No longer Madame Librarian?
March 2, 2009 9:07 PM   Subscribe

LegalEducationFilter: I have been a law librarian for 10 years. Of late, I have become far more interested in teaching and developing a law school curriculum than in librarianing. I'm not sure yet, but I think I'd make a good law school academic dean someday. Does anyone have any insight into this career goal? How can I leverage my legal research and teaching background into a legal education management career?

If it makes a difference, I spent 7 years in law firms, and 3 (so far) in academia. I'm primarily interested in working toward a curriculum that emphasizes practical legal skills.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've never seen a dean appointment at a law school (at least in Canada) at wasn't a law professor first. Almost all the law school deans I know of had (have) LL.D. degrees or Ph.D(Law) degrees. Now it may be that there are positions in the dean's offices that could use someone with the skill set you have (are developing), but for becoming a dean - set your eyes on a professorship first (not an easy task, mind).
posted by birdsquared at 9:44 PM on March 2, 2009

Make your own way. Develop your cirriculum first. Then shop it.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:56 PM on March 2, 2009

What birdsquared said is true of my experience as well. I'm also a Canadian law student though, so I don't know if it would differ in other countries.

If it is true that you need to become a professor first, it definitely won't be easy by any means. First you'll have to be accepted to law school. Something like 80-90% of applicants are already rejected in this stage. Then you will need fantastic grades to be hired back as a professor. Many of my profs were medalists in their day. This will be impossible to "plan for" - you can't just decide that you're going to be top of your class.

If you do get a professorship, a few of my younger profs (they're assistant professors) are doing their PhDs while teaching. Then you would hopefully get tenure. Even then, you're not guaranteed to automatically rise to the position of Dean. You'll likely have to put in many years of teaching before you'll even be considered for the appointment. It's not a job that you simply apply for and wait for a phone call.

I don't know... it sounds like a stretch to me. Maybe someone else will pop in who knows something I don't. Best of luck to you.
posted by keep it under cover at 11:47 PM on March 2, 2009

It would be helpful if you could clarify whether you have a law degree and whether your stint as an academic law librarian has included classroom teaching experience.

I don't know about law schools specifically, but my experience in academia more broadly is that academic administrators (deans, provosts, VPs, etc) usually start out as professors before moving into administration. Profs generally don't like reporting to someone who has never been "one of them." So, I suspect that birdsquared has the right answer. Especially since you are interested in curriculum development, it seems important to go through the sequence of learning the law curriculum as a student and then teaching it as a law prof before redesigning it as an administrator.

You could try browsing the job ads for academic administrators at the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed to get a feel for the kind of qualifications expected of high-level hires.

Also, have you talked with some of the law profs at your current school about your curriculum ideas? If you haven't done this already, it seems to me like a potentially rich source of information about why the current law curriculum is the way it is, how law profs would react to a program that "emphasizes practical legal skills," whether they would want to teach in such a program, whether there's already a law school or a bunch of law schools that are doing things similar to what you have in mind, etc.
posted by Orinda at 12:03 AM on March 3, 2009

At least at my top-25 law school, the head librarian is an associate dean. I think you basically start publishing, then move around, slowly working your way up the ladder, hoping that eventually an administrative position opens up.

But I don't know of anyone who has made the transition from librarian to full dean. Heads of law schools are drawn from the ranks of teaching and research faculty, not librarians.

But most of all, I don't think that "law dean" is the kind of career goal that one can set for one's self with any realistic chance of success. "Law professor" or "law librarian" are difficult enough, and you've already got an enviable position. Moving from there to the lofty ranks of administration involves luck at least as much as anything else, i.e. you have to check off all the boxes and be at the right place at the right time. Most law librarians are law librarians until they retire or get out of academia.

It's kind of like the federal bench. A lot of people would like to serve there, and with dedication and a little luck, some actually do make it to district courts. But once there, that's basically it. True, some district judges are elevated to the appellate bench, but that's so infrequent an event that most trial judges assume they'll be there until they retire. Still, if you want to prepare yourself for the possibility of an administrative job, start publishing. That's the only way you're going to even be eligible.

Oh, and the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed really aren't the places you want to look. You want to look at the AALS faculty recruitment register, the listing for law school hiring. Librarian and dean-level positions are in there, not other publications.
posted by valkyryn at 3:29 AM on March 3, 2009

Practical legal skills? Do you mean legal research and writing? Or clinic work, making appearances, dealing with real problems of real clients?

You could look into doing an LLM without an LLB (or JD), as a way to move to teaching and publishing without getting an LLB. If you never plan to practice, and are not planning on being involved in clinical teaching settings, you don't need the LLB, but I do not know whether the lack of an LLB (or equivalent wherever you are) will be a barrier in another way at some point.
posted by girlpublisher at 5:10 AM on March 3, 2009

Since you're an academic law librarian, i'll just assume that you already have your JD. If not, you'll need to somehow get it, because without it, your aspirations in this post will remain unfulfilled. The next step is get more administrative experience. You should be applying for Director's/Dean's positions at your law school, or at all the nearby law schools. If that means you need to acquire a bit more administrative experience, then do that by stepping up to the closest next rung, such as a department head.

I don't know if librarians at your law school are faculty. If you're not, then you need to get hired by a law school where you will be faculty. This will give you the opportunity to serve on law school committees. You'll need to do this.

While you're doing all of this, you should be publishing, as valkryn suggests above. In fact, much of what valkryn suggests above is pretty good advice. An LLM may also help.

Furthermore, you also need to be teaching. Academic law librarians often have opportunities to teach, and if you don't where you are, either get hired at a law school where you'll be tenure-track, or appoach your current Dean of Academic Affairs, and propose a class. Make sure your proposal is tight.

Once you've developed a vita that demonstrates the value you bring in research, teaching, and administration, then you concentrate on expanding your network, and taking on more responsibilities by actively seeking them out. It's possible to do what you want to do, but you'll need to acknowledge two realities:

1) This will take a LOT of work. Get cracking.

2) You will likely have to move at least twice, if not more, because you are likely to find more opportunities for advancement at other law schools than your current home. This is just the reality of the marketplace. And what makes this tricky is that you need to be on an upward trajectory w/r/t developing your vita, but also . . . nobody trusts an administrator who hangs out for only a couple of semesters before splitting. Count on this plan taking about ten years or so. Also, if you get an offer, but you want to stay, you can always use that as a bargaining chip.

Best of luck! MeFi mail me if you have any particular questions. If I knew where you were, I might be able to offer better, and more pointed, advice.
posted by deejay jaydee at 8:25 AM on March 3, 2009

« Older MobileMe ftw   |   I need a certain type of phone system Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.