What is the AALS?
Purpose and Description
The AALS is a non-profit educational association of 176 law schools representing over 10,000 law faculty in the United States. The purpose of the Association is “the improvement of the legal profession through legal education.” This goal is furthered in a number of ways, including professional development programs for law professors and administrators, a complement of over 90 sections organized by faculty and senior administrators, and a membership process that is designed to further the core values of the Association. The AALS serves as the academic society for law teachers with an Annual Meeting that constitutes the largest gathering of law faculty in the world. The AALS is legal education’s principal representative to the federal government and to other national higher education organizations and learned societies. The AALS also encourages collaboration with law professors on a global level, and has provided seed funding and continuing staff support for the International Association of Law Schools, an independent organization created with the help and encouragement of the AALS.
The AALS was formed in 1900, with 32 law schools as charter members, which then encompassed about half the nation's law students. At the time the AALS was created, many lawyers entered the legal profession without a law school education. From the beginnings to this day, the AALS has worked to improve the quality of legal education.
Professor James Bradley Thayer, Harvard Law School, served as the first AALS president. Nearly three quarters of a century elapsed before the first woman, Soia Mentschikoff, University of Miami, was selected president in 1974. More than a decade intervened before there was a second. Emma Coleman Jordan, Georgetown University, became the first member of a racial minority to serve as AALS President in 1992, with three others following her in that decade.
AALS membership expanded along with the growth of legal education in the 20th Century. In 1922 the Association began publishing a Directory of Law Teachers. For many decades the Association’s Annual Meeting took place the week before New Years at the same hotel in Chicago. The modern practice of moving the Annual Meeting among major cities began early in the 1970s and the meeting began to occur in early January. In 1974 the Association launched a separate faculty recruitment conference, with two important effects: 1) access to consideration for law teaching became more egalitarian, and 2) the Annual Meeting was liberated to concentrate on programs focused on scholarship and teaching. In 1969 the AALS expanded programming by launching what were to quickly become the highly valuable professional development programs that center on teaching and scholarship.
For its first 62 years the faculty and staff at the law schools of the AALS officers, together with other volunteer faculty, accomplished all of the work of the Association. In 1963 the Association appointed its first Executive Director and established the Association’s national office in Washington, D.C. After operating as an unincorporated association for 70 years, in early 1971 the AALS was incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia as a non-profit educational organization. To this day accomplishing much of the AALS’s programs depends heavily on the dedication of faculty volunteers from around the United States.
The obligations associated with AALS membership are intended to reflect the AALS’s core values and distinctive role as a membership association, while at the same time according appropriate respect for the autonomy of AALS member schools. An inter-related group of core values of the Association are articulated in the Bylaws:
The Association values and expects its member schools to value:
(1) a faculty composed primarily of full-time teachers/scholars who constitute a self-governing intellectual community engaged in the creation and dissemination of knowledge about law, legal processes and legal systems, and who are devoted to fostering justice and public service in the legal community;
(2) scholarship, academic freedom, and diversity of viewpoints;
(3) a rigorous academic program built upon strong teaching in the context of a dynamic curriculum that is both broad and deep;
(4) a diverse faculty and staff hired, promoted, and retained based on meeting and supporting high standards of teaching and scholarship and in accordance with principles of non-discrimination; and
(5) a selection of students based upon intellectual ability and personal potential for success in the study and practice of law, through a fair and non-discriminatory process designed to produce a diverse student body and a broadly representative legal profession.
Under current Executive Committee Regulations a school is eligible to apply for membership after it has offered five years of instruction and has graduated its third class. A site visit team visits the applicant school to help determine its compliance with the membership criteria contained in the AALS Bylaws and in some instances further defined by Executive Committee Regulations. The report of the site evaluation team is referred to the Membership Review Committee, which makes recommendations to the Executive Committee. Admission to membership is by vote of the House of Representatives acting on the recommendation of the Executive Committee.
The plenary legislative body of the Association of American Law Schools is the House of Representatives, composed of one representative from each member school. The faculty of each member school selects the individual who is to represent the school in the House. The House meets during the Association’s Annual Meeting. The Executive Committee has the responsibility for conducting the affairs of the Association in the interim between the annual meetings of the House of Representatives. The president, president-elect, immediate past-president, and six committee members all elected by the House of Representatives and the Executive Director constitute the Executive Committee. The term of the president is one year; the president-elect becomes the president on completion of a year of service as president-elect. The immediate past president serves a third and final year on the Executive Committee. The six non-officer members of the Executive Committee serve three-year staggered terms. The Executive Committee meets four times each year in person, and occasionally between meetings by conference call.
Staffing and Finances
The AALS staff is located in Washington, D.C. Under the leadership of the Executive Director, who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Association, and the Managing Director, who is the Chief Operating Officer, the staff interacts with the volunteer-driven Committees and Sections that are at the heart of the organization. The Associate Director is a person with a current or recent tenured faculty appointment at a member school who joins the AALS Office staff for a defined term to contribute to specific projects and to assist some of the Association’s committees. The staff supports the various meetings and other services of the Association and the membership review process. Member School faculty generously serve the Association, enabling the design and conduct of a high quality complement of annual programs, as well as providing the time, experience and judgment required to conduct ongoing functions such as the membership review effort, the Resource Corps and the AALS professional development conferences, which focus on teaching and research.
More than half of the Association’s income is derived from dues paid by member schools. Dues paid by member schools are graduated on the basis of student enrollment. Publications and services are made available to non-member law schools upon payment of a service fee. Other income sources include fees from the Annual Meeting and the specialized conferences, fees from the membership process or for specific services or publications, and gifts of needed services and occasional gifts or grants which support specific programs or projects.
Committees and Sections
Standing Committees and Special Committees established by action of the Executive Committee, are appointed by the president and provide reports and policy advice to the Association, as well as program content. The Standing Committees are: Academic Freedom and Tenure, Audit and Association Investment Policy, Bar Admission and Lawyer Performance, Clinical Legal Education, Curriculum Issues, Government Relations, Libraries and Technology, Membership Review, Professional Development, Recruitment and Retention of Minority Law Teachers and Students, Research, Sections and Annual Meeting, and the Journal of Legal Education Editorial Board. At times a special committee will be created by the Executive Committee for a specific term. Examples of recent special committees include the Committees on: International Cooperation, Pursuing Equal Justice, Electronic Publishing, Racial and Ethnic Diversity, Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities, and Financing of Legal Education.
AALS Sections are a critically important force of AALS in pursuing interests important to law school faculty and professional staff. Faculty of member schools become section members by opting into a section or sections as a part of the information they provide for the Directory of Law Teachers. Each year, the section membership selects its own presiding officer and executive committee. The principal support for section activities is the general funds of the Association.
As of March 2009, there are 94 sections, composed of members of the faculty and administration of member schools. These Sections offer a range of activities including holding a program at the AALS Annual Meeting, convening specialized section committees and working groups, providing a forum for exchange of ideas about teaching and research, mentoring new law teachers, and proposing professional development programs. Sections use listservs, section Web sites, exam banks, collections of syllabi and teaching materials, surveys, and section newsletters to pursue their interests. A new, Web-based communications platform will further section and committee goals and projects by enhancing the nature and ease of communication and creating repositories of materials. This new forum should expand the information available to both beginning and experienced teachers alike.
The AALS is a member of, or is affiliated with, the American Council on Education, American Council of Learned Societies, Consortium of Social Science Associations, Council on Legal Education Opportunity, National Humanities Alliance, the Washington Higher Education Secretariat and the International Association of Law Schools. The Association is in regular communication with and participates from time to time in joint projects with the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the Law School Admission Council, the National Association for Law Placement, the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Law School Survey of Student Engagement.
The AALS Annual Meeting, held in early January each year, is the largest gathering of law faculty in the world. Over 3,500 law teachers, librarians, and law school administrators from member schools, non-member schools, and law schools of other nations attend the Annual Meeting. The address at the Association Luncheon and the Presidential Programs are among the highlights of the Annual Meeting program. Most of the four-day Annual Meeting is devoted to programs organized and presented by AALS Sections. Day-long workshops on subjects of interest to a broad cross-section of legal education and extended section programs are held on the first day of the Annual Meeting. The winner of the AALS Scholarly Papers — a competition for scholars with five or fewer years experience in full-time law teaching — presents his or her winning paper during the Annual Meeting. In addition, a number of Section programs are constructed using a Call for Papers. Exhibits of publications, electronic media and other products of interest to law faculty and staff are on display. A selected number of Poster Sessions by law teachers on research and teaching offer the opportunity for authors to present in clear and succinct fashion the thesis and conclusion of their research or to describe teaching innovations outside formal program presentations. Many other legal education organizations hold meetings or programs in conjunction with the Association’s Annual Meeting, and law schools hold receptions for graduates and friends. The Annual Meeting is also an excellent opportunity to connect with colleagues from different law schools around matters of common interest.
Faculty Recruitment Services
Faculty Recruitment Conference. In 1974 the Association separated the recruiting function from the Annual Meeting and instituted an annual Faculty Recruitment Conference, held during the fall semester. Candidates interested in being considered for appointment to a law faculty position enroll in the AALS Faculty Appointments Register. Participating law schools contact registrants they wish to interview at the conference.
Faculty Appointments Register. The Faculty Appointments Register is an online recruiting process for faculty candidates and school recruiters. The Register contains a structured one-page biographical form completed on line by candidates interested in a full-time faculty position. The biographical forms are accessed through an online database available to all member and fee-paid law schools, which use them as a basis for recruiting additions to their faculties. The registrants receive, without additional cost, a one-year subscription to the Placement Bulletin. The Faculty Appointments Register information is to be solely for the purposes of faculty recruitment.
Visiting, Foreign Visiting, and Retiring Faculty Registers. The Association publishes separate registers for faculty who wish to consider invitations as visiting faculty during the forthcoming school year; full-time faculty members who will retire from teaching at the end of the current school year; and foreign scholars who have expressed an interest in serving as visiting faculty at United States law schools. The information gathered for these three registers is distributed twice a year in the form of memoranda to deans of member and fee-paid schools.
Deans‘ Databank The AALS Deans’ Databank is a convenient and free service for both law school faculty candidates seeking positions as deans and dean search committees looking for individuals to lead their academic programs. The Databank is a list of faculty members nominated by their deans, associate deans, and other senior faculty as having the qualifications and experience to be viable candidates for deanships. The idea originated at The Georgetown University Law Center in 1997 to promote the visibility of women candidates, particularly senior women faculty, interested in serving as deans of law schools. In the fall of 2001, the Association of American Law Schools assumed the responsibility of administering and maintaining this databank. The success of the Women Deans’ Databank prompted the AALS to institute a Minority Deans’ Databank, to help increase the percentage of minority deans.
Professional Development Programs
In 1969 the AALS sponsored a law teaching clinic designed to help faculty focus on pedagogical issues that arise in law teaching and the AALS professional development programming began. The AALS now sponsors: (1) The Conference on Clinical Legal Education — a highly successful annual professional development program for clinical law professors, soon to mark its 30th year, with antecedents that reach back nearly 40 years; (2) A special Workshop for New Law School Teachers held in June of each year. In addition, there are Workshops for Beginning Legal Writing Teachers, for new Clinical Law School Teachers and a program for Pretenure Faculty from backgrounds under-represented in law teaching; (3) The Mid Year Meeting, held in June, offers three special professional development programs for law teachers. This four or five day meeting usually consists of a combination of two-day and three-day programs that run concurrently or successively, providing faculty with common interests an opportunity to exchange ideas about teaching and scholarship, related either to a particular subject matter area or to a cross cutting or broader theme. Each year the Executive Committee selects topics for the future based upon recommendations from the Professional Development Committee which receives proposals from sections, committees and faculty.
AALS Directory of Law Teachers. The Directory, begun in 1922, is the most widely used “desk book” of deans and law teachers. The Directory lists by school the full-time faculty and professional staff of all AALS member and fee-paid law schools, and contains biographical sketches of over 10,000 full-time teachers, law librarians, and senior law school administrators. The Directory also includes separate listings: full-time faculty by subject matters taught; full-time faculty members who identify as members of minority groups; full-time faculty who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual; and professional staff and faculty administrators according to professional role: academic affairs; admissions; alumni affairs; development; placement; and student services.
The Directory, which is prepared and edited by the Association staff, is distributed by AALS to all full-time teachers of member and fee-paid schools as a service to law faculty and law schools.
Faculty now use an online process to update their biographical information. This new process allows faculty and schools to keep their information updated year-round, while making production of the hardcopy more streamlined and efficient.
The AALS continues to be grateful to West and Foundation Press for significant and long-standing support in printing the AALS Directory of Law Teachers.
AALS Handbook. The AALS Handbook contains information about the Association of American Law Schools, including its Bylaws, Executive Committee Regulations, Articles of Incorporation, Statements of Good Practices, Committee Membership and Section Chairs. It is prepared and edited by the Association staff.
AALS Newsletter. The AALS News is published four times a year, including a special issue in February which includes the AALS President’s Address at the Annual Meeting. The newsletter keeps its readers abreast of Association activities and provides information about awards programs, and other opportunities of interest to law faculty. It is prepared and edited by the Association staff. The newsletter is printed by West and Foundation Press, as a service to the Association and law faculty.
AALS Journal of Legal Education. The Journal of Legal Education, published since 1948, is made available without cost to full-time members of the faculty of member and fee-paid schools through the courtesy of West and Foundation Press, which prints the Journal. The Journal is edited for a term of years by faculty at a member school or schools. Currently, Southwestern School of Law provides the editorial leadership, as well as administrative and financial support. The AALS provides partial financial and mailing support. An editorial board of 12 faculty members reviews submissions and provides policy advice. The quarterly publication addresses issues confronting legal educators, including curriculum development, teaching methods and legal scholarship. The Journal also serves as an outlet for emerging areas of scholarship and teaching.
AALS Placement Bulletin. The Placement Bulletin, established in 1976 and published four times a year, lists openings for law teaching and professional administrative positions, including the position of dean. The Bulletin is distributed to those listed in the Faculty Appointments Register, deans at member and fee-paid schools, and other subscribers. The Bulletin is accessible online to those who have registered for the Faculty Appointments Register.
AALS Proceedings. The Proceedings of the Association’s Annual Meeting contain reports of AALS committees and sections, texts of addresses at the Association luncheon, and transcripts of the meetings of the AALS House of Representatives. From time to time, reports of special projects or committees are published in the Proceedings, which also include the audited financial statement of the Association, current bylaws, a list of presidents of the Association, agenda memoranda for the House of Representatives meetings, and the program of the Annual Meeting. Copies of the Proceedings are distributed to member and fee-paid schools.
Clinical Law Review. The Clinical Law Review is a semi-annual peer-edited journal devoted to issues of lawyering theory and clinical legal education. It is jointly sponsored by the AALS, the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA), and New York University School of Law. The Review is edited, administered and financially supported by New York University School of Law.
Resource Corps. In 1993 the AALS established a “Resource Corps” to assist schools in developing the capacity for collegial deliberation and decision-making. The Resource Corps includes respected and experienced legal educators from diverse schools throughout the country. Members of the Resource Corps have received special training in effective group processes and use of collaborative problem-solving techniques to address issues commonly confronting law schools. Resource Corps arrangements should be made by contacting the Executive Director, who makes Resource Corps assignments. We strongly recommend that schools contact AALS with at least five months in advance in order to gain access to a Resource Corps team.
Surveys. The Association occasionally surveys law faculty and deans to obtain information to share with other law schools or to inform the work of association committees such as the Committee on Curriculum Issues. Information about these surveys and the results are posted on the AALS Web site.