July 15, 2011
Why Does Pedigree Drive Law Faculty Hiring?Off the Quad, Disciplinary Diversity & Pedigree Consciousness: A Few Thoughts:
In 2005, the Yale Daily News reported that 57% of the Yale Law faculty had attended Yale College or Yale Law School (which has a relatively small student body). The numbers suggest that the law school hiring committees are even more pedigree-sensitive than they were 20-30 years ago, so that percentage may have increased as senior faculty have retired. In any case, I would be surprised if more than 25% of this year’s permanent, tenure-track faculty attended law school somewhere besides New Haven or Cambridge. And of that remaining quarter, I bet you could count (or almost count) the number of law school alma maters on one hand....
[T]he assumption that the brightest minds go to four or so law schools is retrograde, ineffective, bad for the discipline, and demonstrably unjust on several counts. ... Demonstrably unjust, you might ask? Among its many problems, this status quo in hiring is biased against those who came to law school from regions, cultures and/or classes where academic pedigree carries less significance. ...
[A]s Professors William Henderson and Paul Caron have shown with their "Moneyball" analysis of entry-level legal hiring (see here), pedigree is far from the best predictor of future scholarly success. I’m not saying it’s meaningless, but it’s almost certainly not what hiring committees seem to act like it is. ... Do Yale graduates really, on average, have that much more scholarly potential or academic inclination than their peers at Chicago and Columbia?
Or, is there another explanation for the extreme pedigree consciousness? ... Perhaps self-interest comes into play (on a subconscious level): after all, if you have invested a ton in an exclusive legal education, you have a considerable incentive to justify and maintain the value of that investment. Or maybe this pedigree preoccupation is a vestige of the desire to treat the law as an objective discipline like physics. Who knows?
(Hat Tip: Brian Leiter.) Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:
- Law Faculty Hiring: Pedigree or Performance? (Sept. 15, 2005)
- National Review on George Mason Law School (Feb. 28, 2006)
- Lessons from the Rankings: Are Law Schools Overinvesting in Scholarship? (Apr. 5, 2006)
- Top B-School Deans Are Top Scholars (Apr. 26, 2006)
- Moneyball and Faculty Hiring (Sept. 21, 2006)
- Application of Moneyball Principles in Faculty Hiring (Sept. 28, 2006)
- The IRS and Moneyball (Oct. 13, 2006)
- What Constitutes Law School "Success"? (Nov. 15, 2006))
- Applying Moneyball Principles to Law Schools (Feb. 23, 2007)
- A Moneyball Guide to Law Schools (June 8, 2007)
- Provost Billy Beane (June 19, 2007)
- Associate Moneyball (Aug. 7, 2007)
- Erwin Chemerinsky as Billy Beane? (Sept. 19, 2007)
- Advice for Erwin Chemerinsky from Caron & Henderson (Sept. 24, 2007)
- Henderson: Law Professor Free Agency and "School-Specific" Capital (Aug. 14, 2008)
- Who Is the Shane Battier of Your Faculty? (Feb. 15, 2009)
- Livingston: Rahm Emanuel and the Future of Law Schools (July 27, 2009)
- Somin: Can Moneyball Strategies Still Work for Law Schools? (July 29, 2009)
- Pedigree Variables Do Not Predict Judge or Professor Performance (Oct. 7, 2009)
- Paging Billy Beane: Scholarly Productivity Lowers Reputation But Raises Salary (Nov. 30, 2009)
- Solum: The New Realities of the Legal Academy (Aug. 4, 2010)
- Henderson Forms Company to Apply Moneyball Principles to Law Firms (Nov. 3, 2010)
- Tamanaha: How Law School Scholarship Policies Help Entrench the Elite (July 12, 2011)
- The Faculty Lounge, Hiring Snobbery
- Fortune, Ivy League: The Best Route to Wall Street
- Lauren A. Rivera, (Northwestern), Ivies, Extracurriculars, and Exclusion: Elite Employers’ Use of Educational Credentials
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Although the topic is law schools, IMHO a link to your previous post on superelites is warranted.
Posted by: gs | Jul 15, 2011 9:12:43 AM
"Diversity" rules have eliminated the discretion organizations used to have to identify and promote ability in the absence of credentials ("pedigree"), and substituted lawsuit avoidance policies in its place. Checking all the right boxes on the form is the only thing that matters. It is exactly analogous to "zero-tolerance" policies in schools.
Posted by: craig | Jul 15, 2011 9:15:31 AM
"[T]he assumption that the brightest minds go to four or so law schools is retrograde, ineffective, bad for the discipline, and demonstrably unjust on several counts..."
Posted by: Prof D | Jul 15, 2011 9:25:52 AM
The same reason the brahman of India wish to perpetuate their caste system - an economic concept known as rent seeking.
Posted by: anon | Jul 15, 2011 10:20:59 AM
I don't understand the mystery here. It's basic evolutionary psychology. You have everything to gain, and nothing to lose, by rigging the system to favor your own offspring.
Put a little less simplistically, the benefits of admission by pedigree are concentrated, while the costs are diffuse.
Posted by: Vader | Jul 15, 2011 10:57:31 AM
Yes, and over at websites like volokh.com you read lawyers praising judges and lawyers every chance they get. Brown-nosing ad nauseam.
"One of the best in Con Law ...."
"Professor ... is one of the top constitutional scholars."
I guess lawyers are just terribly insecure. Or is it that what they say has no objective value, making the reputation of the lawyer, professor or judge the only measure of credence?
I've never heard a physicist recommend reading Einstein or Fermi or Feynmann because "he is one of the top theoretical physicists ...."
Posted by: Jimbino | Jul 15, 2011 11:27:47 AM
This really is puzzling. I don't think your average Yale grad is automatically going to produce "better" scholarship than say, somone from Boston U. (Of course, what counts for scholarship in the lawschool world isn't generally that rigorous (or good for that matter).
And I suspect your average Yale grad is probably less likely to have meaningful practical experience. So, if they aren't necessarily going to produce better scholarship, and they don't have lawyer skills/experience, why the popularity?
I can't begin to imagine many Steve Shiffrins there are out there that never got a chance.
Posted by: Anon | Jul 15, 2011 11:34:04 AM
If you did not go to a top ten law school and clerk for an appellate court you have little or no chance of being a law professor. The whole thing is absurd. This system rules out tons of qualified people who love their fields, are successful in them and would make fabulous teachers of those fields. At least at my law school, the adjuncts were generally far superior teachers than the tenured faculty. The tenured faculty had all graduated from Harvard, Chicago, Yale or Stanford, had all clerked at the circuit court level, and a few of them had done a couple of years in big law. But that was it for their practical experience. The adjuncts in contrast had decades of experience actually practicing their areas of the law. That made them much more valuable teachers and their classes much more interesting and informative. The general opinion of the tenured professors was that they were all brilliant people but were generally too strange and socially inept to ever make it actually practicing law. And most of their classes were indecipherable theory that people forgot the day after they took the final and never used again.
Posted by: John | Jul 15, 2011 11:57:51 AM
Thanks for linking to the post, Professor.
Posted by: Kevin | Jul 15, 2011 11:58:44 AM
Chemerinsky would be like Billy Beane if the latter had to bribe fans to go to Athletics games.
Posted by: mike livingston | Jul 15, 2011 1:03:37 PM
The primary reason law faculty hiring is so excessively prestige conscious is that such hiring best serves the narrow, personal self-interest of the faculty members making the hiring decisions. Choosing a young colleague who graduated from a top 5 school (especially if they possess additional prestige credentials like journal membership and federal clerkships) signals to whatever part of the world that cares, and far more importantly to the faculty itself, that they are now faculty members at a law school that hires faculty from a top 5 school. If the young faculty member works out well, then they believe that it reflects well on their judgment and their service as senior leaders of the institution. If the young faculty member does not work out well, then they have the quiet but significant satisfaction of knowing that they are outperforming a graduate of a top 5 school (with journal membership, clerkships, etc.). It's a far better hedge than hiring a candidate without the prestige background who only offers the possibility of doing the job especially well.
It is a variation of this self-interest that causes most non-elite law schools to continue to take the utterly unnecessary and excessive risk of entry level faculty hiring when any version of common sense would indicate that they could more reliably pick successful and productive faculty members through lateral hiring. In fact, lateral hiring is particularly unappealing to many faculties as it poses to them a much greater risk of being outperformed (and outperformed quickly and obviously) by the new hire.
Posted by: Jerome | Jul 15, 2011 3:21:30 PM
The hiring dynamic described above also explains the dramatic narrowing of the number of feeder schools that has taken place in the last couple of decades. In the 1980s, most faculty at schools outside the top 20 (and certainly the top 30) were not themselves graduates of a top 10 or 15 school, and thus a hire from a top 10-15 school was attractive. Over time, as more and more of these graduates filled the faculties at law schools at all prestige levels, the new hires had to be graduates of ever more prestigious law schools to make the dynamic work. Before long, we reached the current circumstance where an absolutely insane percentage of new hires on law faculties up and down the rankings scale have graduated from a single, quite small law school located well north of New York City, with many of the rest coming from its larger rival located even deeper in the northeast corner of the country.
Posted by: Jerome | Jul 15, 2011 7:58:56 PM
Who cares about Yankee schools. I went to school in the South where the SEC reigns supreme. If Yankee schools want to engage in incestual hiring, it will not work long term in a global internet enviornment. Many people in the South do not look beyond the SEC law schools and many people in the West do not look beyond the PAC 10. If Yale wants to only hire Yale grads, go for it. Prestiege and Pedigree is the only thing these schools have to offer...what else can they do? Play football-No- Great Social Life -No. I think I will go to the "U".
Posted by: Nick | Jul 18, 2011 10:47:09 AM
Are we sure that as many graduates of the other good schools apply to teach? I did not go to Yale, but I understand that the teaching there is unusually good, and a very theoretical perspective is encouraged. Might Yale students be more likely to choose academia than someone from a school with a more business-oriented culture, for example?
Posted by: Dena S Davis | Jul 18, 2011 3:45:33 PM