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September|October 2005

The Nth Degree

Want to be a law professor? Where'd you get your Ph.D.?

By David Fontana and Margot Sanger-Katz

THIS FALL, ABOUT 150 NEW ASSISTANT LAW PROFESSORS will be settling into their offices, meeting their first classes, and beginning the rat race to get tenure. Competition among junior faculty to teach, write, and distinguish themselves as scholars is as old as the law schools they inhabit. But over time, the starting blocks have been moved back earlier and earlier in an aspiring professor's career. Today's new hires arrive at their jobs with more academic degrees earned, more legal research fellowships completed, and more articles published than ever before.

To quantify this shift in the training of the country's law professors, Legal Affairs compiled information about the entry-level, tenure-track hires at 24 law schools from the last three years and from three years in the 1960s. The schools we chose were varied in prestige, geography, and size, though all existed in the 1960s. Our data set was small, but evidence of the changing standards was notable, particularly at top-ranked law schools. The percentage of new professors with nonlaw advanced degrees, including Ph.D.'s, and with fellowship experience increased by significant margins. At the "Top 20" schools, the changes are even more striking: Practically 60 percent of new hires have advanced degrees and nearly 60 percent did fellowships. One Ls with ivory tower ambitions should be advised that the traditional route of serving a prestigious clerkship for a judge and then working at a prestigious law firm is no longer a sure path to an academic appointment.

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