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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

So you are a fellow, what exactly does that mean?"

This is the question I am invariably asked at parties, when people ask me what I do for a living.  My business card, which describes me as an "academic fellow" (presumably to distinguish from being a "jolly good one," though I like to think I am that as well!) also leaves people perplexed.  And let's not even start on my attempts to get my parents to accurately describe my affiliation with Harvard when "schlepping nachas" (lit. "carrying pride," a  form of ritualized bragging common among Jewish families) with their friends.

The short answer I usually give is that it is a kind of "post-doc without a doc," (I know, I know, there is a "doc" in "J.D.", but at least so far as the Department of Education is concerned, it is not the same).

The long answer is that it a transition point between practice or one's degree to a career teaching law at a law school.

The even longer answer, is that fellowships come in a number of different shapes and sizes.  In this post, after the jump, I thought it might be useful to lay out a rough taxonomy of the type of fellowship programs currently out there open to law graduates who want to teach law (I will invite Prawfblawg readers who hold or administer any of these kinds of fellowships to supplement or correct anything I say in the comments section.)  I will save a discussion of my specific fellowship, as well as the reasons to do (or not do) a fellowship for a future post.

Prof. Caron has helpfully compiled a listing of many of the fellowship opportunities at law schools.  I think it makes sense to divide fellowship opportunities into a few categories, or, in some cases, continuums.  I will not name all of the fellowships in all the categories, just some representative ones.  I should also be clear that here I am only talking about fellowships with a major focus on preparing individuals to be law profs.

(1) Clinical or Not?

Some fellowships have as a desired "next step"  a clinical faculty position.  Yale's Cover fellowship is one example.  I also know at least one person who went on to a clinical faculty position from Georgetown's legislative lawyering fellowship (although others go on to practice in that field).  Others focus on preparing non-clinical faculty.   Obviously there are trade-offs in being a clinical vs. non-clinical faculty, but I won't explore those here.

(2) Law-School Based or University-Based?

When most of us think about preparation for being a law prof, we think about working at a law school.  But, especially for dual-degree candidates, it may make sense to look at a fellowship elsewhere in a university.  So, for law & bioethics, a field that I know well, John Hopkins and Georgetown together offer the Greenwall fellowship , which is housed in Hopkins' Berman Institute, Philosophy Department, School of Medicine, and School of Public Health, and Georgetown's Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Philosophy and Law Center.  Harvard's Society of Fellows program is similar but with a generalist focus.

The major advantage of these university-wide fellowships is that they give one access to a much larger range of faculty and other fellows, at least as a formal matter.  I put in that caveat because, for example, although my fellowship is based at the law school we have very strong connections with the folks at Harvard's Medical and Public Health Schools (as well as health care economics types at the Economics Department, Government Department, and Kennedy School).  As a result, I spend on average 1 day a weekend at the Medical and Public Health schools.   On the flip-side, although a fellowship may be university-wide, an individual probably has to choose where to invest her time or risk becoming a "floater."  Given that a major benefit of the fellowship is attending law school faculty presentations, meeting law profs, and otherwise learning how to act like a law faculty member, it may be a problem if a particular university-based fellowship gives insufficient access to the law faculty.

(3) Residential or Non?

Some fellowships want you to be there full-time.  Others do not.  Some are in the middle, and I know several people doing legal-writing fellowships that have partners in other cities and are at their home institution only 3 to 4 days a week.  This is the kind of thing I think it makes sense to inquire about and negotiate after you have the offer but before you have accepted.  It might seem that a fellowship that has more flexibility in this regard will always dominate (putting aside Ulysses contract issues), but if you are the kind of person like me who thrives on having colleagues in close proximity to bounce ideas off, it may sometimes be a negative if they are not around a lot.

(4) Teaching Obligations or Not?

A number of schools have their fellows teach first year legal writing, including Harvard's Climenko, Chicago's Bigelow, Stanford's legal research and writing, and Columbia's Associates in Law fellowships.  At least Harvard's and Chicago's (I can't speak to the others) also gives fellows the option of teaching a seminar in the Spring of their 2nd year (once they've completed the job market).   Others programs, often called "Visiting Assistant Professor" (VAP) programs have fellows carrying teaching obligations more similar to (but less than) regular faculty members.  Northwestern  and Fordham's VAP programs and Texas' Emerging Scholars Program are on this model.

The trade-offs are largely between time for writing and the oppotunity to teach.  Writing a piece that is going to get you a good job is harder work than it might seem, and teaching obligations may pose a constant interruption.  On the other hand, too much time for writing may cause you to go stir crazy or be less productive than you might otherwise be.  Obviously, there are benefits to the opportunity to improve your teaching skills, especially if this is your first time teaching a class.  If you get to teach an upper year seminar or a 1L course that you would teach when you are full faculty, this also gives you an opportunity to develop a syllabus you like.  A lot seems to turn on how interested you are in what you are teaching, as well as how your students feel about the course in general.  My colleagues who teach legal writing seem to be split on whether it is a joy or a pain (it often depends at what point in the semester I ask them!)

(5) Specialist or Generalist?

Some fellowships, like my own in health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics, or the Berkman Center's cyberlaw fellowship have specific subject matter areas you are meant to work in.  Others, like the  legal writing and VAPs discussed above, as well as ones without teaching requirements such as Yale's Reubhausen and Ribicoff fellowship, do not.

If you want to teach in a specialized area, a fellowship like mine will enable you to really hone your skills.  Health law/bioethics/biotechnology, in my case, is such a wide field that I rarely feel limited in my subject matter areas, and there are so many different types of work and disciplines at play that this really made sense.  The trade-off is that you usually forego writing or other opportunities in your secondary areas (I have secondary interests in ADR, for example, that I am largely putting on the shelf during this time).

(6) Length and Pay.

Some fellowships like mine, the Climenko, the Bigelow, etc, are two years.  Others are a year (Stanford's is a year with the possibility of a second). Georgetown's Future Law Professor  fellowship is 18 months.  In my experience, unless you are ready to go on the market as soon as your fellowship starts, having a full year to ramp up, and then a full year of support while you are on the market, really is ideal.

Not to be venal, but many will take pay cuts in order to pursue these fellowships.   Especially for those with partners and/or children, the pay gradations can make a big difference.  My fellowship and the Climenko currently pays $60,000 which is fine to live on in Boston.  The Bigelow was paying less but may have adjusted to remain competitive.  Columbia reports that it pays "$42,000 stipend plus fringe benefits, including subsidized housing or housing location assistance, and a tuition exemption" for NYC.  Stanford's pays $45,000 the first year and $50,000 the second.

Obviously there is a lot more to say about the fellowship process and I hope to explore some of it in a future post.

Posted by Glenn Cohen on February 6, 2007 at 09:29 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Thanks Geoff, I'll have more to say on the subject of the pros and cons of fellowships in my next posting on the board, but the short answer is: It is working out great, and, perhaps more importantly, I don't think there is any way I could have been as ready as I am (though there are still distances to go) for the job market and being a law prof had I continued at my job at the Justice Department's Civil Division, Appellate Staff and done all this "on the side." I can only imagine the situation is worse still for those working large law firm hours, and I truly admire anyone who can pull off a successful entry into academia from that position. I'll have more to say about all this (as well as some assessment of the comparative advantages of more graduate work versus a fellowship) in my next post.

Posted by: Glenn Cohen | Feb 7, 2007 10:18:25 AM

Well, I can't comment on schlepping anything, nachas included, and though I'm tempted to post in Gaeilge (Irish), I'll hold off and just turn to the content of Glenn's posting. I'm laboring under the conception of the fellowship as a position given to highly promising (successful by law school's traditional markers) aspiring legal academics a) who are uninterested in a higher academic degree, b) who are uninterested in writing while practicing, and c) who are likely to produce high quality scholarship over the one or two year period they are fellows. Glenn, my question to you is: how's it working out--specifically in terms of your relationship with the broader faculty and the projects you're working on? Has the year (well, almost a year) that you've been with the P-F Center been worthwhile?

Posted by: Geoff McGovern | Feb 6, 2007 7:02:31 PM

no one "schleps nachas" unless they are telling a joke. one sheps (draws or takes) nachas, or perhaps klubs (gathers) nachas. schlep does not literally translate to carry, because it implies difficulty or burdensomeness (thus, dragging more than carrying), and consequently it is a particularly inapt modifier for nachas (which means happiness or joy, more than it does pride). ritualized bragging is kvelling.

Posted by: steve lubet | Feb 6, 2007 3:00:06 PM

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