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Legal Scholarship

Sample research agenda

There are law schools that may hire professors primarily on the promise of excellent teaching, but for most law schools the quality of potential scholarship is a decisive factor.  At the majority of schools, the single most important factor in obtaining a tenure-track academic law teaching position is demonstrated scholarly achievement—that is, writing.  Most successful candidates have published at least one law review article and have, in addition, at least one completed manuscript (their job talk paper).  Many have more publications and/or works in progress.  The amount of writing an applicant is expected to have completed in fact varies widely among law schools hiring entry-level professors.

If you are thinking of becoming a law professor, you must be comfortable with writing.  Teaching is an important part of the job, but to get tenure at most institutions you will have to produce scholarship.  At many schools, writing is at least half the job of being a law professor.  Writing must be something for which you are prepared to devote a significant portion of your life.

In developing a portfolio of legal scholarship, quality matters, not just quantity. You should publish papers only after you have vetted them with peers and academic mentors. A long list of publications may be attractive initially, but in the end most institutions will make appointment decisions based upon on the quality (not simply the quantity) of your work. The appointments process makes ample allowance for those learning to write, but nonetheless probes early scholarship for evidence of analytic rigor, creativity, accuracy in reporting facts and law, and other indicia of academic excellence. 

Law teaching candidates typically have not only a portfolio of scholarship, but also a scholarly agenda—a set of questions, issues, or problems they hope to explore in the next three to five years.  These may be linked by common concerns, methodologies, or themes.  If you are having trouble identifying topics for writing, you might begin by thinking about your paper topics in law school; issues you have encountered in practice; legal questions about which you have always been curious; or a problem or inconsistency in the law that you think important to understand.  Can you identify questions that you find intellectually exciting and that matter to the development of law?