May 13, 2012
Breaking into the Academy: Mentors
Posted by Haskell Murray

Since landing a tenure track law professor job (which started this past August) numerous practicing attorneys have asked me how I broke into the academy.  All you have to do is browse the Entry Level Hiring Data collected by Professor Sarah Lawsky (UC-Irvine) to realize how incredibly difficult it is to break into the legal academy.  In fact, I almost never tried because of the steep uphill climb I knew I would face.

Rather than describe all the details of my journey into the academy, I want to focus on some of the people who made it possible.  People I consider mentors.  People I could have never broken into the academy without. 

First, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I hesitate to write that because I am a laughably poor example of Christ’s love and because I know the many images that might be attached to that statement for readers.  But any description of my journey would be woefully incomplete without acknowledging Christ, placing Him first and giving Him the credit.

Second, my parents were my first mentors, gave me the opportunity to receive an excellent education and are still the first people (along with my wonderful wife) who I go to for advice.

Third, and the focus for this post, are the various professors who provided assistance. I would advise anyone trying to break into the academy to seek out professors to provide advice and be mentors.  I would not have landed a job in the academy without the advice and assistance I received.  In my case, as you will see, it took the assistance of quite a few people. 

My journey to the academy began when Dr. Cheryl Jester George and Professor Basil Mattingly chose me, then a 3rd year law student, to teach, throughout the year, a series of property law classes in the school’s Academic Enrichment Program.  I loved it and briefly thought about trying to become a law professor before quashing the thought as unrealistic.

The desire to enter the academy arose again while I was a corporate associate at King & Spalding in Atlanta.  I thought clerking for the Delaware Court of Chancery, arguably the most influential court in corporate law, would be among the experiences I would most want my corporate law professor to have.  Fortunately, I was able to secure a clerkship for former-Vice Chancellor Stephen Lamb on that court.  At that point, I still thought becoming a professor was a pipe dream, but I called Professor Colin Crawford, then at Georgia State, and asked him if I could accompany him to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and help with the law school’s study abroad program before I left for my clerkship.  Thankfully, he said yes.  I am not sure how much I helped, but the trip was well worth it for me, in large part because I met Professor Joan Heminway.  Joan quickly became a valued friend and mentor.  Over the four years I have known her, she has always generously provided excellent advice.  Joan is also now my SEALS mentor.  

After my clerkship, I moved to New York City to work for Weil Gotshal.  While I was still at Weil, I met my wife and professors Marjorie Fine Knowles, Anne Tucker, and Nancy Mansfield worked to cobble together a Visiting Assistant Professor position for me at Georgia State University College of Law (and a part-time instructor position at the Robinson College of Business).   Marjorie had been a favorite professor of mine in law school, but, at the time, I had not yet met Anne and Nancy.  All three of them spent their valuable time, along with Deans Steven Kaminshine and Roy Sobelson to make a unique position for me.   

At Georgia State, I had a wonderful experience teaching courses alongside (and learning from) Marjorie and Professor Jack Williams in the College of Law and teaching my own courses in the College of Business. All members of Georgia State's law faculty made me feel welcome and Marjorie, Anne, Jack, Steve, Roy, Dean Kelly Cahill Timmons, and Professors Anne Emanuel, Jessica Gabel, Wendy Hensel, Paul Lombardo, Chuck Marvin, Mary Radford and Jonathan Todres, gave me invaluable advice about the “meat market,” research and breaking into the academy. 

While searching for an academic job, I also pestered Matt Festa (South Texas), Katheleen Guzman (Oklahoma), Kevin Lee (Campbell), Emily Hammond Meazell (Oklahoma), Lucas Osborn (Campbell)Ellen Podgor (Stetson), Paul Regan (Widener), Usha Rodrigues (Georgia), Joe Thai (Oklahoma), J.W. Verret (George Mason) and all of the previously mentioned professors, for advice.  

Now that I have finished my first year as a tenure track professor, I see more clearly how busy each of these professors must have been and the incredible gift they gave me in their time.

Even though I have now broken into the academy, I recognize that I still need to seek out mentors for what lies ahead in my academic journey.  Outside of Regent, countless professors have provided advice on course planning and research. I have found members of the academy incredibly kind and helpful.  At Regent, every faculty member has stepped up to mentor me.  I mean it.  I started listing names and realized I would have to list the entire faculty.  Some of my favorite time now (and I love every bit of my job – even faculty meetings and grading) is spent simply listening to the wisdom shared by other professors.  I even serve Professor Scott Pryor tea on afternoons that he gives me advice (rookie hazing that I hope to never outgrow).  I know Regent sometimes gets a bad rap in the academy because we are a (non-denominational) Christian law school, but I wish everyone could meet the incredible people I have the pleasure of working with here, under the masterful, but humble leadership of Dean Jeff Brauch.

Tomorrow, I am driving 8-hours (4-up and 4-back) to Washington & Lee’s law school for the opportunity to meet with Professors Lyman Johnson and Sam Calhoun.  My wife thinks I am crazy for making the trip, but I know the professors' wisdom and advice is priceless. 

It is unlikely that I will ever be able to repay the people mentioned in this post, but I hope they all know how valuable their assistance was/is to me and I hope to pay it forward. 

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