Monday, June 23, 2008

My Teaching Year (Part II)

One of the weird things about academic jobs is the time lag involved. You interview in October, get an offer in November or early December, and then sit on your heels for a good eight months until you start teaching the following August. I tried to use the time as wisely as possible by reading scholarship about legal writing, looking at lesson plans from other teachers, going to a conference, etc., but like with most things there's a limit to how much you can learn about something without actually doing it, which means you really have to learn on the job while in the meantime desperately hoping you meet the minimum expectations of students, the administration, and other faculty.

Between accepting the job and starting teaching, there were both fun and stressful moments which I won't go into much detail about: finding a beautiful apartment overlooking the river in Windsor; having my boss at CCLA call me the wrong name at my going away toast; my sig-other losing out on a great job in Detroit because they wouldn't sponsor her for a visa; and the Worst Moving Experience in the History of Mankind. But I digress . . .

One thing I had only the fuzziest impressions of as a law student, but that was very important to learn for my particular teaching position, was the great dichotomy between regular "doctrinal" law professors (those teaching torts, constitutional law, etc.) and "legal writing" professors. In short, although things are starting to improve, legal writing profs at most law schools make far less money, are ineligible for tenure, and (at some schools) can't even vote at faculty meetings. On the other hand, legal writing profs are usually not required to produce scholarship because the positions are designed with former practitioners in mind.

Now the great irony of my becoming a legal writing professor is that I'm primarily a legal scholar and have never "practiced law" in the traditional sense: I've never taken a bar exam, clerked at a law firm, articled, or represented a client in any context other than in a law school clinic setting. Legal research and writing are my strong suits--after all, that's what scholarship requires--but it's fair to say I had a very different background than all of the other legal writing profs at Detroit Mercy and most other law schools.

In my next post, I'll talk about my actual teaching experiences.

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