Thursday, March 04, 2010
Advice for Foreigners in the U.S. Law School Market: Part III
Here are a few things to consider if you're thinking of a position at a U.S. law school:
Get a U.S. degree. Aim for a JSD rather than an LLM if possible (an LLM is regarded by some institutions as a degree aimed for foreign attorneys, rather than a milestone in an academic career). You might even consider getting a JD, which has the added benefit of being the optimal preparation for state bar exams, but that might be too expensive and too much of an investment, as well as a déjà vu of sorts if you already have a law degree. The value of an American degree is enormous. First, it is a signifier that employers easily recognize. It boosts up your foreign credentials and gives you local cred. Second, it indicates that you've taken classes in an American setting and are familiar with how things work here. Third, it's an opportunity to----
Networknetworknetwork. American scholars' reviews of your articles will mean more than obscure letters from people you respect very much, but whom no one at your prospective job knows. Meet people, exchange drafts, coauthor articles. This is a fantastic way to get acquainted with American law and American scholarship.
If you don't have a U.S. degree, and are coming in for a postdoc, try to include teaching in the package. The risk of being a postdoc is sitting in a room, working on your own research, and being isolated from everyone else on campus. Give a talk, or three, or better still, teach a class and accumulate U.S. teaching evals that can boost your application package. This way, when people ask you "how will you manage teaching a course on American law?" You'll be able to answer, "I already did."
Turn your weaknesses into strengths. Your external perspective on legal provisions that everyone else takes for granted (such as, to use a familiar example, the exclusionary rule) allows you to examine legal issues with fresh eyes, and may help your American students to rethink and question established dogma. That is a huge strength in an educator.
Publish in U.S. periodicals. self explanatory.
Do your best to sort out your paperwork mess. Have you taken a Fulbright grant that requires two years in your home country? That might be somewhat of a difficulty coming back in. It is increasingly difficult to obtain H1-B visas, O visas, and merit-based green cards. Think of the process, and if necessary, seek legal advice. Getting in trouble with Homeland Security or USCIS is a bad idea, and stressing over this will not help your application process.
Bon Chance! Viel Glück! Buona fortuna! hǎo yùn! Bettawfeeq! Behatzlakha! Good luck!
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Hadar, I'm jumping in late with comments but wanted to thank you for these truly informative - and, to my mind (as someone who has foreign law degrees but was fortunate enough to land a US law teaching job), spot on. I've certainly found some of what you said to be true in my case, and now that I'm on "the other side", so to speak, have not seen anything to contradict my own limited observations and experience. So, to those foreign scholars and academics out there who are wondering what best to do, I say follow Hadar's advice!
Posted by: Mary Wong | Mar 17, 2010 2:08:25 PM
How valuable is a clerkship at a State Supreme (highest) Court for entering the legal academia outside that particular state? There are many restrictions regarding federal employment of non-citizens/permanent residents, so as a foreigner it is quite impossible to land a federal clerkship.
Posted by: Foreign Attorney | Jun 16, 2010 12:28:26 AM
That's a great question. U.S. citizens who teach in law schools should correct me if I'm wrong, but just from looking at my colleagues' bios, a clerkship, including one in a State Supreme Court, even from a different state, seems to be an important feature in the traditional law professor CV. Now that there are some of us running around with PhDs and interdisciplinary training, and others with extensive practice experience (especially in business law), there are more models of success in this profession.
My two cents: If, as a foreign attorney, you are able to get a state clerkship in a Supreme Court, by all means go for it! Not only will it be a terrific experience, and teach you a lot about how the system works from the inside, it will also be a strong symbol of your Americanization to U.S. employers. It would also make you rather unique, because I don't think there are a lot of foreigners in this market with comparable experience.
The one thing to keep in mind, though, is that while a State Supreme Court experience is always considered valuable, in some law schools that cater more to the local legal community, their own state's court will be a lot more important than another state's court.
Posted by: Hadar Aviram | Jun 16, 2010 9:57:20 AM
I know at least one foreign attorney (not a permanent US resident at that time) who clerked on the seventh circuit; he is now on the faculty at San Diego. Apparently, it's possible.
Posted by: anon | Jun 16, 2010 11:27:08 AM
Thank you very for your comments! I already have completed the clerkship (several years) and I opted to pursue a PhD in law in Europe (at a good university). I opted for the European PhD because I thought it is more structured than the US JSD/SJD and would also provide me with an opportunity to get a teaching portfolio.
I obtained my basic law degree (LLB) in my home country (different from where I am enrolled in my PhD) and an LLM from a midlevel US law school. I am licensed to practice in both my home country and a US state.
Considering these credentials, what chances do you think I have to enter the US academia? Do you think I should go on the job market right after finishing my PhD or should I try to get a VAP first?
Posted by: Foreign Attorney | Jun 16, 2010 12:02:35 PM
I'm really no expert, but it seems to me like you're doing everything you can possibly do to make it happen. Add to the mix a few publications, some of these in U.S. law reviews, and you're very well positioned to hop over the "foreigner barrier." Best of luck!
Posted by: Hadar Aviram | Jun 16, 2010 1:05:45 PM
Thank you very much! I really appreciate your opinion and advice! Incidentally, I believe I was one of the "Freedonia" attorneys whose inquiries (some years back) prompted Prof. Wendel to make the comments you mentioned. I tried to follow his advice and build a resume that is somewhat closer to the classical path, as much as possible under the circumstances.
Posted by: Foreign Attorney | Jun 16, 2010 1:48:41 PM