How to Become an Adjunct Professor of Law

I recently explained why lawyers should teach. This post offers a road map for lawyers interested in teaching a law school course as an adjunct professor.

Although tenure-track law professorships are scarce and fiercely competitive, it is comparatively easy to become an adjunct professor of law. Design a course that you are qualified to teach and that fills a curricular gap,  then determine how to most appropriately and persuasively pitch your course to the faculty making the hiring decision.

Pick your topic, pick a school

Employing adjuncts is a cost effective way for law schools to round out gaps in their curricula. Keep this motivation in mind when you design a course proposal. Determine what subjects you are qualified to teach and whether a law school in your area appears to have a curricular need that you could fill. By taking the time to understand the curricular needs of the school, you increase the likelihood that your course proposal will be accepted.

Once you identify a general curricular need, identify a course that you are qualified to teach. As a would-be adjunct, consider pitching an upper-division seminar course, rather than a first year class or large survey course (which are usually taught by full-time faculty or experienced legal educators). Given that you will teach in your area of expertise, you can probably think of several courses that would be fun to teach, would be beneficial to students and would fill the curricular gap that you identified.

If not, spend some time browsing through law school text books published by Westlaw, Lexis or Aspen. Review course offerings at other law schools. Find out which classes were offered at the law school in the past but that no one is currently available to teach. Taking over a class that has been taught in the past is a great way to save the time it would take to design a course from scratch. Another brainstorming tool that has the added benefit of getting your foot in the door at the law school is to call a faculty member that teaches in the general area and get his or her thoughts on what course would most benefit the school.

Apply

The adjunct application process varies widely from school to school. First check the law school’s website to see if the adjunct application process is posted. If not, find out who is in charge of the adjunct program at the school. You should be able to find this out online or by calling the information desk at the school. Ask that person to provide you with information on the application process. Often, the adjunct program is run by the Dean of Academic Affairs. When I applied to the University of Minnesota Law School, I had to submit a resume to the Adjunct Appointments Committee and a proposed course syllabus for review and approval by the Education Policy Committee.

At some schools, reaching out to Dean of Academic Affairs to introduce yourself might be helpful, but at others this may be considered imprudent. A 2007 post on the PrawfsBlawg contains a helpful discussion on How to become an adjunct prawf. A anonymous Associate Dean offers the following thoughts on “Getting in the Door”:

. . . I really hate it when prospective adjuncts call me and ask if we can grab a cup of coffee. The original post is correct that ADs are inundated with applications, and the last thing I want to do is spend a forced 15-30 minutes chatting someone up when the inevitable outcome is that their application goes into the pile along with everyone else’s. There will always be exceptions, but I think that any AD who allows herself to be talked into hiring someone whose resume doesn’t already interest her is not using her school’s resources well.

So what does get you in the door? Guest lecturing might help, as might more generally having a full-time faculty member on your side. Sometimes it just helps to be in the right place at the right time; if I have a hole in the curriculum and I get a resume from a specialist in that field I will certainly call that person up for an interview.

If you know a professor at the school, see if he or she can give you any insight into the process or if he or she would be wiling to put in a good word for you. If you do not know any professors at the school, consider introducing yourself to a faculty member teaching in your general subject area and bouncing your course ideas off him or her and then inquiring about the application process. Or reach out to an attorney who is already serving as adjunct professor and ask for tips on how to navigate the hiring process or, as appropriate, the opportunity to guest lecture.

Design your course

Ideally, the application process will allow you an opportunity to get feedback on your course idea before investing too much time fleshing it out. If a proposed syllabus is required, a topical syllabus might suffice or you may need to craft a full proposed syllabus, which would include lecture topics and reading assignments. If you find that a full syllabus is required, then it is highly advisable to invest the time necessary to determine that your proposed course topic fits a curricular need.

The application process can take a while, so be patient and plan ahead.

(photo: threecee)

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