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Teaching Lessons

Guided by their professors, students find HLS a training ground for academic careers

Doug Kysar '98 arrived at Harvard Law School in 1995 fully expecting to become a practicing attorney. But, in a sense, the law school talked him out of it. An unexpected chance to be a teaching assistant gave Kysar a taste of the academic life, and he had an epiphany: Practicing law was no longer enough. Kysar had to teach it.

"I'd had academic ambitions before," he said. "But I knew the job prospects in most disciplines were dismal, so I hadn't considered it a viable career possibility."

That is, until he was "plucked out of the crowd" by his first-year Torts professor, Jon Hanson, to be his T.A. Hanson mentored him in teaching and research, and Kysar taught review sessions and full lessons for the class. He eventually coauthored several articles and a book chapter with Hanson. "It was a truly life-altering experience and made me realize this is my passion," he said.

Kysar credits several of his professors, among them Hanson and Christine Jolls '93, with helping him prepare for the academic job market. After clerking and then practicing briefly in Boston, Kysar accepted an appointment as an assistant professor at Cornell Law School in the spring of 2000. Since then, he has been teaching a course on professional responsibility, a seminar on consumerism, and a first-year Torts course.

"It is, emphatically, my dream job," he said.

Kysar's experience of Harvard Law School as a training ground for academics may have surprised him, but HLS is in fact the largest supplier of law teachers in the overall teaching market, according to Associate Dean for Research Howell Jackson '82. He found in a recent survey of alumni records that more than 1,300 HLS graduates are currently teaching law. In addition, of the 57 entry-level positions filled at the elite law schools of Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, and NYU since 1990, 22 have gone to grads from HLS--more than any other law school.

"I think some people see Harvard as a factory, just churning out corporate attorneys," said Jackson. "It's just not true. Harvard is a premier research university, and the law school produces a huge amount of top-flight scholarship. One of the ways we contribute to research is by training the next generation of law professors."

Students hoping to become law professors can take one of several avenues at HLS. If they've already completed a J.D. and have had some practical experience, they can enroll in the master's program (LL.M.) or the doctoral program (S.J.D.).

"The S.J.D. program is designed to prepare students to teach," said Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter '85, the Graduate Program director. "We have about 50 students at any one time. Most are foreign students who are going back to their own countries to teach, but a growing percentage are also going onto the American teaching market."

Every year, the S.J.D. program sponsors the Law Teaching Colloquium, a series of informal talks by faculty and guest speakers about the process of preparing for an academic career. Topics range from practical matters, including publishing and going on the job market, to theoretical issues such as a historical perspective on interdisciplinary legal scholarship given this year by Professor Duncan Kennedy.

Since an increasing number of J.D. candidates are also pursuing teaching, Jackson says HLS has been adding programs to help them prepare for academic careers.

In the new First-Year Lawyering Program, students learn legal writing and research skills along with practical lawyering skills. Those who wish to teach in the program must take the Introduction to Law Teaching course.

"They may not know it now, but a number of J.D. candidates will spend time teaching during their careers," said the program's director, Visiting Professor Michael Meltsner.

Teaching Teachers

While some students arrive at HLS knowing that teaching is what they want, others discover it as they sample all that the school has to offer.

"Harvard is a superb training ground for aspiring law professors," said Professor Elizabeth Warren, whose teaching style in the Socratic method has inspired more than a few students to teach. "It is the world's biggest intellectual supermarket. Students can learn about anything that interests them. Because there are so many different specialties and specialists, people can go across disciplines. . . . Someone who has studied at Harvard can take any number of directions--while here and when they leave us. And we're prepared to offer the best. That's our job."

It was this rich learning environment that swayed Rachel Barkow '96 to teach. "When I entered law school, I expected to be a practicing lawyer," said Barkow, whose focus is on administrative and criminal law. "What changed my mind was that I really just loved thinking about legal problems in a more in-depth way than I knew private practice would allow."

Barkow worked on the Harvard Law Review and became a research assistant for Professor Richard Fallon Jr. "He was absolutely fabulous," she said.

After clerking on the Supreme Court for Justice Antonin Scalia '60, Barkow practiced for three years at a small firm in Washington, D.C. She went on the teaching market this year and will teach at New York University School of Law in the fall.

Just watching how HLS professors do their jobs is enough to inspire students to teach, they say.

"I know I was convinced about the merits of teaching by their examples as early as my first year," said Thomas Lee '00, who described his Civil Procedure professor, David Shapiro '57, as "sublimely subtle."

Lee, who is now a Ph.D. candidate in international relations at Harvard, spent this year clerking for Supreme Court Justice David Souter '66. He recently accepted an appointment at Fordham University School of Law, where he will be teaching Civil Procedure, International Law, and Telecommunications Law.

Angie Littwin '02, intent on becoming a lawyer for social justice issues, discovered that some of her professors had an impact on the community through both their academic and advocacy work.

Her primary inspiration came from Professor Lucie White '81, who teaches community-based advocacy and social justice lawyering, and has a research focus on antipoverty law. Littwin was also fascinated with Warren's work on women and economics.

"I saw that these professors had more freedom as academics than they would have had as attorneys to be community activists," said Littwin. "And the research aspect of an academic career was very appealing to me."

After graduating in June, Littwin will head to Miami to clerk for Judge Rosemary Barkett. She plans to practice for a few years before preparing for the academic market.

"Coming to teaching was an evolution," said Laura Beny '99, who enrolled in Harvard's Ph.D. program in economics when she arrived at HLS. "I was already trained academically, but the idea that I could teach? I figured that out in law school. The law is interdisciplinary. I really liked that, and I liked that you can actually get involved in things at the social level."

In her final year, Beny took a seminar taught by Professors Martha Minow and Todd Rakoff '75 called Thinking about Law Teaching, which helped solidify her decision to teach. She later spent a year as a fellow at Harvard's John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business while finishing her Ph.D. Beny has pursued a teaching opportunity that will allow her to combine an economics focus with work on human rights and development issues in her native Sudan. She recently accepted an appointment at the University of Michigan Law School and will begin teaching in the fall of 2003.

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