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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why Not/Do A Fellowship?

In this post I discuss the major reasons to do (and not do) a fellowship, and along the way tell you a little bit more of what the life of a fellow (at least in my fellowship) is like.  Why do a fellowship?  There are a few major reasons:

(1) To be Competitive For Hiring:  Larry Solum is doing his usual yeoman's service by collecting entry level hiring data for this year, but if past data is any indication the market (especially in the top tier, however that is defined) is increasingly dominated by PhD-JDs.  In the 2006 data only, of the 161 candidates who were reported to have received a first tenure-track teaching job, only 40 had only a JD (that is, no advanced degree or fellowship/VAP).  Solum reports that 43 candidates of these had an advanced doctorate such as a PhD, SJD, or DPhil, and 43 candidates had some other advanced degree, usually a masters, while 88 candidates had done some kind of post-doc/pre-tenure program (including VAPs and fellowships).  This last number is a bit unrepresentative because, as Solum notes, some individuals have both advanced degrees and fellowships/VAPs (hereinafter just "fellowships").  But if you scroll through his listing of schools it reveals that very few candidates without a Supreme Court clerkship, a PhD, or a fellowship are being hired, especially at top tier institutions.

l For those of us not willing to devote another 4-6 years to a doctorate degree, or for whom practice had some allure as well, fellowships appear to be a way of catching up.
This is not to say it is the fellowship is itself doing much of the work (though at the margin it may act as a signal of an independent rater valuing the candidate enough to offer him or her a fellowship). What I have been told by those on the hiring side (and I'd love to hear more from those who are doing hiring in the comments) is that the fellowship mostly gives individuals the opportunity to write a great job talk and gain the other advantages I am about to discuss.

(2) Write: Writing a good job talk is a lot of hard work and time-consuming.  When I was working at the Justice Department's Civil Division, Appellate Staff, after a day of drafting my own Circuit court briefs, drafting initial version of Supreme Court briefs to be altered by the Solicitor General's Office, and preparing for oral argument, the last thing I wanted to do was more legal research and writing.  And (to give a plug to my old office, a place to work so good it gives legal academia a run for its money,) this was working very reasonable hours with a really intellectual group of people who would love to talk about any big idea in the law.  I have no idea how those writing job talks from large law firm life do it.
A fellowship gives you the time to write.  If you budget your time correctly you should be able to get both a good job talk and perhaps another publication ready in the first 12-16 months before the meat market.  I am trying to finish some work on an Article on the "right not to procreate" myself. 
Post-meat market it also gives you time to write 1-2 other pieces (and see Dan's earlier post about holding off on publishing those to get tenure credit).  One of my favorite law profs put it succinctly when we had lunch a couple of months ago -- "so you get to spend as much time as you want writing and you do not have to teach, where can I sign up?" (I equally succinctly reminded him he was getting paid 2-3 times my salary and that I'd trade him if he liked).

(3)  Learn: A fellowship gives you an opportunity to brush up on areas of law (and other disciplines) you'd like to know about but never had the chance, or to immerse yourself more deeply in an area you already know well.  Say empirical work has always interested you but you don't know what the differences within differences methodology is?  It turns out Elizabeth Warren is teaching an empirical methods class you could sit in on at Harvard Law School, or harder core individuals could arrange to sit in on similar classes at the economics department.
To expand my knowledge base about public health law I am sitting in on a class being offered at the law school by Harvard Public Health School Prof. Michelle Mello.  That's not to mention all the informal stuff going on.  So, to give just the example of a typical week.  On Tuesdays I sit in on a weekly reading/discussion group with the Division of Medical Ethics faculty and their post-docs and PhD students at the Med and PublichHealth Schools (the discussion leader rotates every week, including amazing people like Norm Daniels, Dan Brock, Dan Wikler, and Frances Kamm).  On Wednesday, Elizabeth Warren presented work at my center on the effect of medical crises on bankruptcy.  On Thursday, Jennifer Arlen, who was visiting Harvard in the fall, presented work on contracting out of medical malpractice liability.  On Friday, Bernard Lo, who teaches and is a policy adviser as to California's Stem Cell initiative gave a presentation on on the domestic use of stem cell lines and research developed in foreign countries under conditions that do not meet U.S. research ethics standards.  These are only the events I attended, there were many more health law, bioethics, biotechnology ones I just didn't have time for (including a weekly health economics workshop series).  Particularly in my field (something I'll talk about in a further post) where there is so many disciplines at work, the opportunity to immerse yourself in the methods and research of other disciplines is really essential.

(4)  Backers/Advisers: Some of us had close relationships with certain members of the faculty as law students, but particularly at a place like Harvard it is hard to really develop those kinds of relationships in any great number.  A fellowship gives you an opportunity to cement (if returning to your home institution) or develop good relationships with faculty members who can advise you what to work on, comment on and critique your work while it is still in development, and support and advise you while on the job market.  How much you'll be able to do this depends a lot on your personality and the character of the institution.  Just as when I was a student, at Harvard the faculty is quite open to meeting you, talking about ideas, even reading drafts, but they definitely will not seek you out; you have to be a self-starter in this regard, and if the thought of emailing a prof you don't know and asking them if they have time to sit down with you is unappealing, you maye have a problem.

(5) Quack Like A Duck:  Legal academics write, present, and talk about their work in a particular way.  As a student you can get acculturated to some of it, but there really is no substitute to sitting through the presentations done by visiting faculty as lateral job talks to get a sense of how the game really works.  At Harvard, there is also an opportunity for fellows to give mock job talks in the fall they are going on the market, which faculty attend, and that helps a great deal in geting ready for doing the real thing.

(6) Network:  In her more cynical moments my mother likes to say that career success is "not what you know, but who you know."  While I am too much of a believer in merit to fully buy into this, it really does help to know the people who work in your field of law and for them to know you.   A friend who was on the job market last year tells me he was immensely helped by meeting people at conferences from a particular school he was interested in and expressing his interest to them.  They had him in for an early pre-AALS job talk, and he ended up having this school, one of his top choices, extend him an offer very early into the process, which was a great position to be in  (he ended up accepting their offer and is thrilled).

(7) Get Used to Teaching:  If your fellowship offers teaching opportunities, it gives you a good opportunity to get used to the classroom, especially if you've never taught before.  It may also give you a good opportunity to assemble and try out a syllabus, as well as to compile your 'lecture' notes if you get to teach a course that will be part of your teaching duties as a faculty member.  A number of friends who are in their first and second years of law teaching have told me that preppnig a new course is a really time-consuming activity.

Why Not Do It?  If you have a great job talk ready to go and feel ready without a fellowship/VAP.  If you cannot take the  pay cut.  If your partner is not thrilled with the idea of relocating for a one to two year gig, only to have to relocate again.  If you are unsure whether you'll end up with an offer from a place you'll likely accept: going on the market from a stable job is one thing, you can always just stay at the job if you don't get what you want; going on the market from a fellowship necessitates a job interruption, and while most candidates good enough to get fellowships/VAPs will have no trouble finding a legal job to return to if it does not work out, there is obviously costs in time, money, and career to this strategy.

Those are my general thoughts on the matter, but I am happy to answer more specific questions in the comments section, and I'd be thrilled to hear from people on the hiring side, or from those who administer these fellowships.

Posted by Glenn Cohen on February 14, 2007 at 10:20 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I stumbled across your post while doing a search on pursuing an LL.M. I am considering such a move after practicing for five years and holding an adjunct position at the undergraduate level for three. What I have found is that many JDs are shut out of the job market for law schools because one lacks a LL.M or shut out of undergraduate positions, (i.e. Criminal Justice) because one lacks a PhD. It can be a very frustrating process. Thanks for the additional insight.

Posted by: Seeking Solace | Mar 6, 2007 11:00:28 PM

Thanks for the question Jordan. In my own experience, a good number of successful candidates have PhD's from non-US schools. To give one example, my good friend Scott Hershovitz, with a D. Phil from Oxford and JD from Yale, has been hired to teach at the University of Michigan in the Fall (he is currently clerking for Justice Ginsburg).

The only significant downside I see (besides for the risk that US law professors may know domestic grad school recommenders better than foreign ones, probably minimal) is the logistical difficulty of conducting the AALS process (especially the call back interviews) from a home base abroad. I have no idea whether schools would hesitate at paying for a transatlantic flight as opposed to a domestic one. I suspect that if they are significantly interested in a candidate, they would not hesitate, but I defer to those on the hiring side. The problem also disappears if you are in your dissertation stage and can live in American during the AALS process.

Posted by: Glenn Cohen | Feb 21, 2007 11:19:02 AM

Does the PhD have to be from the US? What does everyone think about going abroad to get a PhD and get the extra factor of international experience (and expertise) to boot? I'm over in Scotland, but have a US JD degree, and my general impression is that the PhD programmes are a bit different -- one can reasonably expect to do one in three years (though you could certaibnly take longer). Also it seems that, if you wanted to, you could add to your potential teaching list (EU Law, International IP in my case).

Posted by: Jordan Hatcher | Feb 21, 2007 11:07:34 AM

Paul Gowder poses an excellent question - who didnt get hired? Unless we have stats on that question, it's a little hard to make conclusions.

In order to help him out on this, I'm willing to provide information on this matter - I wasnt hired. I hope that this N=1 study is helpful. ;-)

Seriously though, does anyone know of a website where schools who are looking for visitors post? The AALS Bulletin doesnt come out until March.

Posted by: A Nony Mouse | Feb 15, 2007 7:06:52 PM

Paul, thanks for the title suggestions, which have me ROTL. Unfortunately, since most of the paper concerns procreation through artificial reproduction, that is procreation without sex, I'd be worried about misleading readers into something more salacious! Too bad because I am sure it would increase readership.

Posted by: Glenn Cohen | Feb 14, 2007 5:35:18 PM

A lighter question, Glenn: Have you given any thought to the title for your piece on the right not to procreate yourself? Would you consider throwing open the comments page to suggestions? Maybe "(Don't) Go Procreate Yourself." Or, more enthuastically, "Fan-Self-Procreating-Tastic!"

I'm not making fun of the subject, obviously! I just think the phrase has lots of smashing euphemistic possibilities. You might want to collaborate with Chris Fairman on this one.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Feb 14, 2007 4:19:00 PM

Quick question WRT#1: is there any data out there on candidates who don't get hired? Does the AALS provide any of it? With that data, one could actually get interesting empirical results...

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Feb 14, 2007 3:43:14 PM

The post elaborates in helpful detail some of the themes implicit in my Chevy Chase Theory of How to Get a Law Teaching Job.

Posted by: Mike Madison | Feb 14, 2007 3:00:39 PM

Great post, Glenn. Were it not for the fact that I decided on the JD-separate-Ph.D. track long ago, the fellowship route seems like a great opportunity for aspiring academics (though, I think, in the short-run, a full research degree helps to formulate and jump-start a research agenda better than a one or two year fellowship despite the multi-year opportunity costs).

I very much agree with Matthew's point about signaling a commitment to academia. Likewise, the fellowship would offer an opportunity to see what it’s like to fully immerse in productive academic inquiry without getting the Ph.D. Hey, let’s face it: academic jobs aren’t for everyone. And working within academia from a non-law student perspective is eye opening.

Overall, I’m glad that there are so many routes available to academic job seekers. It can make for a better cohort of entering profs and can add to a more vigorous intellectual exchange. And I’m not too upset to see the success rate for advanced degree holders.

Posted by: Geoff McGovern | Feb 14, 2007 2:22:27 PM

Glenn, one further thought. The people who I had in mind re: Ph.D.s are people who are in practice. Rather than go back for an LL.M. or do a fellowship, a person could go back and do a Ph.D. A friend of mine is doing this now. The standard joint degree works for a lot of people, but not those who decide they want to teach after they've been practicing for a while. Also, grad school is very different once you've been out of law school for a while and have an agenda of issues that you're interested in. I was lucky enough to get a tenure track job with just a JD (after six years of practice), but I actually started doing some graduate work in philosophy part time last fall, and it's been great. I got my job, of course, in part because I was able to get an article done while I was a senior associate at Latham (not good for your personal life, but possible).

Ben C.: As to your first question, law professors are absurdly snobby when it comes to rank of your JD school, in part because they (like most other people) are trying to replicate themselves. This would counsel towards going to top-ten school. On the other hand, don't underestimate how much easier your life would be with no loans. This might depend on how much you really want to be a law professor. As to the second question, LL.M.s can help, though it seems to me that there is a trend towards fellowships in addition to, or instead of, LL.M.s. The one LL.M. program that is most directed at helping people on the teaching market is Yale's. Also, to tie back to the first issue, an LL.M. from Yale isn't going to make people forget that you didn't get your J.D. from Yale.

Posted by: Ben Barros | Feb 14, 2007 2:08:12 PM

I have found all of your fellowship posts interesting. I am trying, from my position as someone who has just been admitted to law school, to figure out what steps I need to take if I want to pursue an academic career. Before reading your posts I was actually not aware that such fellowship posts existed, so I thank you.
I wonder if there are any good samaritans out there who might want to answer a couple of other questions I have about preparing to be a law professor:
1) If I have an offer of admission from a top ten school and an offer with full tuition scholarship from a top 25 school, am I killing my chances of getting an academic job in the future if I take the top 25 school because of the far better financial situation I would be in?
2) Are LLMs really helpful in the academic job market? I have heard previously that they are, but so many of the LLM programs I have heard about seem to be tailored to foreign lawyers or towards giving current lawyers a specialty in a particular field of practice. Am I just missing the LLMs that are more research based?

Posted by: Ben Christenson | Feb 14, 2007 11:56:44 AM

Thanks for the additional thoughts.
Matthew -- I had not thought of the signalling function of a fellowship, it is a really interesting point.

Ben -- I know a number of ABDs who have managed to find time during their clerkship and their first two years of teaching to finish their PhD. A lot of law schools will also allow dual-degree candidates (especially if doing both degrees at the same institution) to complete their JD while at the law school, and count dissertation work towards their law degree (Harvard seems to have a ton of econ JD-PhDs in this situation), which will also speed things up.

One impression I have, admittedly just from eye balling Prof. Solum's data and not having run any statistical analyses, are that PhDs standing alone are more highly correlated with success on the job market than fellowships alone, especially at the high end of the hiring market. This is, of course, at most only correlation not causation, and it may be that the type of people who do well on the market are also the type of people who pursue advanced degrees. On the other hand, it might indicate a real preference on the part of hiring committees for JD-PhDs over pure JDs (even JDs with fellowships), and perhaps reflect greater trends in legal academia.

The JD-PhDs law profs I know are less likely to have had legal practice experience beyond summers and clerkships, so this hiring trend may also signal the entry of a professor cohort with less practice experience. My evidence is anecdotal, although not implausible (after so many additional years in school it is less likely that one would want to further delay teaching for practice). I'd be curious whether others think this is a real trend or just an imagined one.

There is also a further, interesting if undoubtedly controversial, normative question of whether practice experience (and what kind) helps to make a good law professor, and how much it adds.

Posted by: Glenn Cohen | Feb 14, 2007 11:55:57 AM

I agree with most of this, but two observations. First, a one-year fellowship or VAP might not help as much on the writing front pre-market as an applicant might think -- you have to hit the job market again in the fall, right as you start the fellowship. Second, a Ph.D. might take six years, but depending on the discipline, it might take a lot less to become ABD. The coursework for some Ph.D.s can be done in two to three years, and it may be possible to hit the law teaching market at that time. This might be a complicated path to follow -- among other things, some schools have rules against counting work done for a dissertation towards tenure. But I'd guess that this approach will become more common in the future.

Posted by: Ben Barros | Feb 14, 2007 11:34:39 AM

Excellent summary, but I would add one more thing – credible commitment. Doing a fellowship is a career path investment that only those people who truly want to be law professors will make. It shows you are serious about being an academic, not just unsure as to whether you are going to make partner at your commercial law firm.

Posted by: Matthew Sag | Feb 14, 2007 11:23:32 AM

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