relationships with the faculty at the school;
•    Students may resent you for the amount of work you give them and any negative feedback that you might have to give them;
•    The pay isn’t great;
•    Teaching LRW is probably not what you really want to do.

Pros

•    If you work really hard, you may well be able to produce scholarship (I and all of my colleagues in Stanford’s program were able to do so);
•    Attending faculty workshops, symposia, and job talks will help you understand what makes for a good job talk;
•    You learn a lot about teaching;
•   If you are persistent and your timing is good, you may find some generous faculty members who will advise you, discuss your scholarship, and mentor you (as I did);
•    If you are lucky (as I was), you will have amazing and generous colleagues;
•   Teaching LRW can be incredibly rewarding, as it allows you to forge relationships with students, help them, and learn from them;
•    It can plug you into the law teaching network in a variety of ways (conferences, symposia, old-fashioned networking, etc);
•   It helps you on the tenure-track market because it demonstrates your seriousness about your aspirations, allows you to talk seriously about teaching, gives you time to find your voice and agenda as a scholar, and helps you adopt the persona of a law professor.

For me, despite the occasional complaining, the fellowship at Stanford was more than worth it.  On a purely functional account, it set me up very well for the teaching market.  On every metric, I did far better my second time on the market than I did the first (before the fellowship). 

Wholly apart from that, though, it was just a wonderful experience. I learned a lot about myself, mostly enjoyed the work, enjoyed working with students, and had great colleagues.  Not bad, as far as jobs go.

As I have indicated, I’m not convinced that the fellowship model is the best for LRW teaching, but that’s got very little to do with whether applying for such a position is the best idea for you.

Posted by Hillel Levin on October 23, 2008 at 04:39 PM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market, Hillel Levin, Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink

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Comments

I agree with Hillel. In fact, my time as an LRW instructor was the most formative time for me as a law teacher. Teaching a 'skill' is far more difficult, I would argue, than teaching 'doctrine' or 'theory.' By skill, I mean the skills of writing and written legal analysis, as well as oral argument. One learns only by doing, and that takes active involvement and, as Hillel mentioned, seemingly endless reviews of draft documents for students. However, one learns how to write, one learns how to explain, one learns how to juggle scholarship and teaching.

Frankly, teaching writing is a far more sensitive, controversial fence-balance than teaching even the most controversial, juicy doctrinal class (like the law and policy of sex, or something). People guard their writing with an intensely personal nature, and take immediate offence to any challenges to their skills. Criticizing one's writing is like looking in someone's underwear drawer without asking. Enter at one's own risk. And LRW instructors do that daily (criticize writing, not look in underwear drawers).

For me, teaching LRW was a remarkable experience, mostly because I was assisted by some very skilled and seasoned career LRW instructors. They taught me how to teach.

I think it also teaches one how to give constructive, positive feedback, with reasons (who would have thought?). Even simple process issues, like handing in assignments, and grading, are heightened experiences in the LRW classroom as opposed to other law subjects. Everything seems like a big deal. And it is. But it's wonderful.

Doing an LRW fellowship will teach you how to teach - the hard way. By doing it. You can't run behind theory, fancy pedigrees, your publications, or your work/clerkship experiences. If your students don't "get it," the target becomes you, not "the material." What a humbling yet fascinating opportunity.

Doing an LRW fellowship will also teach you how to juggle your scholarship and teaching time. It will make you a better writer by having to articulate why certain writing is 'better' than other writing.

Hillel is right that perhaps there may be a tradition at some institutions of doctrinal faculty seeing the LRW faculty as separate. But perhaps by making a point to include one's self in the academic life of the institution by going to talks, reading others' work, taking an interest in other colleagues, and just showing up to events, will overcome this.

I could not be more grateful for my LRW experience - and I have the wonderful LRW colleagues I had to thank for grounding me in how to teach "how to be a lawyer - where the rubber hits the road."

Consider it as a possible stepping stone to academia - it's truly a wonderful trip!

ESK

Posted by: Erik S. Knutsen | Oct 23, 2008 5:22:38 PM

I'm loathe to do anything other than heartily agree with anyone who says over and over again that I'm right, but I just want to add a cautionary note to Erik's comment.

Teaching LRW can be a great experience (it was for me), but it really isn't for everyone. Be honest with yourself, above all.

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Oct 23, 2008 5:28:18 PM

Yes - if your heart really isn't in it, even if you view it as a helpful training-ground for some aspects of academia, then your students will smell that a mile away. I suspect Hillel and I had good experiences because we were fairly well-supported by the faculties we were in. Best to check things out first and really ask yourself - can I teach legal writing for a year of my life and enjoy sharing some aspects of this wonderful legal profession - or would I find some aspects of it as an insurmountable hurdle unto itself?

I echo the sentiment - teaching LRW isn't for everyone.

ESK

Posted by: Erik S. Knutsen | Oct 23, 2008 9:00:35 PM

Erik,

"Criticizing one's writing is like looking in someone's underwear drawer without asking."

I guess what worries me (most) about the analogy is the qualification that you saw fit to add at the end, viz., "without asking". In case I ever get my act together and have you and your wife over for dinner, I'd just like to clear this up here and now: the answer is no.

MGP

Posted by: Michael G Pratt | Oct 23, 2008 11:36:14 PM

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