Paul L. Caron

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Law Faculty Hiring: Pedigree or Performance?

In our recent article, What Law Schools Can Learn from Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, 82 Texas L. Rev. 1483 (2004), Rafael Gely and I examined the impact of Moneyball's emphasis on objective data for law schools.  For example, we collected data on the pre-hiring backgrounds of law professors, separating out “pedigree" variables (law school attended, law review membership, judicial clerkship, and advanced degree) and “performance” variables (pre-hiring publication).  In assessing the statistical significance of these variables on subsequent scholarly performance (as measured by both productivity and impact), we found a significant difference based on "performance " variables, but not based on "pedigree” variables.  (We have since found a similar significance in the new SSRN download measure as well.)  These findings suggest that appointments committees should weigh pre-hiring publication more heavily than pedigree.

Dave Hoffman on PrawfsBlawg agrees with our conclusion and offers additional justifications for favoring scholarly performance over pedigree:

For those who have read Moneyball, the article's tentative conclusions with respect to entry-level hiring aren't surprising: pedigree is worthless (in predicting scholarly potential); prior writing is gold. See especially Table 5 and accompanying text. This sort of analysis suggests that hiring committees selecting candidates based on fancy clerkships, law school/college degrees, or recommendations are buying overvalued talent in the market for folks who produce copious and competent scholarship. This inefficiency may help to explain why, as [Brian Leiter] notes, there is comparatively more upward movement in the law school lateral market than in other disciplines....

[M]y gut tells me that more emphasis on prior scholarship, and much less emphasis on traditional prestige credentials, during the hiring process would be likely to lead to results that many legal academics would ultimately endorse, including:

Reduction of the power of a small group of professors at super-elite schools to shape the hiring processes for the rest of the industry (i.e., less old boys network)

  • Reduction of the influence of super-elite schools (and their teaching/organizational) models more generally
  • More political diversity in hiring
  • More gender diversity in hiring
  • More ethnic/racial diversity in hiring
  • Reduction in the risk of hiring of unproductive junior faculty in an era of sharply rising tenure standards
  • More doctrinal/practical scholarship (because of the changing incentives on practicing lawyers)
  • Reduction (however slight) in the power of ranking systems to dictate where ambitious law students go to school
  • More concrete, and therefore interesting, job talks
  • Oh, not incidentally, better teaching

Christine Hurt on Conglomerate tosses out this intriguing possibility:  law schools should subsidize Ph.Ds for their current faculty.

Update:  Richard E. Redding, Where Did You Go To Law School?: Gatekeeping for the Professoriate and Its Implications for Legal Education, 5 J. Legal Educ. 594 (2003), found that pedigree variables, but not performance variables, predict faculty hiring,

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