Pedigree trumps diversity when it comes to law faculty hiring. That’s one takeaway from a study of the hiring market by Vanderbilt University Law School professor Tracey George and Albert Yoon of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.
The pair analyzed data from the 2007-08 law school hiring cycle to gauge the influence of demographics, educational background and work experience on which candidates landed interviews and ultimately job offers.
Many of their conclusions follow conventional wisdom about law faculty hiring: The vast majority of candidates offered tenure-track jobs graduated from top-tier law schools; those who had been out of law school for 10 years or less fared better than their older competition; and candidates with teaching experience did well.
But one element of conventional wisdom—namely, that many law schools give preference to women and minority candidates to correct their underrepresentation on faculties—didn’t bear out. Women and minorities in general landed jobs at the same rate as their white male counterparts.
“We find that law schools appear open to non-traditional candidates in the early phases of the hiring process but when it comes to the ultimate decision—hiring—they focus on candidates who look like current law professors,” the authors wrote in “The Labor Market for New Law Professors,” to appear in a forthcoming edition of the Journal of Empirical Studies.
The pattern could hinder efforts to reform legal education and make it more practice-oriented, Yoon and George wrote.
Of course, research has its lag time, and the climate has changed quite a bit since 2008, before the sharp falloff in law school admissions. Law schools have significantly curtailed faculty hiring since then, which may have altered the way they evaluate new hires. Still, the study offers one of the first empirical looks at law faculty selection.
Most schools hire tenure-track faculty through a system established by the Association of American Law Schools. Aspiring professors submit applications to central repository and law schools use those materials to select candidates. Interviews take place during an annual three-day recruitment conference. (A relatively small amount of hiring takes place outside the conference structure.)
From there, hiring committees invite a small number of candidates to campus to meet with faculty and present their scholarly work. Then, law schools extend job offers.
Yoon and George found that some factors helped candidates at particular stages of the hiring process. For instance, law schools took a broader approach early in the process; graduates of law schools outside the top tier were just as likely to receive initial interviews as those who went to top-tier schools.
But when it came making offers, candidates with J.D.s from top schools dominated. They accounted for 68 percent of applicants and 82 percent of those hired. Drilling down even further, candidates with J.D.s from Harvard Law School, Yale Law School and Stanford Law School—highly prestigious schools known for turning out large numbers of future professors—together were 27 percent more likely to land jobs than those from all other law schools.
Women and minority candidates did not appear to enjoy any advantage over white men in receiving initial interviews, but women were 8 percent to 10 percent more likely to be invited back to campus for follow-up interviews and minority candidates were 10 to 13 percent more likely. This trend may reflect a desire among faculty hiring committees to present a diverse slate of candidates, the authors wrote.
“But, women and non-whites are no more likely than similarly situated men and whites to get a job offer or, if they get an offer, for the offer to come from a more elite school,” they concluded.