HLS Starts Programs to Ease Transition to Academia

BY PAMELA FOOHEY

While Harvard Law School’s Office of Career Services and Office of Public Interest Advising are available to assist students entering government, non-profit, public interest, or private practice, students interested in academia often find themselves without defined resources to consult when preparing for the legal teaching market. In order to assist Harvard Law students and graduates who are interested in pursuing academic careers, especially those who want to practice law for a few years before transitioning to legal academia, Harvard Law recently implemented two new programs, the Post-Graduate Research Fellowship and the Visiting Assistant Professor position.Beginning this summer, Harvard Law School is offering a Post-Graduate Research Fellowship. The fellowship is designed to provide graduates with the resources they need to conduct research and prepare to enter the law teaching market while they practice law immediately following graduation. The three-year fellowship provides access to the Harvard libraries and electronic research tools, such as Lexis, Westlaw, and JSTOR. Fellows also will be invited to program at HLS related to law teaching and will have access to a network of HLS alumni interested in academia.

The idea for the fellowship was suggested by two 3Ls who are interested in teaching law after practicing for a few years. They approached Professor Daryl Levinson, who approached Dean Kagan, about establishing a program that would allow graduates to stay connected to the legal academy, continue to read scholarship, and pursue some writing, either on their own or in conjunction with HLS faculty. According to Professor Levinson, “it took Dean Kagan about five seconds to make it happen.”

We’ll experiment with exactly how the fellowship will be structured and it will probably evolve over time, but the hope is that the program will create a network of HLS alums interested in law teaching who will stay more closely connected with faculty mentors and with each other, making it easier to organize informal reading groups, collaborate on scholarship, and share information and feedback,” Levinson explained.

Fellowship applications are due by April 15, 2008. Applications consist of a resume, transcript, and a brief statement describing the applicant’s plans for the next three years and how the applicant will take advantage of the Fellowship during that time. They should be delivered by email or in hard copy to Professor Levinson’s assistant.

The Post-Graduate Research Fellowship is part of a broader effort to assist HLS graduates who have been practicing for some time transition back to academia. As Professor Levison noted, he is slightly infamous for pointing out, “an unfortunate feature of the law teaching market these days is that people who have spent a long time in practice and have enormously valuable experience and expertise to bring back to the academy often face an uphill struggle in making the transition.” The Record reported in November that Dean Kagan was launching a program aimed at practicing lawyers (“Dean Starts Program to Boost Practitioners into Academia, 11/29/07), but the details were not clear at that time.

To that end, HLS has created a Visiting Assistant Professor position for experienced practitioners interested in teaching. Beginning with the 2008-2009 academic year, Visiting Assistant Professors will be appointed for two-year terms and will be required to teach a regular course load and produce at least one substantial piece of scholarship.

The position is open to applicants with substantial legal experience, defined as at least three years in public or private practice, not including years spent as a law clerk. During the second year of the appointment, Visiting Assistant Professors will enter the tenure-track legal market.

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