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The law school faculty is the single most important resource for any student contemplating an academic career. Here, Stanford’s advantage over most peer schools is significant. The small size of the school, the high faculty-student ratio and the accessibility of the faculty make it very easy for students to get faculty assistance on research projects as well as more informal mentoring throughout their three years at the law school. Once you are ready to go on the market, the professors whom you have gotten to know can help enormously in the job search. While most law firms and other private-sector employers never contact faculty for references, the situation is very different for aspiring academics. A strong recommendation from one or more faculty members at Stanford can help you get your foot in the door at many schools, and will often be critical in the ultimate hiring decision. In this respect, law school hiring increasingly resembles hiring in Arts and Sciences departments, where one’s thesis advisor and dissertation committee are crucial intermediaries on the job market.
The simplest way to get to know a professor is to seek him or her out during office hours. For those who would prefer to get to know faculty in more structured situations, there are a host of opportunities to take seminars or paper-writing courses, which will allow professors to get to know you and your work.
Working as a research assistant may also be a good way to establish a solid relationship with a professor. You can do this either during the summer or during the academic year. A summer job as a research assistant may pay less than other opportunities you have, but you may find that the job is a valuable investment in your future. Most professors hire their research assistants on an ad hoc basis. Professors typically hire in the spring quarter for their summer R.A.s, and hire during the beginning of the fall quarter for the rest of the academic year. The best way to find a job as an R.A. is to approach a professor you are interested in working with, or check the Weekly Brief posted by the Office of Student Affairs.
Finally, when you have a paper topic in mind (whether for a course or independent research credit) you should seek out the advice of professors who teach and write in the area. Their input can be invaluable, particularly at the early stages of a project, and enlisting their help may enable them to speak knowledgably about you as scholar down the road.