Professor Sarah Lawsky offers her tireless and annual service compiling entry-level law professor hires. One chart of interest to me is the year of the JD: in recent years, about 10-20% of entering law professors obtained their JD within the last four years; 45-60% in the last five to nine years; and 25-30% in the last 10 to 19 years, with a negligible number at least 20 years ago.
But there's a different question I've had, one that's been floating out there as a rule of thumb: how much practice experience should an entering law professor have? Of course, "should" is a matter of preference. Most aspiring law professors often mean it to ask, "What would make me most attractive as a candidate? Or, what are schools looking for?"
There are widely varied schools of thought, I imagine, but a common rule of thumb I'd heard was three to five years of post-clerkship experience, and probably no more. (Now that I'm trying to search where I might have first read that, I can't find it.) In my own experience, I worked for two years in practice after clerking. Some think more experience is a good thing to give law professors a solid grounding in the actual practice of law they're about to teach, but some worry too much time in practice can inhibit academic scholarship (speaking very generally); some think less experience is a good or a bad thing for mostly the opposite reasons. (Of course, what experience law professors ought to have, regardless of school hiring preferences, is a matter for a much deeper normative debate!)
I thought I'd do a quick analysis of post-JD work experience among entry-level law professors. I looked at the 82 United States tenure-track law professors listed in the 2016 entry-level report. I did a quick search of their law school biographies, CVs, or LinkedIn accounts for their work experience and put it into one of several categories: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5+, "some," or "unknown." 5+ because I thought (perhaps wrongly!) that such experience would be relatively rare and start to run together over longer periods of time; "some" meaning the professor listed post-JD work experience but the dates were not immediately discernible; or "unknown" if I couldn't tell.
I also chose to categorize "post-clerkship" experience. I think clerkship experience is different in kind, and it still rightly is a kind of work experience, but I was interested in specifically the non-clerkship variety. I excluded independent consultant work, and judicial staff attorney/clerk positions, but I included non-law-school fellowships. Any academic position was also not included in post-JD non-clerkship work experience. I excluded pre-JD work experience, of course, but included all post-JD work experience whether law-related or not (e.g., business consulting). All figures are probably +/-2.
There are going to be lots of ways to slice and dice the information, so I'll offer three different visualizations. First, 23 of the 82 entering law professors (28%) had no post-JD non-clerkship work experience. 56 had at least some, and 3 had unknown experience. That struck me as a fairly large number of "no work experience." (If you included clerkships, 13 of those "nones" had clerkships, and 10 had no clerkship experience.) I thought most of the "nones" might be attributable to increases in PhD/SJD/DPhil hires, and that accounts for about two-thirds of that category.
I then broke it down by years' service.
24 had one to four years' experience; 21 had five or more years' experience; and 11 had "some" experience, to an extent I was unable to quickly determine. (Be careful with this kind of visualization; the "some" makes the 1-4 & 5+ categories appear smaller than they actually are!) I was surprised that 21 (about 26%) had at least five years' post-JD non-clerkship work experience, and many had substantially more than that. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised, as about 30% earned their JD at least 10 years ago; but I thought a good amount of that might have been attributable to PhD programs, multiple clerkships, or multiple VAPs. It turns out 5+ years' experience isn't "too much" based on recent school tenure-track hiring.
For the individual total breakdown, here's what I found:
This visualization overstates the "nones," because it breaks out each category, unlike the first chart, but it's each category I collected. Note the big drop-off from "0" to "1"!
Again, all figures likely +/-2 and based on my quickest examination of profiles. If you can think of a better way of splicing the data or collecting it in the future, please let me know!