Become a Law Teacher: Education and Career Roadmap

Apr 27, 2020

Read this lesson and learn how to become a law teacher. Find out about the job description and the education and licensing requirements, and see how to start a career teaching at a law school.

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Law Teachers

Like other types of college-level teachers, law teachers instruct students, perform research, and produce scholarly articles and books. Additionally, law teachers are expected to contribute their training to the field by doing consulting work and serving in organizations related to the legal profession, such as the American Bar Association.

Law teachers, like other postsecondary instructors, generally have flexibility in their schedules. Some choose to practice law and teach part-time, while others are primarily professors, with the exception of consulting. Full-time law teachers usually have office hours in addition to their time in the classroom. Some classes may be held on the weekends or in the evenings, and summer schedules can change drastically, opening up more time for teachers to complete research or serve in legal organizations. These other roles may or may not provide additional income. However, law teachers earn an average salary of $129,950 per year as of May 2019.

Degree Level A Juris Doctor is usually required; some employers prefer an additional graduate degree
Degree Field Law
Licensure All states require a license to practice law
Experience At least 3 years of experience in the legal profession; prior teaching experience also helpful
Key Skills Analytical skills, communication skills, organizational skills, public speaking
Salary $129,950 (Annual mean salary for a law professor in May 2019)

Sources: The University of Chicago - Paths to Law Teaching, University of Southern California, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine

Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

While no specific major is required for law school, prospective law students benefit from a multidisciplinary background that develops skills in writing, speaking, research, and logical thinking. Universities typically offer a suggested pre-law curriculum guide. Many law teachers are alumni of prominent law schools, such as Harvard or Yale, which require an outstanding undergraduate record and high scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

Earn a J.D. Degree

A Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree is earned by attending law school. Law teachers typically graduate law school near the top of their classes and edit or contribute to the school law review, a journal of student legal articles. After completing core subjects such as contracts and torts, J.D. candidates focus on specific fields, such as tax law and personal injury law, as they approach graduation. Courses emphasizing papers over exams are more helpful to prospective law teachers.

Success Tips:

  • Subscribe to the American Association of Law Schools Placement Bulletin. Subscribing will provide access to open positions, allowing individuals to learn what qualities are in demand and tailor their academic and professional activities to match.
  • Maintain a good relationship with professors during and after law school. An individual's professors can be a valuable resource, as they can provide references and advocate for former students.

Gain Licensure and Work Experience

All states require an individual to be licensed to practice law. The licensing exam, which is usually referred to as the bar exam, serves to admit a lawyer to the bar in the state in which he or she plans to work. The requirements may differ by state, so an individual would need to contact his or her state's Board of Bar Examiners for specific details.

Most law teachers have experience clerking at federal courts and working for private law firms or the government. Candidates can also gain teaching experience as instructors in a clinical legal education program, in which law students serve real-life clients under faculty supervision. Many schools require law professors to have published at least one scholarly article after law school.

Enroll in Graduate School

When pursuing law school faculty slots, job candidates with only a J.D. are at a disadvantage. Those with Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees, on the other hand, are able to teach courses in their master's degree concentrations. Similarly, a candidate with a Ph.D. in a related field, such as economics, could teach an interdisciplinary course combining law with his or her academic specialty. While in graduate school, students can expect to form a strong academic relationship with their professors. A graduate student may even have the opportunity to co-author a paper with one of his or her professors. At the doctoral level, future college professors often specialize within their chosen discipline. For example, a sociology student may specialize in a topic such as medical sociology or the sociology of religion.

Work as a Law Teacher

Law teachers have a three-fold role: teaching, scholarly writing, and public service. Some may focus on the classroom, while others may devote more time to writing articles or textbooks. Still, others may choose more public roles, such as writing amicus briefs, serving on professional organizations, like the American Bar Association, or doing pro bono legal work. The more experience a prospective lawyer gains, the higher paycheck. After acquiring a full-time position, a law teacher may eventually acquire tenure status with the school.

In summary, becoming a law teacher involves a number of steps, including obtaining a bachelor's degree, earning a J.D. degree, becoming licensed, getting work experience, enrolling in graduate school, and working as a law teacher.

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