When Joan Krause was looking for her current job, she said she came as part of a package.
She and her husband both wanted law school teaching positions.
“We interviewed at a number of schools over the years, and sometimes it’s the first conversation we have to have,” she said. “The first thing you have to say is, ‘I have a spouse, we’re both tenured, we have a child and have to be in the same place.’ “
Krause and her husband, Richard S. Saver, started teaching at the University of Houston Law Center in 2001. They are co-directors of the school’s Health Law and Policy Institute, two positions that previously were also held by a married couple.
From Texas and Virginia to New York and California, numerous law schools across the country are employing law professors who are couples. Some of the more well-known pairings include Bruce Ackerman and Susan Rose-Ackerman at Yale Law School; Richard L. Revesz, dean of New York University School of Law, and his wife, Vicki L. Been; and Gillian Lester and Eric Talley at University of California, Berkeley School of Law.
With a growing number of dual-career marriages and intense competition for top legal academics, a number of law school deans say it is increasingly important to consider both spouses when recruiting.
The University of Houston Law Center has two married couples on a faculty of more than 50 people, said Dean Raymond T. Nimmer. Couples are becoming more common in academia, but it’s important to look at each individual’s credentials, he said.
“I don’t know if there are any ethical issues as much as practical issues in the sense that both of the people in the couple need to quite clearly meet the academic and whatever standards you have,” he said of hiring couples.
University of Virginia School of Law, in Charlottesville, has 11 married couples on the faculty, said Dean Paul Mahoney. Mahoney and his wife, Julia Mahoney, are one of these couples, as she is a professor at the law school. He said it is important for law schools to consider a candidate’s family when recruiting.
“All of our recruiting efforts these days have to take account of the person’s entire family — their spouse, their children, their family situation,” Mahoney said. “People are much more inclined to think of their career from a family perspective and not just an individual perspective. And that means that anyone who is hiring has to think about it as well.”
He added, “My sense is that with each passing year over the past decade, we have seen an increase in the number of applicants for faculty positions who have spouses who are also academics.”
William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has several couples on the faculty. The law school also has made arrangements for spouses and partners of their hires, such as helping a law professor’s partner get a position in the anthropology department, said Christopher Blakeseley, a professor at the law school who last year chaired its appointments committee. Still, Blakeseley also stressed that everyone must be hired on their own credentials.
“We have never hired anyone just because they were a partner,” he said. “It’s been if this partner fit a curriculum need and was a first-rate scholar and teacher and we were satisfied with them simply on their merits.”
A TOUCHY ISSUE
Some deans and law professors said hiring couples can be a touchy issue. For example, Krause of Houston said some schools were not receptive when she and her husband said they were both looking for positions. And several law schools declined interviews for this story, including Harvard Law School, whose spokeswoman said the topic is too personal and that none of the couples at the school wanted to be interviewed.
Several law professors and deans said there are some risks involved in hiring couples, such as complications that could arise if one spouse turns out not to be a good fit or if both spouses decide to leave at the same time. But many said a growing number of law schools are willing to take the risk in today’s competitive market.
“The faculties who aren’t going to be willing to give this a shot are missing some extraordinary candidates,” said Nancy B. Rapoport, a professor at the William S. Boyd School of Law and a contributing editor to the Legal Profession Blog. “It’s both a tool and a barrier, depending on how risk-averse the faculties are. But it’s an opportunity for schools that are willing to capitalize on it.” Rapoport is former dean of University of Houston Law Center, which hired Krause and Saver while she was there.
Mahoney of the University of Virginia said turning away couples could be a loss for law schools.
“I think most hiring decisions have some risk attached to them, and you have to decide which risks you’re willing to take and which ones you’re not,” he said. “Certainly, for us the potential benefits of attracting people we’re excited about has outweighed the risk that maybe you’ll end up in a situation that is uncomfortable.”
Carey Bertolet, a New York-based founding managing director of BCG Attorney Search, a legal recruiting firm, said law schools should consider the needs of both spouses when recruiting.
“I can tell you that if they are not, they should be,” she said. “It’s certainly a part of the calculation for a lot of people.”
Krause said that she and her husband made it clear from the start that they needed to be in the same city. But they also made it a point to act independently as faculty members and be treated separately, she said.
“We never sat next to each other in a meeting for about five years,” she said.
Law professors said it is important for law schools to be honest about their needs, just as it is important for couples to express their desire to be in the same school.
W. Kip Viscusi, who teaches at Vanderbilt University Law School, along with his wife, Joni Hersch, said the couple stated from the beginning that they were both in the same field.
“In our case, it was clear from the outset that this was a package deal,” he said.
The school’s dean, Edward Rubin, said such hiring situations are becoming more common.
“This is the modern situation these days in university hiring,” he said. “Institutions have to figure out ways to adjust to this.”
SAME CITY, BUT DIFFERENT SCHOOLS
In cities with several law schools, such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, deans said they do not have as many challenges as law schools in more remote areas. For example, Fordham University School of Law has a faculty member whose spouse is employed by another law school in New York, the Yeshiva University Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
Still, when competing for top academics, both partners often need to be taken into account, said Barry Friedman, vice dean of New York University School of Law.
“We’re in an extremely competitive market, and part of being in a competitive market is you have to take the needs of two people,” he said. “Because your competitor may offer them both a job.”
Brian Leiter, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School who tracks law school hires on his blog, said some schools have been particularly accommodating of spouses if their partner is considered a top academic.
“This is very common, and it’s part of this general phenomenon of dual-career couples,” he said. “Top law schools are relatively wealthy, so the opportunity cost of any particular hire is usually not that great.”