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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tips for First-Year Law Professors

I want to offer some advice for the fortunate few who landed a tenure-track law teaching job recently and are now in their first year of teaching.  Everyone has a different perspective, of course, and  if I go astray, I hope others will respond in the comment thread.  But if this is your first year of tenure-track law teaching, here are some tips you might consider:

1.  Send out an article in the spring submission window of your first year.   When your new colleagues voted to hire you, they made a bet that you'll be a productive scholar.  Now they're watching you to see if their bet was correct.  Prove them right by sending out an article in the spring of your first year.   You'll benefit in lots of ways.  First, your colleagues will be very pleased to see you off to a good start.  Second, tenure will look (and be) so much easier with a new article already under your belt.  And third, it will get you into the habit of sending out an article in the spring submission window.  My sense is that the best submission window is usually around the last week of February. Put that on your calendar and plan to send out your article around then.

2.  Invite your senior colleagues out to lunch.   Your senior colleagues can be a tremendously useful source of wisdom and insight for you.  They know how to teach, they know how to write, and they know all the ins-and-outs of the quirky academic institution you have just joined.  Plus, some of them are even really nice people.  (Strange but true.) For all these reasons, it's good to get to know them outside of faculty meetings and workshops.   Here's an idea: Pick a few senior professors who you think may be particularly good role models for you -- perhaps they're in your field, or maybe they're  particularly prominent scholars -- and invite them each to lunch.    Chances are, they'll be happy to have lunch with you, happy to get to know you, and happy to share any advice they can. 

3.  Don't assign too much reading.   It's common for new law professors to assign a lot of reading for class.  In my view, it's better to assign less reading and go over the material in a rigorous way as part of a rich class discussion than to assign more reading and go over it in only in a breezy and superficial way.  And in many cases, more reading means more students unprepared for class.  I find that when teaching upper-level students in a doctrinal class using a standard casebook, somewhere around 20 pages of reading for a one-hour class is a good ballpark.  If you're teaching fall 1Ls, maybe start with 10 pages per class-hour and work your way up to 20 by the end of the semester.  Of course, these are just ballpark estimates, and the actual amount depends on the school, the book, the course, etc.

4. Lay low in faculty meetings, with one possible exception.  New profs usually don't know of any long-running tensions on the faculty.  If you're lucky, the tensions will be very minor.  Still, it's best to stay away from fault lines if you can, especially before your tenure vote.  Given that, you should plan to stay out of any particularly contentious faculty debates that might come up your first year.  Go to faculty meetings and pay close attention, but mostly stay out of controversies for now.  A possible exception is entry-level appointments. Having just been through the appointments process yourself, you're particularly well-suited to weigh in on entry-level hires. You may know the candidates personally, and as a peer you'll be familiar with their accomplishments in a way that more senior faculty won't be.  So consider weighing in on entry-level appointments as your one area of participation. 

5. Consider guest-blogging, at least at some point.  This advice is probably more for second-year or third-year professors than first-year professors.  But relatively early in your academic career, consider guest-blogging for a month at a general-law-blog site like Prawfs.  Ideally, write a handful of posts connecting your scholarly work and scholarly interests to some news story or issue of interest to the broader readership.   This is a great way for your work to come to the attention of other law professors.  Sites like Prawfs are widely read by legal academics, especially among more junior scholars.  A few blog posts introducing your work is an effective and relatively easy way to promote your work within the academy.  

Posted by Orin Kerr on October 21, 2014 at 02:25 AM in Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink


Sparky, one and a half, actually, as inviting senior colleagues out to lunch is partly to get teaching tips. But I didn't focus much on teaching tips for new law professors partly because that issue was covered at Prawfs in a post that was linked to again recently:

http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2014/08/tips-for-new-law-teachers.html (recent link to post above)

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 24, 2014 10:08:02 PM

Wow. Only one out of the five tips is about how to actually be a good teacher. The rest are about trying to come out ahead in the rat race.

Posted by: Sparky | Oct 24, 2014 9:27:49 PM

Walter, it's not a question of being thin-skinned; just a question of trying to stay on-topic. (This particular post is about tips for new employees for how to make the most of their job. I don't know how it's relevant whether the job should exist, as that's about offering slightly-late advice to employers rather than employees.) Anyway, I hope you'll stick around and comment here more often.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 24, 2014 5:48:20 PM

Orin: I think it is highly relevant. If you wish to be thin skinned about, its your privilege too. Bye.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Oct 24, 2014 5:19:42 PM

Walter, yes, I recognize that you think that. But it's not relevant to this post, except in the "I'm an Internet commenter and everything I want to talk about is relevant" sort of way.

ETA: I suppose the point could be relevant if you are arguing that the best long-term strategy for entry-level hires is to quit, because their law schools will all be closing soon and it is better for them to get out now. Is that what you're saying?

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 24, 2014 1:38:57 PM

Orin my point was that hiring rookies is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Oct 24, 2014 1:33:43 PM

Walter, rookies is not the preferred term: Professorial Novitiates, please!

Posted by: Vinminen | Oct 24, 2014 1:03:36 PM

Walter, thanks for your comment. The stats on entry level hiring are here: http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2014/05/spring-self-reported-entry-level-hiring-report-2014.html

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 24, 2014 12:54:57 PM

Are there really any first year law profs? There are twice as many law students as there are law jobs, twice as many law schools as are needed to graduate the number of students who could get jobs, and three times as many law profs as the number of needed laws schools.

Why would any law school be hiring rookies?

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Oct 24, 2014 12:38:31 PM

Orin: I agree that one should not be abrasive, period. I don't know about others, but I prefer that my junior colleagues, even in their first year, express their ideas always, and of course, like everyone else, do so politely and respectfully. I generally do not admire strategic behavior, so I do not particularly admire someone who keeps quiet until tenure and only then speaks, even if done in the proper manner. As to your second question, I would advise my abrasive friend to work on his demeanor. I would not tell him to shut up now and then feel free to be abrasive after tenure.

Posted by: Fernando Teson | Oct 23, 2014 11:29:53 AM

Fernando, being abrasive to your colleagues is bad regardless of whether you are tenured or untenured. Just so I understand, though, do you think your colleagues would be put off by a professor who keeps pretty quiet in her first-year but then ends up speaking more later in a polite and respectful way? Or, to put it another way, if you have a friend who is abrasive when he speaks, would you advise him to speak often in his first year or to wait until he gets tenure?

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 22, 2014 12:37:31 PM

I meant UNTENURED colleagues

Posted by: Fernando Teson | Oct 22, 2014 11:33:53 AM

Orin: I agree with 1, 2, and 5. Numeral 4) however, can be problematic. Laying low at faculty meetings may make one appear strategic and dishonest when your real views are known later. In one of the places I taught a junior guy was an inoffensive mouse for 5 years and, as soon as he got tenure he turned out to be quite opinionated. People were put off by his prior silence and current abrasiveness. So my advise is: do not lay low at faulty meetings. State your views honestly and politely, and you will earn your colleagues'respect. This is what I see here at FSU, and it is one of the reasons why I respect my tenured colleagues so much.

Posted by: Fernando Teson | Oct 22, 2014 11:28:28 AM

All great suggestions, Orin. May I add a few more? Maybe new prawfs can use these suggestions as topics for discussion when you invite colleagues to lunch.
(1) As you add new courses, check with colleagues at your new school in your teaching field about which texts to assign and what topics ought to be covered (especially in 1L courses). You don't have to follow their advice to the letter, but it is good to learn from their experience. (2) Ask for a copy of the syllabus some of your colleagues have developed. They will be good guides to what to include in yours. Have someone look over your draft syllabus. (3) Make sure someone reviews your draft exams. Newbies tend to write exams that are too detailed and issue-filled. In addition, it is easy to overlook typos, mistakes in the names of characters, etc. (4) Ask a few colleagues, especially ones in your field, to look at the near-to-final drafts of your articles.

Posted by: David Levine | Oct 21, 2014 12:09:18 PM

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