Inside Higher Ed is reporting about a study of law school faculty hiring practices that will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Empirical Studies. It’s called The Labor Market for New Law Professors (draft) and it is authored by Tracey E. George (Vanderbilt) and Albert H. Yoon (U. Toronto). The authors studied hiring practices for the 2007-8 academic year. The pattern of hiring appears that schools from all tiers would rather hire graduates from first tier institutions as faculty than lower ranked schools. In fact, the articles states “nearly half of the new professors hired by accredited last schools in 2008 graduated from only three law schools, those of Harvard, Stanford and Yale Universities.” This isn’t that surprising given a school’s drive to boost reputation and ranking. Professor George, by the way, is a Stanford graduate.
The implication Inside Higher Ed draws is that these hiring practices belie a movement to teach practical skills in a changing curriculum when new faculty members are drawn from programs that emphasize theory. I’m not so sure about this. The study comes from the time that the job market started to collapse. Schools tended to do what they always did back then, which was pretending there wasn’t a problem, or at least a lasting one. Two things happened since then. Enrollment collapsed (and continues to do so), and the American Bar Association is loosening the standards just enough for schools to experiment with the curriculum. Some schools are reacting by adding transactional instruction in their classes. It’s not a mass movement by any means but the market for law students may push that change further.
Other schools react by shrinking. Some have bought out faculty or used other means to reduce the faculty roster. It may seem conventional wisdom to think that reducing staff will solve the problem, but it’s not. Paul Campos writes in a post on the Lawyers, Guns & Money blog:
As for expenses, these tend to be both homogenous and fixed, consisting largely of personnel compensation, in a context in which serious downsizing of labor costs can’t be undertaken without declaring a fiscal emergency — a move which has serious reputational costs — and physical plant operation. Costs that can as a matter of institutional politics be treated as variable — for example, library subscriptions, adjunct faculty, and low-status staff — are by comparison relatively small.
His full post is called “80% to 85% of ABA law schools are currently losing money.” The greatest personnel expenditure in a law school is, of course, faculty salary.
I think the George and Yoon study is interesting. They acknowledge in their draft that they study does not follow trends over time. I would like to see a follow-up on faculty hiring practices that takes into account the last six years of the shrinking law school and how that has affected the composition of the law school faculty on skills vs. theory basis.