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Friday, July 05, 2019

Interview with Jeanne Merino on the Thomas C. Grey Fellowship Program at Stanford Law School

Here is the next interview in my series interviewing VAP and fellowship directors.  Thanks to Jeanne Merino, the Director of the First-Year Legal Research and Writing Program at Stanford Law School, for participating in this series!  She oversees the fellows in Stanford’s Thomas C. Grey Fellowship for Legal Research and Writing (LRW).   An edited transcript of our conversation is below, and I have invited Jeanne to respond to any questions in the comments. 

You can read more about the structure of these interviews and other caveats related to them here. For more information about law faculty hiring generally, check out the section of the AALS's website devoted to this topic at https://teach.aals.org/.  Full interview below the break. 

Q. Tell me about your role with the Thomas Grey C. Fellowship program.

A. I direct the legal research and writing program and supervise the Grey Fellows, who teach in the LRW program. I hire the fellows with the LRW faculty committee, train them, and supervise their teaching.

Q. I would love to take the fellowship program chronologically, starting with the application process, then moving through the fellowship itself and how to make the most of it. When do you start accepting applications?

A. We start accepting applications in August of each year for the following year. This August 2019, we'll start receiving applications for 2020-2021.

Q. And if somebody wanted to apply, what materials do they need to submit?

A. There are two different ways to submit materials. Applicants who are attending the AALS hiring conference should send us a letter of interest by September 15. We will review the materials hosted on the AALS Faculty Appointments Register and ask for interviews the weekend before the hiring conference. In some years if there aren’t a lot of candidates for AALS and I will skip the trip and funnel those candidates into the direct application system.

Applicants who are not attending AALS can apply directly to our program. We have a job announcement on our website. Applicants submit materials to [email protected]. Required materials are a cover letter describing the candidate’s interest in the program, a CV or resume, publications, a writing sample from law practice, a law school transcript, letters of recommendation (preferred) or the names of references, and a research agenda. We don’t expect the research agenda to be as sophisticated an agenda as produced by people who are going on the tenure-track market. But we want a sense of the scholarly interests of the applicants, the connection between those interests and their law practice, if any, what methodological approaches they are considering, and a little bit about what the trajectory of their work is going to be. Fellows don't stick 100% to their research agendas. We just want them to start thinking about the arc of their career as law scholars.

We don’t have openings every year. We have five fellows, and since the fellows decide if they will stay for two years or three years we don’t consistently hire every year. Our unpredictable timeline can be frustrating to applicants, but it pays off in flexibility for fellows. We are hiring this year.

This year I will start reviewing the direct applications around mid-October. I summarize the applications and the LRW faculty committee and I decide whom to interview. The committee is chaired by Larry Marshall, and current members are Shirin Sinnar and George Fisher, all of whom are tenured professors. I first schedule a phone interview with candidates. Occasionally if an applicant shares academic interests with the chair of our legal research and writing committee they might also have a phone interview with him, but usually that call is with me.

The phone interview tends to be on the long side, like an hour or so. I cover all the territory, including what do you like about being a lawyer? Why do you want to make a transition to law teaching? What are your research interests? How do you want to study your areas of interest? Why do you want to teach? What do you love about writing? How did you learn to really write like a lawyer? I want to hire people who love to write, and not just in a scholarly voice. Some of our current and former fellows are poets, journalists, fiction writers, and photographers—people who think about how to communicate complicated ideas in nuanced and sophisticated ways. I want to hire people who are enthusiastic about being lawyers, because I want that enthusiasm to come through to our students. And I want people who have a real appreciation for what lawyers do.

We schedule callbacks usually starting around the end of November or beginning of December. Depending on the number of positions we have to fill, we might have callbacks in January and February as well. How late we interview depends a bit on how our own fellows are doing on the market.

We schedule a lot of meetings for the callbacks. We schedule meetings with a group of current fellows, so they can get a sense of how the applicant would work together with the team, and how the interests of the applicant would complement the interests of the current fellows. We have individual meetings with some members of the legal research and writing committee and with members of our faculty who are in the same discipline as the candidate.

The purpose of those meetings is two-fold. First, we need feedback from scholars who can tell us if the applicant’s scholarship fills a gap in the body of work, is well-researched and considered, and whether there are likely to be openings in that area when fellows complete their fellowship. Second, we want to know if those faculty members are interested in working with the applicant. We need faculty to support our fellows’ research interests. We expect fellows to be working hard on teaching, and the quid pro quo for that hard work is to give them access to faculty who can comment on their scholarship.

Q. As for the final decision, is that made by the committee or by you?

A. The committee. In the past the chair and I would write a memo recommending hires and the committee would usually endorse our recommendation. The current committee is more involved in all aspects of the fellowship, so now it will be a committee decision.

Q. How many applications do you receive in a typical year?

A. The number of applications has gone down. I'm doing more outreach and PR this year, and I hope this interview gets an audience, and I’ll see if the number of applications goes up. We used to get about 75 applications. This last year, we got like 26 applications.

Q. Oh, wow. That is a big difference.

A. Yes, the number has gone down a lot. I indicated on our website last year that we might not have an opening, and in fact we did not have an opening this year. If we hired more consistently we might have more applicants. It’s also been awhile since I did outreach, so I'm doing that again this summer.

Q. During the application process, how do you gauge who will make a good teacher?

A. Moving forward, we will ask people to teach a class when they come in for the callback. We don’t expect perfection at the outset, and honestly, I think LRW is a really hard class to teach to a group of students. But I do want to know if candidates can reflect about how to analyze the law and connect with students.

As teachers, our primary job is to teach students how to think like a lawyer, strategize like a lawyer, use authority the way that lawyers do, and communicate concisely and precisely. The most successful teachers convey a real enthusiasm for lawyering as a process and thoughtfulness about what it means to be a lawyer in the world today, which is complicated and multifaceted and has lots of pros and cons. And LRW teachers should appreciate the work that lawyers do.

In terms of connecting with an audience, a good law professor has to listen hard, probe students' comments, be open to lots of different points of view, and be able to facilitate a conversation where students feel comfortable putting their points of view in.

We also have to shape students' thinking when they say something that's off the mark. How can we interrupt wrong thinking without dissuading students from participating in the conversation?

We also make better teachers if we're thinking hard about how indispensible communication is to our profession. We communicate orally. We communicate in writing. And if we can't do that, our ideas stay in our brains doing no good for anyone. So, we look for people who can be really thoughtful about the work of the law and the skills of writing and speaking, and teach that clearly, but also in nuanced and interesting ways.

Q. How much does practice experience matter in the hiring process? Relatedly, how much practice experience are you looking for?

A. It weighs a lot. I think it weighs more in our program than most other fellowship programs because our courses are taught as simulations where students are acting in the role of lawyers. Part of the process in the simulation is to think strategically about the lawyering context and litigation process. What does the client want? What are the lawyers' options, including litigation and other lawyering choices? What does the law say, and what is the room to play in the joints of the law?

We hire fellows who have had experience with that legal process. We require fellows who have at least two years of lawyering experience. Clerkship counts as part of that lawyering experience. I'm really looking for candidates who are advanced enough in their career to think strategically and not an assignment at a time. They're looking at the lawyering process as a whole; they're thinking about how lawyers help clients make decisions when the law is uncertain and the facts are in flux. Frankly, that’s a big part of the fun of our classes. It's pretty common for us to have applicants and to hire applicants who have a tremendous amount of experience, like eight, nine years of lawyering experience or more.

We hire fellows with diverse experience. We have fellows with criminal law backgrounds, civil law backgrounds, public interest, public service, private law firm, transactional backgrounds. Although we do emphasize litigation in class, so some exposure to litigation is pretty important. But a lot of our students go into transactional law and fellows with a background in transactions have helped us “translate” our litigation simulations so students see the benefit of learning the basics of analyzing law, writing, and oral communication. Also, since we work collaboratively, I rely on others’ experience to help fill in the gaps of my knowledge. I’ve never worked for a law firm, for example, so it’s important to have faculty who know what the expectations are in that practice area.

Q. Now let’s turn to the scholarly side. What are they typically expected to have scholarship-wise when they apply? In other words, is it a full paper, more than one full paper, just an idea?

A. Because there are so many different factors we consider, there is no fixed requirement. But strong candidates might have a substantial paper in production and a few other ideas, and many have much more. An applicant might have a student note, but since our applicants have some work experience, some of the student notes are a little bit dated and may not reflect what they're thinking about and what they're capable of. That said, since our program welcomes fellows who plan to stay for three years, it’s okay to have somewhat less scholarship as long as there’s enough to show the fellow is able and sincerely interested in producing scholarship.

The tenure-track teaching market has changed a lot in the last ten years, and successful candidates on the tenure-track teaching market must have more publications than they used to have.

Q. Yeah, absolutely. And does that go for the research agenda, too? Are you looking for a pretty well-developed research agenda?

A. No, I would say, I'm looking to understand who candidates want to be as scholars, but that’s a process and I know that will change over the course of the fellowship. I also use the agenda to try to figure out which faculty I should loop in on the hiring process.

Q. One of the comments that keeps coming up on the blogs is people expressing frustration that so many law faculty and so many law fellows have the same or similar backgrounds. They went to Harvard, Yale or Stanford. They had an elite clerkship. If you were an advising a candidate, perhaps without those traditional markers, how would you advise them to try to stand out in the application process?

A. Yes, I’ve seen that question raised. And I will say, we’ve had fellows who have gone to Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, but we also have a fair number of very successful fellows who are now in tenure-track positions, who did not go to those 3 schools, or top 15 schools.
We've had fellows from UCLA and Northwestern and UC Hastings and GW. And I'm not going to say, because it would be a damned lie for me to say that the law school doesn't matter on the tenure-track teaching market. It does. If you didn't go to one of the elite schools, you have a lot more that you need to show.

But if you were a standout at one of those schools and you have mentors who know you as smart and curious and interested in ideas and teaching, then I think you could be a really great candidate for our program. If you've done great work as a lawyer, if you've demonstrated a real commitment and interest to writing, not just doing a fellowship to escape litigation but taking what you learned and developing ideas from your lawyering experience that are real, deep interesting things that lawyers should be thinking and reading about, I hope you’ll consider us. If you're open to the idea of joining an intellectual community and participating in how other people develop their ideas, then we're interested in you.

And so far this approach has worked for us. Nearly all of our fellows have gone on to tenure-track teaching. But I do have to keep an eye on the market, and fewer of our fellows are getting the many multiple offers that they were before the crash.

At some point if we have a hard time placing people from our program, then we will have to consider a change. It doesn’t make sense to have people leave their well-paying, satisfying jobs for a comparatively low-paying job if chances are low that they will achieve what they hope to achieve. We pay more than most—maybe all?—fellowships, but everyone takes a cut when they take this job.

Q. Do you make any effort to hire candidates from diverse backgrounds?

A. Yes. We hire women and people of color, and they are successful here as teachers and on the market. Ten years ago we renewed our efforts to hire fellows who are dedicated to tenure-track law teaching after the fellowship. Since then nineteen fellows have graduated from our program and gone on the tenure-track teaching market. All but one got a tenure-track teaching job. Of those nineteen, eleven are women and eight are people of color.

Q. That's great.

A. Currently, our five fellows are all women, but that is rarely true.

Q. I saw that.

A. Women are still underrepresented in the legal academy, and I’m proud of the role we’ve played in promoting them professionally. Three of our current fellows are women of color. Considering the twenty-four former and current fellows together, sixteen are women and eleven are people of color. Two of those fellows or former fellows are Latinx and two are of African descent, ethnic groups that are particularly underrepresented in the academy. And in addition to ethnic diversity, two of our former fellows are gay men. We’ve had plenty of straight white men, or course. I’m Latina so I have a personal commitment to diversity. But it’s also a part of my professional obligation, as a lawyer and someone who cares about justice. We’ve got to diversify our law faculties so they reflect the communities we serve. And that takes a conscious effort.

Q. That's fabulous. Let me turn over to some of the terms and conditions of employment. I saw on the website, it said fellows for this last year were paid $72,000 a year. Is that still the right number?

A. That's the right number. Our salary goes up $2,000 in the second year and another $2000 in the third year. So, salary ranges from 72k to 76k.

Q. Okay. And do fellows receive health benefits?

A. Yes.

Q. And how about access to the university or subsidized housing? I imagine that could be a big deal in Palo Alto.

A. It's a big deal. It's a huge problem.

Q. I bet.

A. It's a huge problem all over Stanford University for absolutely every job. There is access to housing, but not all those who apply get it. Several of our fellows have lived in subsidized housing now and in the past. It's still not cheap, but it is cheaper than market-rate housing. The on-campus housing for staff and faculty is actually very nice.

Q. And how about travel funding or other professional development funding?

A. Fellows get a total of $3,800. $800 from the university for professional development but there are a lot of constraints on how we can use that money. The other $3,000 can be used for conferences, books, hiring a research assistant. And everyone uses that money up.

Q. Does that include, in their second year or possibly in the third year, market-related expenses?

A. Yes, and frankly, the whole 3,000 bucks is sucked up by AALS.

Q. Are fellows expected to live in or around Palo Alto? Obviously, there are teaching obligations, so it is tough to live too far away, but if someone wanted to commute, could they?

A. I wish I could lie and say they had to live here, but that's not the case. A number of our fellows commute from the East Bay. It's super difficult, because I do think it's important, for both the teaching goals and the scholarship goals, to be on campus regularly. And I do require that they come to campus regularly, but that doesn't mean five days a week. That usually means something more like three days a week.

But we can't expect fellows to live close to Stanford, or we would be closing the fellowship to all but those who are independently wealthy or who owned a software company before they went to law school, or something. Housing prices are too high in the Bay area right now.

Q. Let’s turn to the fellowship itself and how to make the most of the fellowship year. I'm going to start with the intellectual life of the fellowship. How often do the fellows get together and in what capacity? For example, is there a fellows' workshop at Stanford?

A. The Grey fellows are a pretty collaborative group, working together on both teaching and also gathering informally to discuss their scholarship. In addition, there is a fellows' workshop that includes not just the Grey fellows, but also Stanford Law School’s fellows in the centers for constitutional law, law and biosciences, law and history, CodeX, the Rock Center for Corporate Governance, and the like. In addition, our Dean just appointed an Associate Dean for Research and Intellectual Life who will organize informal workshops with fellows, junior faculty, and JD/PhDs.

Fellows are encouraged to attend our weekly faculty lunches where faculty, visitors and sometimes folks from outside the legal academy give a talk and Q&A. Faculty lunches provide a key opportunity to ask questions of faculty and observe how professors give feedback to shape and refine the presenter’s thinking.

In addition, for the last five years the law school has sponsored the Grey Fellows’ Forum, a meeting for current and former Fellows to share their work and create an opportunity for the former fellows to get to know the current fellows, who will soon be on the market for a teaching job.

Q. Okay, that's great. Who supervisors the fellows? Who's their direct supervisor?

A. I am.

Q. And when it comes to support for their research, you talked about the assignment of a mentor. Who sits down and talks through their papers with them?

A. Two members of the faculty LRW committee advise fellows about their research and help match fellows with faculty who share interests. Fellows are encouraged to reach out to other faculty members. It’s good to have two or three faculty who are familiar with the fellow’s work to provide guidance and feedback and possibly be a recommender on the market. Of course, producing scholarship is mostly not a super-collegial endeavor. It takes a lot of sitting down and mulling over your own ideas and putting them down on paper and writing and revising and thinking.

We don’t really assign mentors, other than the LRW committee members. Some marriages don't work all that great so we have to be flexible and persistent to find the right fit.

Q. Mentoring has to be organic, in some ways, at least, right?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you have any special advice for candidates who come in with a PhD in terms of transitioning to legal writing and the norms of legal scholarship?

A. Boy, that’s a good question. Two of our current fellows have PhDs and I will ask them. I usually consider the more difficult transition to be from thinking like an advocate to thinking like a scholar. That is a huge transition and one that fellowship programs help with immeasurably. I will have to think more about the transition that PhDs make.

Q. That's fair. Let's switch over to the teaching side. Obviously, the fellows are teaching in your legal research and writing program. How many students do they typically have at a time?

A. In the fall, they have 30 students. In the winter and spring, they have 18 students. And the fall is hard, because 30 students is a fair number of students.

Q. What is their role, in terms of coming up with the assignments or coming up with the plans for the quarters?

A. I come up with the assignments, which are uniform across the program, and draft a syllabus. We share an electronic work site, where I, former fellows, and current fellows post class notes. I share in-class exercises and teaching ideas, but fellows have a fair amount of discretion about how they teach particular topics. I also give guidance about the kind and amount of feedback we give to students.

Written feedback is our opportunity to shape how students express themselves in a way that lawyers recognize as legal analysis. We provide a lot of formative feedback to students. We also meet with students individually for an hour of individual conferences with in the fall and a half-hour in the winter. No required individual conferences in the spring, but we have to be available for our students and that usually means we meet one-on-one with almost all the students.

Q. And how does that calendar work with the job market calendar?

A. The early October date has been on my calendar since the AALS published it. We might be able to cancel the class scheduled at the end of the week. But we must minimize rescheduling classes, so I hope prospective employers are flexible.

Q. Do they have opportunities to teach classes outside of the legal writing program?

A. Not really. An occasional exception is made, but for the most part, no. Our workload is heavy and the only time that it really makes sense is after the fellow has a job. But beforehand given the demanding nature of the teaching aspect of the work, nearly all other time should be spent on scholarship.

Q. Do you have a sense of the breakdown in time for fellows--what percentage of their time they tend to spend on teaching, on their own research, on other things, if there are any in the fellowship?

A. Yes. It's super lumpy. The summer is mostly available for fellows’ scholarly work, other than roughly two weeks of time devoted for getting ready for the fall quarter. In the nine weeks of the fall quarter, teaching is pretty nearly a full-time job. If someone already has a research project that's going, there might be some time when fellows can research and write. In other words, teaching in the fall is a full-time job and to attend to the scholarly agenda as well takes more than full-time effort.

Grading for the fall quarter is over by the middle of November, so fellows can focus on scholarship from then until the first full week in January—about 7 weeks. Fellows will need to spend about a week preparing for the winter quarter, and most everyone will take a week or so of vacation time then, but that leaves 4-5 weeks for scholarship. And then, because we have smaller classes in the winter and spring, I do think that it's possible to spend an average of 25-30 hours a week on teaching in the winter and spring, leaving quite a bit of time for research.

We have a long spring break, because we stop teaching after about seven weeks in the quarter. In sum, fellows have about 12 weeks in the summer, 4-5 weeks over winter break, and 3-4 weeks over spring break, for scholarly activities.

It's possible to get some work done during the term, especially during the winter and spring. But that’s very different from a fellowship where there's no teaching obligation.

Q. Circling back to teaching, what type of training or feedback do fellows receive on their teaching?

A. We have a teaching workshop over the summer. The workshop is different each year. Last year our focus was on looking at interventions to help deal with stereotype threat and how to promote diversity and inclusion in the classroom. This year, we'll focus on how to use classroom time to accomplish our course goals, with a focus on using in-class teaching techniques like how to facilitate a class conversation, how to use interactive exercises in class, how to use a Socratic dialogue, and how to lecture most effectively

I work other university programs to organize these workshops. The university has a robust Center on Teaching and Learning, and teaching is valued and respected, not just at the law school but in other parts of the University. I also often work with folks at the Hume Center—the writing tutorial center—and the Program on Writing and Rhetoric.

Then we each teach an example class, debrief it and talk about what worked well, what didn't work well, how can we improve it. We will also all mark up the same paper and pass it around to make sure we are all looking for roughly the same thing, and get ideas about how to identify analytical and writing problems and suggest improvements.

The length of the workshop varies. It's usually about two weeks or parts of two weeks. This year, we have no new teachers. So, our workshop will be just four days.

When classes are in session we meet about once a week to talk about our curriculum, pedagogy, what classes we are teaching, what problems are people having, that sort of thing.

And then, during the quarter, fellows' classes will be observed by faculty, who then review the class with the fellow.

Q. So, let's take a step back for a moment. If you were talking to a candidate with lots of different options in the fellowship market, how would you try to sell them on the Grey fellowship? Or to ask it another way, what do you think sets the Grey fellowship program apart?

A. Several things set us apart. First, and perhaps most importantly, Stanford's a really, great warm place with a fantastic group of law scholars and a vibrant intellectual life. Fellows' ideas are taken seriously.

Second, if you're interested in writing, not just to communicate your ideas to other faculty members but to write to persuade and to write for a lay audience, you should consider our fellowship. Our program teaches not just the conventions of legal writing, but how to communicate our ideas to different audiences generally.

Third, ours is a more teaching-focused fellowship. If you're not interested in teaching, and there are some law scholars who aren't that interested in teaching, this isn't the fellowship for you. But legal writing is one of the hardest things to teach in the law school. If you can teach legal writing, you can teach anything.

Quite a large number of our recent fellows have won teaching awards in their new academic institutions. Of those 18 fellows who graduated from our program and went on to tenure track positions, seven that I know of have received teaching awards at their law schools. Andrea Roth who's at Berkeley, just got the All-University Teaching Award. Beth Colgan at UCLA got the teaching award for UCLA Law School. Shirin Sinnar, who’s here at Stanford, received the faculty teaching award. Kaipo Matsumura, who's at the Arizona State University College of Law, got a teaching award. Thea Johnson, who's at the University of Maine, got a teaching award. Hillel Levin at the University of Georgia and Brooke Coleman at Seattle University received teaching awards – Brooke three times.

We hire fellows who will be good teachers and who value teaching, and we have a deserved reputation for producing fellows who will be good teachers. I know that's not the coin of the realm, but teaching is increasingly important at law schools. Most law schools care about teaching more now than they did 10 years ago.

Q. Yeah, that's fabulous. So, let's talk about the job market. Who mentors these fellows through the job market process?

A. Mentoring fellows through the job market process starts with those faculty members who have already been in touch with fellows about their scholarship generally, but we also have instituted processes to support fellows in the six months before the AALS hiring conference. Fellows should review their FAR forms, CVs, and research agendas with a couple of different people. One person who is familiar with the FAR forms and knows how to get the right information in a small space, how to make strategic decisions about what you highlight, what boxes you check about geographic preferences, all of that stuff. And then, someone in the fellow's area who knows something about the market. We have an academic prospects committee that can help review those forms.

Like some other schools, Stanford also has a Moot Fest—days set aside to moot job talks, AALS interviews, and callback interviews

Q. So, do they have an opportunity, then, to do a moot job talk?

A. Yes.

Q. Who would attend that – other fellows? faculty?

A. Faculty are designated to attend and fellows can go as they choose. And most fellows do choose, because it's really useful to watch other folks’ job talks.

Q. And do they have the opportunity to do a mock screening interview?

A. Yes.

Q. All right. Do you support fellows who have to go on the market more than once? You mentioned earlier that the fellowship can be renewed for a third year. How does that work?

A. The third year is nearly automatic if performance is good. We don't necessarily extend the fellowship past three years. Occasionally, we've given folks a fourth year if a fellow has had a baby in the middle of the fellowship, or because they’ve been truly exceptional teachers and things just haven’t quite come together to go on the market.

We've had fellows who have gone on the market more than once. It's not optimal. And I say this some from my perspective as the person in charge of the legal writing program. It's not optimal, because going on the market is a distraction from teaching. One of the things I like about the three-year fellowship is it gives fellows a second year teaching, which is usually people's most successful year. The first year teaching is really hard. People don't know the ins and outs of the assignments, the ins and outs of what students know and what students don't know. The last year teaching is also hard, because that's when you're on the job market. So, we don't necessarily support, but in circumstances, we might support someone going on the job market a second time.

Q. Okay. Now, I'd love to talk with you less about Stanford's program and more about the rise of VAPs and fellowships more generally. Obviously, there's a lot of debate about this development. What do you think are the benefits to VAPs and fellowships and what do you think are the costs?

A. The benefit is that we prepare prospective law teachers for the work they will have to do when they get a tenure-track job. As one of my colleagues says, the fellowship—like a tenure-track teaching position—is a both/and job. You have to teach. You have to do scholarship. That's a heavy lift for anybody, and our fellows have demonstrated they can do it.

We also do a great job of getting fellows who haven't been imbued in a scholarly environment to think and write like an academic: what legal academia looks like and how professors and others create an intellectually stimulating environment. Closely related to that, for our fellows who’ve come out of law practice, particularly a social change law practice, fellowships help fellows develop an academic voice and an academic approach to legal questions that is quite different from the lawyerly advocacy voice and approach.

But there are downsides. I worry that the availability of fellowships has made them nearly a requirement and has made obtaining a tenure-track teaching job more costly. Have we just created another obstacle that makes it more difficult for law students to repay their loans? Have we created a market where law schools can pretty much insist that candidates have many publications before hiring? And does this make it harder for low- and moderate-income lawyers to become law teachers? I wonder if we are reinforcing that you have to be a member of a privileged class before you even go to law school, if you're going to be a law professor.

Q. Can VAPs and fellowships help address those costs by opening up the program to candidates from nontraditional backgrounds, or other diverse backgrounds?

A. Yeah, but I think you have to make that decision self-consciously, because it's not going to happen naturally. We have a couple of fellows with PhDs, and I am thrilled to have them. But it’s problematic if fellowships only or mostly hire fellows with both law degrees and PhDs. Then you’ve created a huge barrier to entry into legal academe, because law schools will insist on it.

Q. You may have seen on the blogs that there’s a perception VAPs and fellows receive so much help on their scholarships, that it can be hard for hiring committees to know how much of the work and ideas come from the VAPs themselves and how much comes from the school.

A. Yes, I’ve heard that’s a concern, but I don't think it's a problem, at least not at Stanford. I just don't think a faculty member who would ever take that kind of responsibility for somebody else's work.

Q. Last question. Given that time is a zero sum, time spent in a fellowship is time that's not spent, for example, in practice. What do you think about that trade-off, especially given that law schools are in the business of educating lawyers?

A. We've resolved that problem by hiring people who have substantial law practice experience. Lawyers with practice bring so much to our students. I'm not a big fan of the trend of hiring exclusively PhD's on law faculties. That will increase the divide between law practice and legal scholarship, entrench a certain disdain that some law professors have for law practice, and make it less likely that students will learn the skills and ways of thinking that they will need to be excellent advocates.

We've successfully hired and promoted fellows with law practice experience whose scholarship is informed by that experience and who are in conversation with law as it's practiced and as it affects peoples’ lives.

But I don’t mean to say that a PhD doesn’t have a place in a law school. I’ve heard lawyers and judges say derogatory things about legal scholarship that misses the point of the academic enterprise and is blind to the kind of impact that legal scholarship can have, even if it doesn’t touch most lawyer’s day-to-day practice much.

Q. Is there anything else you want to add? For example, anything you want hiring committees or prospective candidates to know about the fellowship? Or anything you just want to pass along about the state of hiring in the legal academy?

A. I want to send a message to hiring law schools that our fellows are really working hard. They have a lot of obligations on their plates in addition to legal scholarship, so they are already accustomed to balancing teaching and scholarship.

Q. Thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

Posted by Jessica Erickson on July 5, 2019 at 08:47 AM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market, VAPS & Fellowships | Permalink


Let me clarify about the Grey Fellows’ teaching load and add additional information about our placement rate.

For our fellows, the biggest uninterrupted chunks of time to devote to scholarship are over the summer, winter, and spring breaks. But in the winter and spring terms we have just 18 students per section, so fellows have time during those quarters for their own research and writing.

I should also add that our placement rate is excellent. In the last thirteen years all but one of our fellows have secured tenure-track teaching jobs. Our recent alums now teach at law schools across the country and in Canada, including at Arizona State University, University of Arizona, UC Berkeley, Chicago-Kent College of Law, University of Connecticut, University of Georgia, UCLA, Loyola Law School-Los Angeles, McGill University, Rutgers, Seattle School of Law, Stanford, University of Tennessee, and Willamette.

Posted by: Jeanne Merino | Jul 9, 2019 7:42:22 PM

Paying an LRW instructor who wants to be an LRW instructor $70,000 is not exploitative. But the Grey fellows aren't signing up to be just LRW instructors, they're signing up to be fellows preparing for the doctrinal teaching market through a balanced load of teaching and research. A fellowship that promises the second thing but delivers the first is taking advantage of candidates who would otherwise pursue better opportunities in academia or practice. The Stanford program may not cross the line but based on this interview, it comes close enough for concern. It seems the issue is not just the number of students, which is similar to other programs, but the level of prep and grading expected based on the design of this particular LRW curriculum, at least as described here. Or perhaps it was just the tone of the interview, hard to tell from the outside.

Posted by: anon | Jul 9, 2019 11:52:21 AM

Anon1 -- The honest answer is that I had not thought much about the different amounts of time that different candidates had to write during their fellowship/VAP/PhD programs. I tended to judge them all equally, with perhaps the slight caveat that I expected a bit more from candidates with no teaching responsibilities in their fellowships and candidates in law PhD programs.

But now that I know how different these various programs are from one another, it's going to definitely be on my mind in the coming years.

Posted by: Jessica Erickson | Jul 9, 2019 10:14:46 AM

I mostly agree with Anon22: a History PhD doesn’t teach you how to write a law review article - it teaches you how to write a history monograph and maybe a history article (and these are vastly different genres such that if you’re doing both you’ve taught yourself how to do one of them on your own time). You also don’t have “3-5 years” to write those law review articles that in no way contribute to the completion of your History PhD - that time is spent taking classes, teaching classes, conducting research towards your dissertation, and applying for grants. A blanket expectation in this regard is about as off as saying that people who teach LRW come in for a few hours a week to teach and talk to a few students... it’s just not an accurate picture of the work involved and how that work constrains your time.

There are two (sort of) exceptions: a JD-PhD who did the JD first (and thus knows how to write a law review article as much as anyone else in a roughly analogous position, and so is “just” juggling time commitments for two different kinds of writing obligations) - and PhDs in Law, who both already have the JD and are expressly meant to be writing law review articles (so they do not have the dual writing commitments problem that disciplinary PhDs have regardless of whether the JD came first or second).

Posted by: So&So | Jul 9, 2019 6:50:59 AM

In some sense it’s not an apples to apples comparison with PhD programs. Many are also learning a skill such as history or philosophy or economics or stats. They may also have other work in the discipline. So it might not be unexpected for phd to not have that much more

Posted by: Anon22 | Jul 9, 2019 3:09:54 AM

Jessica --

Real question re time to write: do you apply that same sort of conversion to candidates coming out of a PhD program?

Obviously every PhD program is not the same, but, as I know first hand, PhD programs will often afford folks an enormous amount of time to write (far dwarfing whatever small difference there is between, say, the Bigelow and the Grey fellowships). Having an extra 10-15 hours/week for a year is nice, and probably should be a material factor for candidates deciding between these programs, but it's nothing compared with the extra three-to-five years of writing time that many PhD programs give candidates. I don't know how you do it at Richmond, but I've been routinely surprised to see candidates coming out of a six-year PhD compared on roughly equal footing to candidates who come straight from practice, or who come from practice via 1-year of a teaching fellowship.

Posted by: anon1 | Jul 8, 2019 10:11:37 PM

I have now done 12 or 13 interviews, and I do think the teaching responsibilities vary widely. The programs where fellows teach in the legal writing program tend to have the heaviest teaching responsibilities -- I don't think Stanford's program requires more in this respect than similar fellowships at other schools. After all, at most law schools, teaching 25-30 1Ls legal writing is a full-time job (certainly it is at Richmond), so it's not surprising that fellows with these same responsibilities don't have much time during the year to write, especially since they are by definition pretty new at teaching this class.

I will have a longer post with my thoughts at the end of this series, but in the meantime, I think hiring committees should keep in mind that fellows at different programs can have very different teaching responsibilities and therefore very different amounts of time to write. I'm not sure I had thought as much about that when evaluating CVs and FAR forms before doing these interviews.

Posted by: Jessica Erickson | Jul 8, 2019 9:13:09 PM

A job where someone gets $70+ health insurance to go in a few hours a week to teach and meet with students is far from "exploitive." It compares nothing to law firms let alone jobs where people make considerably less than $50K to do far more (like amazon workers who do physical work for 9+ hours a day/5-6 days a week for minimum wage).

Posted by: anono | Jul 8, 2019 8:16:26 PM

*sorry - the below should read "leaves much more time for writing."

Posted by: anon1 | Jul 8, 2019 7:06:48 PM

In all fairness, I'm not sure if the NYU program leaves much more time for teaching -- and both actually still leave the entire summer + breaks free. That's less than what you might get at some of these other programs, but it's a whole lot more writing time than what's afforded in practice.

For a candidate who doesn't need to get much more writing done and who lacks any sort of teaching experience, Stanford could be a strong fit. It wouldn't be my first or second choice out of the top programs, but it's unfair to suggest that it's exploitative: Stanford provides a livable wage and enough writing time to be a reasonable jumping off point for academia. And even if it doesn't attract the number of candidates as the other top programs (26 is shockingly few), the admissions process still sounds sufficiently competitive to represent a semi-meaningful screen/signal for hiring committees.

Posted by: anon1 | Jul 8, 2019 5:19:43 PM

The teaching described here seems on another level from the other LRW VAPs. A teaching load that leaves no time for research except during breaks raises alarm bells and is probably exploitative. No wonder they are receiving less interest than other fellowships and apparently candidates are having less success on the market. Why doesn't Stanford hire more fellows, or full-time LRW professors as well, to make the load more reasonable?

Posted by: anon | Jul 8, 2019 3:16:57 PM

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