August 7, 2008
Gillette: Law School Faculty as Free Agents
The phenomenon of law professors changing jobs from one law school faculty to another - faculty free agency - has increased in recent years and appears to be part of a general phenomenon of increased mobility across academia. In this paper, I consider the consequences of free agency in law school markets. It is likely that law professors have benefited financially from free agency. Whether it has benefited law schools generally, or advanced the quality of legal education is another matter. The paper raises some issues that at least give reason for pause about free agency. The consequences of free agency have been similarly questioned in other industries, most notably professional sports. But studies suggest that the adverse effects that some predicted when free agency was officially instituted there have not materialized. Thus, in the absence of similar studies about academic free agents, one might claim that my concerns are overstated. But those studies are often most interesting because they focus on characteristics of professional sports that have little or no analogue in faculty markets. The market for professional sports differs from the academic market in ways that I suggest have significant effects on free agency. Academic free agency may have different, and more negative, impact in academia. To the extent that is true, law schools face a classic prisoners' dilemma in adjusting. Even if it would benefit legal education generally to constrain free agency, it is contrary to the interests of any law school to constrain itself unless competitors do the same. I conclude, therefore, with some practical ideas about how to address the negative effects of free agency.
Law schools could hire a coterie of scholars to provide reputational gloss, advance knowledge, and attract a few students of intellectual bent, while relying increasingly on adjuncts and visitors from other institutions to provide classroom instruction.
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