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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

How to become an adjunct prawf

A USAO reader writes with the following question:

Question - I truly enjoy teaching, however do not believe I possess the proper background to secure a law school position and I do enjoy my current work - however I  would be very interested in becoming an adjunct at the law school level.  Other than "knowing someone," do you have any specific advice about how one might get a foot in the door (and what types of things would you think might be impressive or desirable for an adjunct).  Do I just send a letter, resume blindly? I would think that law schools are inundated with adjunct requests - so what works?  I'm guessing that "networking" is the best (and decent experience is a given of course), but is scholarly writing helpful?  Should one try to work his/her way up (prior adjunct experience at a community college, undergrad)?  How about just contacting a Prawf and volunteer to guest lecture on a specific topic? Secondly, what topics do you think that adjuncts are best suited?  Any topics that are definite "reserved" for the real prawfs? I think teaching helps me in my day-to-day job (speaking to a group of people, focusing on a topic, gives me some credibility when arguing motions to the court). Your thoughts and guidance would be appreciated by those of us out here in the cheap seats.

My sense is informed only by a couple years on the faculty but I think if you're interested in adjuncting, it is likely no problem to simply submit a resume to the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and indicate your interest.  I don't think adjuncts only teach some subjects while "real" prawfs teach others. It depends on the school and the interest of the faculty; usually faculty members are given some priority regarding what they would like to teach and adjuncts are brought into fill in the holes and gaps.  That said, networking rarely hurts, and if you know someone on the faculty it's a good idea to have that person bring the resume over to the Associate Dean.  I don't think publications are essential for adjuncts, but they help, as does prior positive teaching evaluations.  As to the other question about calling a prawf and asking to do a guest lecture: my guess is that this is helpful in creating a potential network of advocates for you later on. That said, it's not likely to be tremendously helpful if only because if there's no felt need for the subjects in which you are expert (or deemed sufficiently expert), then having an advocate on the faculty because you guest-lectured for them a couple times is not going to win you an adjunct position. 

Those are just my thoughts. I wonder how it works at other schools.

Posted by Administrators on May 9, 2007 at 09:16 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Dan Markel and the folks at PrawsBlawg (the other law school blog network!) are running an interesting discussion on landing a job as an adjunct. I thought we could join in that discussion. While I have only been doing this [Read More]

Tracked on May 25, 2007 12:02:46 AM


Anon asked, "Is there value added in an adjunct position while practicing if a tenure track position is the long term goal?"

No. Personally, I think it should be valued by law schools' hiring committees... but so few do value it, and even at those schools the value is so slight, that you're far better off spending the (substantial) time it takes to develop, teach, and grade a course on making some progress on even a short law review article.

Posted by: Scott Moss | May 14, 2007 9:22:36 AM

I've taught as an adjunct at UConn Law School for the past five years and can share a few observations.

First, I concur with Bill's comment that having a fairly well-developed idea of what you would like to teach is the best way to start. In my own case, I identified a gap in UConn's insurance law offerings that I was qualified to fill and then reached out to the professor who runs the insurance law program with a focused course proposal. He was enthusiastic about adding the topic to his overall program and became my guide through the adjunct appointments process.

Second, with respect to scholarship, while I agree that scholarly potential won't typically figure into a school's decision to hire an adjunct, I have found that working on my own research and participating in discussions of the work of full-time faculty members has significantly enriched my experience as a part-time faculty member. So, if one has the time and inclination, scholarship can play a big role in helping an adjunct become part of the larger community at his or her school.

Posted by: Sean Fitzpatrick | May 10, 2007 4:23:31 PM

A few thoughts on the post and the comments, with Scott's caveat that schools differ, potentially a lot.

1. Courses: As an associate dean I would hesitate before having an adjunct teach a first-year course. First-years need a lot of care and feeding, and I don't think adjuncts have the time needed to provide that. The same goes, to a lesser degree, for large upper-division courses, although I've hired adjuncts for those courses in the past. It's not that upper-division students need a lot of face time with their profs (though they may e-mail lots of questions). Rather, the demands of prepping a broad survey course and grading a lot of exams put significant strain on adjuncts' time. I think adjuncts are best suited to teach specialized and skills courses, where their practice backgrounds provide the most bang for the buck without overwhelming them with the task of mastering and teaching a survey-course amount of material.

2. Getting in the Door: With due respect to Jeff Lipshaw, I really hate it when prospective adjuncts call me and ask if we can grab a cup of coffee. The original post is correct that ADs are inundated with applications, and the last thing I want to do is spend a forced 15-30 minutes chatting someone up when the inevitable outcome is that their application goes into the pile along with everyone else's. There will always be exceptions, but I think that any AD who allows herself to be talked into hiring someone whose resume doesn't already interest her is not using her school's resources well.

So what does get you in the door? Guest lecturing might help, as might more generally having a full-time faculty member on your side. Sometimes it just helps to be in the right place at the right time; if I have a hole in the curriculum and I get a resume from a specialist in that field I will certainly call that person up for an interview.

Beyond all that, one piece of advice I'd certainly give anyone interested in adjuncting is to have an idea of what you want to teach! What I mean by that is the least effective cover letters are those that say something like "I'm interested in teaching any subject in the criminal law curriculum." Honestly, I have no idea what to do with that kind of application. While it sounds like that kind of statement would allow me to plug the person in to any number of classes, in reality it suggests to me that the person is not particularly interested in or knowledgeable about any particular subject. Suggest certain courses you might teach -- a seminar in scientific evidence, or post-conviction procedures, or something -- and tell me why you're especially qualified to teach that. Otherwise the application goes into that unsightly pile that I dump every summer.

3. Scholarship: It doesn't much matter to me. The school doesn't get much PR bang if it hires an adjunct who has written stuff, and it's unlikely the adjunct will have the time to hang around campus and influence the scholarly atmosphere. And my gut tells me there's no great correlation between writing and teaching ability at the adjunct level. Of course, if the applicant wants to break into full-time teaching, then by all means write. And I have no problem hiring an adjunct who is using the position as a stepping stone to full-time teaching.

Posted by: Bill Araiza | May 9, 2007 8:00:51 PM

Is there value added in an adjunct position while practicing if a tenure track position is the long term goal? I’m in the midst of a clerkship and it’s crossed my mind to ask prospective employers whether they’d have a problem with me teaching on the side…

Posted by: anon | May 9, 2007 6:07:17 PM

I agree with Dan and Jeff, but let me add a few additional thoughts.

Different law schools have different procedures. If you know professors at your local law schools, talk to them first.

I also think there is a difference at some law schools between doctrinal adjuncts, clinical adjuncts, and LRW adjuncts. You might want to figure out which you do (or do not) want to do because different schools may have different procedures for each. At GWU, for example, LRW is taught almost exclusively by about 45 adjuncts, and there is high turnover among them. Easy enough to just send a CV and cover letter to the LRW Director. Doctrinal adjuncts are rarer and generally require more work up front. I have heard of prospective doctrinal adjuncts submitting a Course Proposal, with casebook and topics covered, as part of the application process.

Scholarship is important, in my view, primarily to the extent that it shows an academic interest in the subject-matter you would like to teach. Prior teaching experience is probably more highly valued than for tenure-track faculty.

Think also about why you want to adjunct. Do you JUST want to adjunct, or do you think you might want to go on the tenure-track market at some point? If the latter, then you may want to approach things a little differently.

Good luck!

Posted by: Scott Dodson | May 9, 2007 12:29:06 PM

I'd be more aggressive than merely sending a letter and a resume. I would e-mail or call the Associate Dean (or the Dean). "Can I buy you a cup of coffee or lunch and talk about being an adjunct professor?" is a nice opening.

Another way to go about it is to ask the question "do you have coverage needs (the holes and gaps Dan refers to) that could be addressed by an adjunct?" That way it comes across that you are looking to serve the school.

I'd tailor the CV to have as much a teaching and expertise focus as possible. Lawyer resumes tend to be pretty straight recountings of education and job history. That may not be the most effective way to present oneself in this arena.

I agree with Dan that publication is not necessary, and writing that would not count for much in the full-time professor world may be helpful (bar journal articles, etc.)

Finally, my sense is that the adjunct needs to think about the teaching approach beforehand. There is a difference between between an adjunct in a law school class and teaching, say, a CLE course. Showing that you understand the difference would help, I think.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | May 9, 2007 9:55:09 AM

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