Academic Career. Biography. Overview

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1 Academic Career Contributed by Jennifer Koshan, Faculty of Law, University of Calgary Biography Professor Koshan completed both her B.Sc. and her LL.B at the University of Calgary. After law school, she clerked at the Alberta Court of Appeal, worked in private practice for about one year, and then practiced as Crown counsel for several years in the Northwest Territories. Moving back to Calgary, she undertook research projects in the Faculty of Law under former Dean Sheilah Martin and Prof. Kathleen Mahoney. She then completed her LL.M at the University of British Columbia. While in Vancouver, she also acted as Legal Director of the B.C. branch of the Women s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF). Professor Koshan joined the faculty of the University of Calgary in Her teaching and research interests are in the areas of constitutional law, equality and human rights, state responses to violence, legal theory, and public interest advocacy. Until July , Professor Koshan was Associate Dean (Research) and Director of the Faculty s graduate program and she continues to work with equality rights groups such as LEAF, the Equality Effect, and the Women s Court of Canada. In 2013, she won the Canadian Association of Law Teachers Prize for Academic Excellence. Overview Should you practice as a lawyer first? Professor Koshan knew she wanted an academic career but did want to practice first. However, she notes that other people have gone on to academic careers without practicing first and the choice must be a personal one. Benefits of going into practice before an academic career may include: being able to bring practical experience into the classroom and research projects, taking a break from school to better appreciate the opportunity to go back, and possible monetary advantages. What is the job of an academic like? The average breakdown of the job is about 40% teaching, 40% research and 20% administrative work over a calendar year. During the months of September to April more time is spent on the teaching and administrative parts of the job, and the summer months allow for more intense research activities. One of the best parts of the job is that you can pursue your own interests and develop your own ideas. Unlike in practice, you are not working on particular files you are pursuing your own research agenda and then publishing that work.

2 What is the working environment like? The University of Calgary is a good place to be on faculty as there are no strict ideological divides; the faculty members are very supportive of research in a variety of different areas. It is important to find an environment that gives that sort of support. How do you find the right environment for you? Develop a good relationship with your research supervisor and make connections with other students during graduate school. Attend conferences. Talk to people about different faculties to find out where a good fit might be. What are the advantages of attending conferences? Conferences are great for networking and may also be a source of valuable feedback on the work you present, which can help when writing up your research. It can also be inspiring to hear about other people s work. Presentations at conferences are an important addition to your academic CV. Graduate students may be able to secure travel grants to offset the costs of attending conferences. Where does a legal academic publish their work? Publishing your work in a peer-reviewed law journal continues to be the gold standard, but the forums for sharing research have expanded exponentially. Blogs such as ABlawg ( and open access journals provide an opportunity for legal academics to share their research and ideas with a wider audience. The Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary also gives faculty members academic credit for other types of legal work including, for example, drafting factums. What is the teaching side of the job like? When a Faculty of Law is hiring for an academic position, they will typically identify areas of expertise they are looking for and will hire to fill that area. However, teaching duties do evolve over the years. It is good to teach courses that are beneficial to your research, and it also benefits the students in those courses to have a professor who is doing research in the area that they are teaching. Most professors have a teaching load (two half courses per semester), with one course fewer to begin with. Occasionally teaching loads may be reduced due to research awards, administrative duties (for example, the associate deans teach a half load), or sabbaticals.

3 What skills are required to be a legal academic? This career can be all-consuming not just because of the amount of work required, but also because the problems that you are working on are your own ideas so it is sometimes hard to leave that behind at the end of the day. You should be creative, enjoy legal reasoning, and have good performance skills; you need to be able to engage students in the classroom. You should be drawn to thinking about legal problems and how to solve them. You should have good people skills; not just on the teaching side, but also with respect to your colleagues. You need to be passionate about the law. If you are lukewarm about law if it s just a job this career is not the best choice. Career Steps What kind of courses should you take in law school? If you are certain that you wish to pursue an academic career, try to resist the pressure to take courses just for the bar exam! Take the opportunity to learn as much as you can about the areas of law you are interested in. Write lots of research papers. Think about the field of law as an intellectual endeavour. Take advantage of what courses are offered, particularly the ones you may not be exposed to in practice. Are there advantages to pursuing certain types of summer employment during law school? Research jobs are a great opportunity; particularly the kind where you can work closely with a professor. They allow you to develop research and writing skills and also to see if academic research is what you want to do. That being said, Professor Koshan notes she worked at Student Legal Assistance both summers during law school (in Banff) and enjoyed that immensely. Are there advantages to pursuing a clerkship after law school? Clerking is an excellent idea but not absolutely necessary. However, it is one of the traditional paths to an academic career. It is a different environment than a law firm, as you need to consider all of the arguments on multiple sides of an issue. In this way, it s closer to an academic environment. While clerking you will get the opportunity to work for a judge or judges and will gain experience researching and writing.

4 Graduate Programs in Law Do you need a graduate degree in law to pursue an academic career? In Canada, the LL.M used to be seen as the terminal degree in law. Currently it is more and more common to expect a candidate for an academic position to have a doctoral degree in law, or at least a doctoral degree in law underway. What advantages are there to pursuing graduate work in law? If you are interested in an academic career in law, undertaking graduate work will first allow you to confirm if you like doing this type of work. When applying for academic positions, a strong publication record is a must. Choosing a thesis-based LL.M or doctoral program will enable you to create a substantial piece of writing, which eventually may be published as a book or series of articles. What should be considered in choosing a graduate program in law? Prospective students should look at the areas of specialization of the graduate program for example, natural resources, energy and environmental law (University of Calgary) or health law (University of Alberta) and the school s reputation in that area. It is an advantage to have thesis supervisors and other graduate students with the same research interests for support. If the school allows you to do so, it is also recommended to try to line up a research supervisor ahead of time. Try to choose someone you get along well with. Do you need to leave Canada for your graduate degree? Canadian graduate programs in law have come into their own. There is no great need any more to go to the U.S. or overseas. You may be advised, however, to go somewhere other than the school you did your JD at for graduate studies, to ensure you are exposed to more than one academic environment in law. Any additional advice? Where you go is not as important as what you do while you re there; the thesis and publications you write, the people you meet. Go somewhere you want to live and explore! You may also wish to look for a school that allows graduate students to obtain teaching experience; i.e. do they allow graduate students the opportunity to work as TAs or sessional instructors?

5 What about a course-based LL.M? Course-based LL.M degrees offer advantages for practicing lawyers and for international students with civil law degrees interested in course-based learning. Canadian students with a common law degree interested in an academic career should pursue a research-based LL.M. or a doctorate. Recruitment What was the interview like? The interview consisted of several parts. There was a teaching demonstration given in front of law students, a research presentation to faculty members, a formal interview with the recruitment committee, and meetings with individual faculty members. What are recruitment committees looking for? This is a difficult question to answer as it may vary. However, candidates should have a strong publication record and research agenda, a well-developed teaching philosophy and a collegial attitude. What is the market like? The number of applications to a position advertised will depend on the subject area, but it tends to be quite competitive. Any other advice? If you are flexible with respect to location this will open up a huge range of possibilities. It may take a couple of years of applying to obtain a tenure track position. In the mean time you could work as a sessional instructor and undertake contract research to build up your teaching and publication records, which is what I did.

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