Friday, June 13, 2008

My Teaching Year (Part I)

I spent the 2006-2007 school year as an Assistant Professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. My main responsibility was a section of a special legal research and writing course for students in the joint American-Canadian J.D./LL.B. program, while during the summer I taught a class on American constitutional law.

I currently have a little over a year to decide whether I want to go back to teaching right after I finish my Ph.D. In this short series of blog posts I want to talk a little bit about my experiences as a law prof, and some of the rewards and disappointments I encountered.

It started, like a lot of jobs, with an ad in the newspaper. I was at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association at the time and desperately looking to make an exit, but had never seriously considered going into law teaching after hearing that it basically required finishing at the very top of your class from an Ivy league school and an appellate clerkship. Still, the ad in Lawyer's Weekly seemed like it was written just for me, as I didn't know many people with American and Canadian law degrees, a solid record of scholarship, and an interest in teaching.

It's worth mentioning that this is an extremely unusual way to enter legal academia in the United States--the "normal" route is through a kind of intense "job fair" at an American Association of Law Schools conference, held once a year in the Fall.

Anyway, I sent in my resume with a carefully crafted cover letter, expecting to hear nothing back. I immediately received an encouraging response from the chair of the search committee and was asked to take part in a phone interview. I did some hasty research on legal research and writing education which paid off considerably in the interview. I was surprised to be posed with a hypothetical about Lawrence v. Texas (a U.S. gay rights case) which came out after I had graduated law school and was working in Canada; fortunately I had skimmed the opinion and must have had some sort of coherent response to the question because they asked me to come to campus for another interview.

My first thoughts about the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law were: this is a high school! The building looked nothing like any law school I had ever been in before; it was not situated within the context of a larger campus. Instead, it simply occupied a three-story building in downtown Detroit, with wide hallways around a central gymnasium, standard high-school like classrooms with old-fashioned blackboards, etc.

Like most people, interviewing makes me nervous--but this time it was different. I really enjoyed myself during the job talk and interviews, and left feeling like I had done everything I could to get the job.

In a couple of weeks, I had the offer. I took a night to think it over--a faculty position at any law school, even a "fourth-tier" school like Detroit Mercy, is an enviable job for most lawyers and would allow me to leave CCLA with a sense of honor. On the other hand, trading Toronto for Detroit/Windsor looked to be a step down, I wouldn't be making much more money (at least at the beginning) than I did at CCLA, and I had a sig-other to think about.

You already know the choice I made, of course, and in a subsequent post I'll talk more about my actual teaching experiences.

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