How to Become a Law Professor

Five Parts:Earning the Required Undergraduate DegreePreparing to Attend Law SchoolEarning Your Law DegreeGetting Your Law LicenseObtaining a Law Professor Position

In order to become a law professor, you first must meet the educational requirements to earn an undergraduate degree, which is a bachelor’s of arts (B.A.) or a bachelor’s of science (B.S.) degree. You also must complete an accredited law school program and earn a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree. During law school, you must participate in certain activities and achieve excellent grades. Next, you must pass a bar examination in any state in which you want to be licensed to practice law. Once you are hired for a job as a law professor, you will assume many duties and responsibilities that go beyond providing classroom instruction to law students. A law professor must also serve as a mentor, providing academic assistance and guidance to students about their legal studies and their future career paths. Law professors also routinely conduct research and publish articles in academic journals. Often, a law professor’s ability to advance in his or her career depends on the ability to publish legal articles on a routine basis.

Part 1
Earning the Required Undergraduate Degree

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    Enroll in an undergraduate degree program. Becoming a law professor requires that you obtain the proper education first. Assuming that you have a high school diploma or G.E.D., you should enroll in an undergraduate degree program in which you can earn an undergraduate degree.
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    Choose your course of study. When you pursue an undergraduate degree, you must choose a major in which to concentrate your studies. Depending on what course of study you choose, you also may be able to pursue two majors, or one major and a minor area of study. While some colleges and universities offer a pre-law major when earning your bachelor’s degree, it is not required that you hold a bachelor’s degree in law or even a closely related field in order to attend law school. It is fairly common for people seeking to attend law school in the future to earn bachelor’s degrees in pre-law, political science, business, and economics. However, individuals holding degrees in other fields often are accepted to law school.
    • To maximize your ability to successfully attend law school, you should consider taking courses that would strengthen your public speaking, writing, and analytical skills, which are necessary such as speech, English, business writing, and similar courses.
    • If your interest in the law concerns legal business transactions, you may explore a degree in business or a related discipline.
    • Depending on your major, you also may be able to take some law-related courses, such as Constitutional Law, which can expose you to reading and analyzing court cases. These courses will help prepare you for your law school studies.
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    Obtain a B.A. or B.S. degree. In order to become a law professor, you must obtain an undergraduate degree, or a bachelor's degree. This can be either a bachelor’s of science degree or a bachelor’s of arts degree, depending on your chosen major. You cannot attend law school without an undergraduate degree, and you cannot become a law professor without attending law school. Obtaining an undergraduate degree typically involves a course of study lasting four to five years, if you pursue the degree on a full-time basis. Attending college on a part-time basis is likely to take longer, depending on how many courses you take each semester.

Part 2
Preparing to Attend Law School

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    Get good grades. Most law schools will not admit a student who has poor grades. Some law schools even require that you have a certain grade point average in order to eligible for admission. If you cannot maintain a high grade point average, you are not as likely to do well in law school.
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    Join a pre-law group. Most college campuses have a pre-law group for people who are interested in eventually attending law school or becoming lawyers. These groups often sponsor a practice LSAT, which is the law school admissions test. You also may be able to get information about different law schools through this group.[1]
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    Work for a law firm or court during summer break or on a part-time basis. Even if you find a clerical job in the court system or a job running errands to the courthouse, being exposed to the legal world can help you decide if law is a career that you want to pursue. You also can observe the legal environment in which you are working and learn about the inner workings of a law firm or court.
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    Research law schools. You will need to understand that the majority of law professors graduated from the most prestigious law schools, like Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Columbia, Michigan, NYU, Berkeley, Virginia, Duke, Penn, Cornell, Georgetown, Northwestern, Texas, and UCLA. In fact, most law professors graduated from Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and Chicago. According to at least one law professor, you will have little change of getting a law professor position unless you hold a law degree from one of these schools. Take this fact into consideration when choosing law schools.[2]
    • There are a few other schools that have produced law professors, including USC, Vanderbilt, Emory, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Iowa, George Washington, and Washington and Lee, although those individuals were at the top of their law school classes and had other impressive credentials.
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    Take the LSAT. While you are still pursuing your undergraduate degree, you should study for and take the LSAT. The LSAT is the traditional admissions test for law school. You may want to consider taking the LSAT during your junior year of college, so that you will have the opportunity to retake the LSAT during your senior year if you want to improve your score. Just as other professions require applicants to take admissions tests prior to enrolling into the program, prospective law students must complete this standardized admissions testing.[3]
    • It costs $175 to take the LSAT. There is an additional $170 fee if you want to have your scores sent directly to the law schools to which you apply.
    • The LSAT is offered in many different locations nationwide four to five times per year. The test is administered at several locations in each state.
    • The LSAT is a half-day exam that consists of five sections of 35 multiple-choice questions. Four of the five sections contribute to your overall LSAT score, which is what the law schools to which you apply receive. There is also a 35-minute unscored writing sample that is also provided to the law schools to which you apply.
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    Apply to law schools. Contact each law school in which you are interested for its individual admissions requirements. Most law schools will require you to complete an extensive application. Additionally, you will be required submit your LSAT scores and provide certified copies of your undergraduate transcripts to each law school to which you apply.
    • The Registrar’s office of your college will be able to assist you in getting certified copies of your transcripts. A small fee is often charged for getting certified copies.
    • When you take the LSAT, you will have the opportunity to have your scores directly sent to a number of law schools that you designate. Your writing sample also will be sent to those schools.
    • Most law schools charge an application fee, which typically can range from $25 - $75 per application.
    • Some law schools are more competitive in terms of admissions than others. Some schools may require a certain LSAT score or a certain undergraduate grade point average in order to qualify for admission. Be sure to choose a number of schools to which to apply, including at least one that you believe is likely to admit you as a student.
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    Choose a law school. When investigating and obtaining information on law schools, be sure to ask what resources and opportunities they offer to students. It is also important to verify that each law school that you consider is accredited. Understand that your choice of law school may have a substantial impact on whether you will be able to obtain a law school position; the more nationally prestigious your law school is, the better change you will have of breaking into the legal teaching market.

Part 3
Earning Your Law Degree

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    Enroll in law school. Most accredited law schools offer a three-year course of study. Some law schools offer four-year joint degree programs, such a J.D/M.B.A. degree. Required courses for law students typically include those pertaining to civil procedure, criminal law, torts, constitutional law and legal research and writing.
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    Study hard. A top academic performance in your law school career is essential to becoming a law professor. Many law professor positions are reserved for the best and brightest of law school graduates. Getting good grades will put you in a better position to achieve your career goals. Having a high class standing is often essential for getting a law professor position.
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    Gain legal experience. In addition to developing legal knowledge and expertise, working in the legal field also allows you to network with others and establish connections. These contacts can be invaluable resources as you venture into other career opportunities.
    • You often can complete internships and summer jobs for law firms and other entities providing legal services in order to get experience while you are still in law school. Some of these opportunities are quite competitive, and will select only the top students from law schools.
    • You may be able to work part-time at a local law firm while attending school. While your primary focus should be on your studies, getting a few hours per week of actual law experience can be invaluable.
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    Apply for law review and publish a student note. All law schools have at least one law journal that is largely managed by law students, under the guidance of a law professor. Being selected for law review can be a quite prestigious honor. Most students on law review have excellent grades and writing skills. You also may have the opportunity to publish a student note in a law journal, which is a research article on some aspect of the law.
    • Try to be selected for one of the law journal’s board positions, such as Articles Editor or Editor-in-Chief. This is a credential that is highly recommended to have when seeking a career as a law professor.
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    Get involved in Moot Court. All law schools have moot court or mock trial program, in which law students compete against one another. These programs offer a certain measure of prestige for the winners. The programs also teach you practical trial and public speaking skills that will be invaluable in your future career.
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    Enroll in a law school clinic for a semester. Many law schools have clinical programs that allow law students, under the supervision of a licensed attorney, to handle actual cases in certain areas of the law. For instance, some law school clinics focus on cases involving children. Other clinical programs provide legal representation for domestic violence victims. These programs give you not only academic credit, but also real-life experience practicing law.
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    Earn a Juris Doctorate (J.D.). Once you have completed the course of study at your law school, you will graduate with a J.D. This is the final degree required to become a law professor. While there are advanced law degrees available, particularly for international students seeking to become educated as lawyers in the United States, they are not a requirement for becoming a law professor.[4]
    • It is estimated that only 10 – 25% of law school professors hold an advanced law degree such as a LL.M, Ph.D, J.S.D., or a D.Phil degree. It is far more common for law professors – and lawyers – in foreign countries to hold advanced degrees.
    • The one benefit of pursuing a LL.M or J.S.D., which are the advanced degree options typically offered at law schools, is that you will have the opportunity to be in the academic environment and publish at least one article in a legal publication.

Part 4
Getting Your Law License

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    Register for the bar examination for the state in which you want to practice. All law professors are licensed to practice law in at least one state, even if they no longer actively practice law. Your law school will have information about the bar examination that you wish to take, including registration forms. The applications tend to very lengthy and require you to obtain a great deal of background information about your life.
    • If you wish to practice law in another state, you can contact that state’s bar association for information. You can find a list of state bar associations by clicking here.
    • Because bar admission applications are a huge undertaking, give yourself adequate time to gather all of the information that you need.
    • You are likely to have to supply a list of your addresses from the past ten years, documentation of any legal proceedings in which you have been involved, including traffic tickets and divorces, and a comprehensive list of every job at which you have worked since turning the age of 18.
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    Undergo a character and fitness examination. All states require you to undergo a character and fitness written examination that tests your knowledge of legal and professional ethics. This is often referred to as a professional responsibility exam. In some states, you also may have to be personally interviewed by a representative of the state board of bar examiners.
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    Study for the bar exam. Unfortunately, attending law school does not tend to prepare you very well for taking the bar exam. It is recommended that you take a commercial bar preparation course, usually during the summer following your graduation from law school. This course will prepare you for the subjects about which you must answer questions on the bar exam.
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    Successfully take the bar examination. You cannot become a practicing attorney unless you pass the bar exam. It is a lengthy test lasting two or more days in most states. Passing rates vary widely from state to state, with the California bar exam being notorious for its high failure rate.

Part 5
Obtaining a Law Professor Position

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    Create a curriculum vitae. A curriculum vitae, also known as a CV, outlines your educational and academic background, research, publications, honors, memberships and affiliations. Curricula vitae differ from resumes in that they are usually more than two pages in length and provide the reader an in-depth overview of the individual’s experience.
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    Get a few years of legal experience. It is not common for new law school graduates to immediately become law professors. Rather, lawyers often become law professors only after they have worked at large, prestigious, national law firms, clerked for judges at high-profile federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, or worked in high-level government jobs. Obtain one of these types of jobs and you will increase your chances of being selected for a law professor position.
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    Publish an article in a legal journal. It is becoming more common for potential law professors to have published an article in a legal journal following graduation from law school. This publication should occur in an academic legal journal, as opposed to a more mainstream publication aimed at practicing lawyers.
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    Decide which type of professor you would like to be. There are different types of law professors. Some are full-time employees at a law school with full benefits. These are tenure-track positions, similar to professors in other academic disciplines. They are required to publish legal articles in scholarly journals on a regular basis, in addition to teaching law school courses.
    • Another type of law professor is an adjunct professor. Adjuncts are practicing attorneys who teach a class or two per semester. An adjunct professor is likely to be a practicing attorney who has expertise in a particular area of the law.
    • All law schools employ legal research and writing professors. These professors handle all of the first-year legal research and writing classes, which are required to complete law school. The emphasis for these professors tends to be student contact and feedback, rather than publishing and scholarship.
    • There are also clinical law professors, who operate legal clinics in different areas of the law. These clinics are run by law students each semester, who handle actual cases under the supervision of their law professor. More often than not, these are experienced attorneys who have spent many years practicing law in a particular area.
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    Search for available law professor positions. To aid in your job search, take advantage of resources offered online or your law school’s career services offices, focusing on legal employment opportunities. For example, it is now possible for you to create and save a query identifying the geographic location in which you are seeking employment and the types of positions in which you are interested in pursuing. When a posted vacancy meets those requirements, you receive an email notification.
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    Register with the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). The AALS facilitates the hiring of most individuals as law professors each year. 179 law schools are members of AALS.[5]
    • This non-profit organization maintains the Faculty Appointment Register (FAR), an online recruiting system for individuals seeking law professor positions and recruiters from law schools seeking candidates. You can register for the FAR by clicking here, and for a fee, you can upload your biographical information for recruiters to view. By registering with FAR, you will receive a one-year subscription to the Placement Bulletin, which is published quarterly by AALS.
    • You also can attend the annual AALS Faculty Recruitment Conference, a three-day event at which candidates can interview for open law professor positions.
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    Apply for jobs. Complete and submit required documentation for each position. You should ensure that you adhere to all guidelines. Be sure to read the vacancy announcement carefully and check off each item you obtain it. It is also important to keep documents organized, preferably in the order listed in the job announcement, so the reviewer can easily review your application packet.
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    Consider a Visiting Assistant Professor program. Many law schools now offer a VAP program, which is a one or two-year fellowship that allows aspiring law professors to spend time researching, publishing, and teaching before searching for a regular, full-time, tenure-track, law professor position.[6]
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    Consider teaching undergraduate law courses at colleges and universities in order to gain teaching experience. There are many undergraduate courses that relate to law in one way or another. As a result, there are ample opportunities for someone who wants to teach law-related courses to do so on a college campus.


  • Specializing in an area of law enables one to establish a professional reputation, improving chances to be a law professor.
  • When applying for a position that requires references, demonstrate courtesy and notify those individuals of your intentions of becoming a law professor and that you chose them as a reference.

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