How Can a Recent Grad Become a Professor?

Q: I am a recent law school grad and I have been clerking with a small firm this summer. Now that I have taken the bar, I'm working full time while I wait for the results of the bar exam (I'm fairly sure I passed). The problem: I am already keenly aware of the fact that I don't enjoy working as a lawyer. There are many things I don't like -- the billable hours, the adversarial nature of it all. I began to be aware of this in law school, but I needed a job, and I'm afraid I failed to "look before I leaped."

After doing a lot of research, I have determined that I would like to work in an academic setting. I love research, and I would really like doing something positive like helping other s learn and explore the law. I would love to teach business law at an undergrad level, but I'm not sure if I have the credentials to break into that. I had pretty good grades from a very reputable university, but I wasn't close to any professors, and if I bail out on my firm this early, I wouldn't feel comfortable asking any of them for references. Would employers from my life before law school make ok references? Any suggestions on breaking into the academic world? I'm willing to start out at community colleges. . .anything to break in?

A: Sounds like you've learned from your previous experience the importance of good, sound career planning and have identified something you think will be more satisfying for you from an interest, skills, and values perspective. If you value helping others learn then teaching can be a rewarding profession. It would offer you the opportunity of having a positive impact in the lives of others on a daily basis.

You certainly have the credentials to teach at the community college level (part or full-time). At the university level your law degree and passing the bar exam would definitely allow you to teach part-time. As far as tenure track, full-time university positions, it isn't as clear and needs to be explored at specific universities of interest to you.

Since higher education is increasingly making use of part-timers (full-time, tenure track positions are harder and harder to find these days) this would be the recommended entry path. Many community colleges, colleges, and universities look to their part-timers when a full-time opening becomes available. A good first step is to review catalogs of related colleges and law schools (Go to CollegeSourceOnline, you'll find over 17,000 college catalogs online) to see which courses you have an expertise in.

Then I would suggest approaching department heads directly (whether it's political science, criminal justice, business law, sociology, related areas of laws schools or others) and inquire about the possibility of part-time positions. Since schools handle this differently you may also want to send a resume to their Personnel Office which often sends them on to related departments. Don't be surprised to learn that even these part-time positions (community colleges and universities) can be highly competitive.

The advantage of starting out as a part-timer is you get the chance to test out your interest without leaving your current position. Sources for available jobs are:

 

In addition, once you identify subject areas of interest there are specific journals and additional web sites that may be of help to you.