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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Are there still two "tracks" of professorship?

I have a friend who has been on the market this fall.   He's certainly well qualified and credentialed, and has had a number of callbacks, but he hasn't gotten the offer he's hoping for yet.  He's now wondering if it would be a good or bad career move to seek out a VAP-type position as a writing/process professor for a year or two and then go through the meat market again.

He has gotten a lot of different advice.  More traditional folks have told him that accepting a writing position is a bad move--that it will slot him in the "writing" track--and won't help (and may actually hurt) his chances of eventually getting the doctrinal position he wants.  I, perhaps naively, suggested that I didn't think those two "tracks" existed to the extent that they may once have, and told him I thought a writing position would give him teaching experience, and, more importantly, time to keep writing the good doctrinal stuff he's already started to produce.  In the end, I said, it will be your writing that makes or breaks you.

But I'm young(ish), or at least very junior, and maybe I'm too optimistic about things like this.  So I thought I'd poll the broader prawfs world on the issue.  If I were savvy enough I'd put one of those cool "polls" in here--but I have absolutely no idea how to do that.  So, if you have thoughts, please post them the old-fashioned way.

Posted by Ian Bartrum on January 18, 2011 at 12:09 PM | Permalink


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Another "tiering" happens based on the rank of the school at which a person undertakes a legal writing position. My sense is that seeking out a tenure-track, doctrinal position while in a legal writing position is comparatively "easier" if one's legal writing experience is at a well-ranked school. Ditto for someone making a transition from a VAP, too.

Posted by: Bridget Crawford | Jan 20, 2011 7:48:50 PM

It may also depend on the alternatives. If he has done nothing but practice, I would say that ANY teaching is better than no teaching. If he already has teaching on his resume, maybe not.

Posted by: Mike | Jan 18, 2011 8:51:16 PM

Agreeing with Orin, I think it depends on what sort of writing program it is. With programs identified as VAPs that happens to involve teaching writing (I am thinking of the Chicago-Kent program most obviously), the transition is easier. In part, those programs have track records of placing people in doctrinal positions and often do things to support the transition (supporting scholarship, leaving space to teach a doctrinal course in addition to writing, etc.). It may be still be a bit harder--and the two-track attitude may persist--if you are going into an "ordinary" writing program.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jan 18, 2011 8:34:01 PM

I think not one of the fellowship programs. I wore a path through one of those myself.... Rather, he's thinking of seeking out a sort of stand alone position somewhere. I take your point, though, that those programs are really designed as feeders into doctrinal positions. I guess I'm wondering more about traditional, cover a course need, kind of VAP writing positions...

Posted by: Ian Bartrum | Jan 18, 2011 5:20:44 PM

When you say a "VAP-type position as a writing/process professor," are you referring to one of the established programs --- e.g., the Bigelow at Chicago, the Climenko at Harvard, the Associates-in-law at Columbia? Those are pretty well-worn paths to ordinary tenure track positions teaching non-writing courses.

Posted by: carissa | Jan 18, 2011 5:01:08 PM

Would really need to see his c.v. to give a good answer, but I think that MOST candidates who get offers from decent schools these days even have a Ph.D., a fellowship, or a VAP behind them.

Posted by: JD | Jan 18, 2011 4:49:50 PM

You mileage may vary, but I think it depends. On one hand, I think you're right that the tracks have blended a bit: On the other hand, I think they do still exist to some extent.

It may help to focus school-by-school. Some schools have programs such as this that are more academic, and that have a better track record of sending folks into regular tenure track jobs. Other schools have programs that are more focused on legal writing, and that don't have that track record.

That's my vague sense, at least. Sorry I don't have anything more specific.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jan 18, 2011 3:51:29 PM

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