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JD + PhD to teach?

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This is my first time posting so I hope this is the correct spot to ask this question. I am a recent law school graduate not convinced that practicing law is the right path for me. During law school, I enjoyed (and planned on practicing) criminal law. I worked as a student certified prosecutor for a year and got some insightful experience prosecuting crime at all stages of the criminal process (charging to appeals). These experiences taught me that I despise practicing criminal law. Although I did discover that I really enjoy learning about criminal law/social science topics impacting crime. I worked as a TA for a criminal law course for 2 years and also discovered a passion for teaching. I thought I could use my JD to teach, but most places want someone with a PhD in criminology, even to teach classes like criminal procedure. I am now exploring the possibility of earning a PhD in criminology in order to teach. I am weary about taking this plunge since I am heavily in debt from the JD. I know some programs will fund tuition and give a stipend if you serve as a TA, but the thought of living off like $7,000 a semester for 4-5 years is not appealing. I was wondering if anyone had any insight on whether I actually need a PhD in criminology to teach. Would it be more useful to get a Masters in Education? I know this scenario is a little unconventional, but I would appreciate any guidance/thoughts anyone can offer. 



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Hi! I'm a JD headed to a PhD and (hopefully) a career in academics, so I know where you're coming from (and I've done a lot of research on this)!  Welcome, and good luck! :)  Here are some of my thoughts, but please feel free to message me anytime if I can be helpful.


First, it's not clear to me from your post where you want to teach.  Do you envision yourself in a criminology/criminal justice program? Or in a law school?  Or somewhere else?  A community college? A state college? A top-tier grad school?  Each of those options is possible, but they're going to have very different paths.  You talk about teaching, but not about research or other academic endeavors (i.e., writing) -- I don't know if that's shorthand or a deliberate expression of your preferences.  If you aren't interested in research/writing, you'll want to look for programs that emphasize teaching.  Some options for that include: teaching colleges, community colleges (many of whom have criminal justice programs these days), or practical skills law courses (clinics, legal writing, etc.).  Note that many of these will still require research, but to a lesser degree than a research institution or doctrinal law faculty position.


If you're interested in teaching at a law school, I'll refer you to from the GC Sociology board.  I won't rehash everything I said there, but know that, while a PhD may be a good path to law teaching for you, a degree in criminology or criminal justice (I'm just going to shorten this to CJ) probably won't be.  I'm not sure why that is, but I suspect it's partly because the fields are so related.  CJ is still a relatively young field, and in some ways it's still trying to establish itself as a separate field of research.  One reason it's still struggling a little with that is because there is a lot of overlap between CJ and its "parent" fields (e.g., sociology, poli sci, psychology, law).  In law teaching, the main value of a PhD is that it allows you (in theory) to bring a really fresh, different perspective to law.  My perception (and I have discussed it with some law profs) is that CJ just wouldn't be seen as "different" enough.  The other, less theoretical, problem is that law schools are extremely credential-focused.  Unless you went to Yale, Stanford, or UChicago for law school (in which case you may already be competitive for law teaching without a PhD), you'll need a PhD from an "impressive" school.  Unfortunately, most of the most "impressive" schools don't have CJ programs, and if they do, they aren't very well-developed.  Conversely, the best CJ programs are located in schools that may not be "impressive" enough to land you a law school job.  I think this sucks, but I've talked to enough hiring faculty and deans at enough law schools to know that it's true.  So if your goal is doctrinal law school teaching, consider a PhD in a different field.


Having said all that, it sounds like you've been interested primarily in non-law teaching.  In general, teaching at the university level is going to require a PhD.  Definitely not all, but there are enough PhDs out there who want to teach that most positions can afford to only hire PhDs.  I don't think a Masters in Education would help you at all -- but someone in an Ed program might be more qualified to answer that.  In my experience, though, an MA in Education is useful if you are interested in education as a field (i.e., educational theory, etc.), if you are interested in some private secondary school opportunities (though those that want an MA usually prefer it to be in the "substantive" field that you want to teach), or if you are already a secondary school teacher (in some states, getting an MA qualifies you for a higher pay grade as a public school teacher).  There are probably other good uses, but teaching CJ isn't one of them.


As I mentioned, CJ is a field that is still somewhat trying to establish itself as a separate discipline from sociology, psychology, law, and other fields.  As a result, you will see that many CJ professors come from PhDs in those fields (for many of them,CJ wasn't a real option when they did their PhDs).  Someone in CJ could tell you better (talk to some CJ professors!), but my sense is that while there is an increasing market for CJ PhDs in CJ teaching positions, it may also be hard for a CJ PhD to compete with a more "prestigious" degree in sociology (or whatever) that focuses on criminology or CJ issues.


I have seen some CJ faculty positions that would look at a JD (which is, after all, a terminal degree in your field) as sufficient qualification.  The problem is that hiring lawyers to teach CJ starts to undermine the efforts to make CJ a separate and distinct field.  In many cases, CJ programs are fighting a perception that a CJ degree is "law school lite", and hiring JDs without social science credentials reinforces that perception.


If you don't want to get a PhD, there may still be some options.  You could practice and teach as an adjunct, either at a law school or in a CJ program (or something similar).  You could also look into teaching "non-doctrinal" law courses.  Clinical teaching positions value practical experience over education, so a few years of practice in a narrow field like criminal law may put you in a nice position for criminal defense clinics (think Innocence Project type clinics) or public aid oriented clinics.  Legal writing and/or research skills teaching may be another option.  One note about LRW teaching, though, is that it is not tenure-track at most top tier law schools, and it is not usually a good stepping stone to "doctrinal" teaching.  If you're willing to practice for a while, and you went to a top 10 school, you may also be a stronger candidate for law faculty positions after a few years of specialized experience, especially if you publish while you do it.

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  • 1 month later...



I wanted to ask you what you didn't like about practicing criminal law? Also, if you had not discovered your interest in teaching, what other paths would you have considered?


I ask because I have an MA in international policy studies with an interest in law enforcement issues/crime/illicit networks. There are aspects of various legal careers that I like, but I really have no interest in law school or in becoming a lawyer. My husband is a lawyer, and while there are some interesting cases he handles (white collar crime issues and the like) the day to day, dry writing that he does just makes law school that much less appealing to me.


Are there ways to work with, let's say the DA's office or the like, without being a lawyer (but not being relegated to doing admin work)?






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