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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Entry Level Hiring and Moneyball

[Warning: Having already broken my blogging rules 3, 4, 6, and 9, this post breaks rule 8: "Don't blog about law school rankings, ever."  Whoops.]

I've recently been re-reading Paul Caron's article, ""What Law Schools Can Learn from Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics."  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 BL notes, there is comparatively more upward movement in the law school lateral market than in other disciplines.

We ought to take statistical reductionism with a large grain of salt.  Gordon Smith pointed out a basic problem a year ago:  "while baseball teams largely agree on the ultimate measure of success (winning), law schools have wildly different conceptions of a successful legal education."  Moreover, Caron's dataset is quite small.

Nevertheless, my 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.

In future posts, or in the comments to this one if it turns out to be a fruitful topic, I'll be happy to flesh out why I hold these intuitions.  And I'm the first to say that propensity to publish is not the only reason to hire entry-level candidates - nor should it be.  I mean to make a much smaller point: if schools are selecting for propensity to publish, the best way to do so may be to look at past publication.

Posted by Dave Hoffman on September 13, 2005 at 09:43 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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» Profs of Color at Top 5 Law Schools Shouldn’t be in Top 50? from blackprof.com
The following comment is posted on the prawfsblawg site: “Given that minorities are getting tenure-track positions at top-five law schools with resumes that would prevent a white male from getting a job at a top-fifty law school, it seems to... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 23, 2005 10:38:20 AM

» Law School Diversity (Part III) from blackprof.com
Roger Fairfax brought to my attention that an anonymous person wrote the following comment to a post at the prawfsblawg site: “Given that minorities are getting tenure-track positions at top-five law schools with resumes that would prevent a white male... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 23, 2005 3:40:39 PM


First a blogging note: The IP addresses of abusive "Anons" can be collected, traced and/or blocked; many people can provide you with technical information on how to do this if you want to, it is usually very simple. Ultimately, for better or for worse, there is no anonymity in cyberspace.

More on topic: Publications are one proxy for motivation, and also provide some data about intelligence and talent. People who did not go to law school thinking they wanted to become law professors may not have accumulated some of the gold stars that would have been useful, because they chose to work part time for money rather than participate on a journal, or didn't pursue clerkships they were otherwise qualified for, etc. A focus on scholarly productivity gives motivated people a real shot at teaching they otherwise would not have had. I'm not sure how this shakes down along racial or gender lines generally, but at least it offers another avenue with which to pursue somewhat "merit based" hiring.

Posted by: Ann Bartow | Sep 15, 2005 4:28:07 PM

The pedigree mentality is self-sustaining. Big firms hire the pedigreed attorneys because it is a selling point to existing and potential clients, regardless of their actual ability. Even given the attrition rate, those who make partner and have input on new hires end up being pedigreed attorneys by virtue of this process, and of course they want to maintain the firm profile (and they do tend to believe their own press, so to speak, to the extent they think they are in fact superior legal minds because of their pedigrees).

TSL takes a dim view of most attorneys as is, but reserves a special measure of contempt for almost all big firm attorneys. I wonder if I should start writing legal thrillers a la John Grisham . . . no, no, Grisham is a hack.

Posted by: The Sardonic Lawyer | Sep 15, 2005 1:31:33 PM

Caron doesn't emphasize(or even mention)it, but the data in the piece shows that female hires with similar credentials to male hires wind up producing less scholarship. I'm not interested in the whys or wherefores for purposes of this post, but I don't see how one can use this particular paper in support of the proposition that more women would be hired if Caron's "Moneyball" suggestions were followed.

Relatedly, for what it's worth, I've seen a gradual deemphasis on clerkships and recommendations in favor of scholarly credentials over the years, which is good. But to the extent that this has in part taken the form of preferring J.D./Ph.D.s, this doesn't bode well for women, who would be expected to give up most of their childbearing years to get two degrees and then get tenure, or to somehow do all that while going through pregnancies, nursing, etc., while competing with men who bear less of the child-related burdens.

Posted by: Anon2 | Sep 15, 2005 12:21:04 AM

To respond to the last few comments. My intuition is that de-emphasis of traditional prestige credentials and more emphasis on prior performance in evaluating the "scholarship" part of a candidate's package will tend to reward dilligence, thoughtful career planning, and, well, folks who like to write. These qualities ought to be evenly distributed across demographic characteristics.

OTOH, there is at least an argument that access to a high-profile recommenders and a high-profile judge and a high-profile law school are not going to be randomly distributed, and that, instead, such benefits tend to flow in path dependant ways to those who have had them historically.

Some folks seem to think I mean to prioritize scholarship above all other criteria. Far from it. Rather, all I mean is that to the extent we care about scholarship, we can do a better job of predicting it if we look to the fact of past performance than the normal "best athlete" criteria (telling description of hiring committee goal, no?)

I don't know how this analysis plays out at Top 50 schools. To be perfectly honest, I think that focus on that subset of the market's hiring practices threatens to let the tail wag the dog. Such schools hire entry candidates less often (Yale, for instance, almost never hires entry candidates) and they can really have their cake and eat it too (scholarship+prestige+everything else you could want under the sun.) There are many more schools outside of the top 50 than inside it, and it is those schools who may be systematically "paying" more for credentialed talent than they ought to. If the data bears out the thesis (an open question!) one argument would be that a hiring committee at a "third tier" school would be much better off taking a graduate of a "second tier" school who had published than a "top 10" school + appellate clerkship who hasn't. Or, to be more blunt, my particular degree (HLS) is overvalued in predicting how likely I am to write.

Maybe more focus on scholarship in today's AALS book would produce demographic imbalances. If so, I'm open to the argument that the theory, the method and the results are all problematic. But I do think that candidates would be able to solve this type of problem much easier than they can solve the systematic inequities arising (by hypothesis) from the existing credential system.

Posted by: Dave Hoffman | Sep 14, 2005 10:29:28 PM

I'm inclined to agree that "more focus on scholarship" would have the effect of boosting white males, but I do not deduce from this that therefore women and minorities produce "worse" scholarship. All I deduce from this is that largely white and male hiring committees have certain preconceptions about what constitutes "interesting" and "high quality" scholarship, and these conceptions are themselves, to some extent at least, gender and culture-bound.

No, I am not arguing for a relativist free-for-all ("Gee, this prose poem on intellectual property, written in crayon, is just so much more intriguing than any of that Lessig garbage!") But as a women at a top tier school, I've seen, over an over, my largely white and male colleagues make disparaging comments about "female" subject matter (eg, family law, education, poverty, health law, etc). So I don't think our "standard" is entirely neutral, and I have no doubt it operates along race dimensions as well.

Posted by: lawprof | Sep 14, 2005 9:45:57 PM

To link this to another recently debated topic, I would guess this approach would favor PhDs, as a generalization, as they are often in a position to publish parts of their diss. as they write it.

On the other hand, this relates to questions about how legal publishing gets done -- with non-anonymous review by student editors. One could argue about which groups this system favors and disfavors.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Sep 14, 2005 10:48:46 AM

This is a really interesting article and makes points that I frequently find myself making, (but probably not as eloquently) at recruitment meetings in my non-law academic department. But, I am also on the other side of the recruitment process in legal academia and so I'm happy to see the argument being made by people who are already in legal academic positions and possibly in a position to hire me ;-)

However, baseball is not academia. Why? Well, baseball teams (at least the players) are not primarily populated by socio-economic elites, whereas academic departments and law schools are - on average. Notice, that I say "on average" - the majority of academics come from upper-middle to upper class families - I'm not really interested in hearing anecdotal evidence of intances in which people have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to be leading scholars. My reasons: 1) such claims (especially when they are about the person making them) are often exaggerated, and 2) more importantly, they are not the typical situation.

In my experience I frequently see people hired in academia who have no track record of publishing, but come from prestige U with a letter from prominant scholar who suggests that said candidate could essentially walk on water. Such candidates are hired over those with established records and then proceed to not work out (i.e. they dont produce). The institutional memory on such hires is basically zero, and the whole process starts over again - making the same mistakes.

In sum elites take care of each other - in business, law, academic recruiting and tenure decisions, etc. etc.. CW Mills had it right in "The Power Elite" and comments on such matters much better than I can. For a lighter read on a similar topic, try Alfred Lubrano's "In Limbo," which discusses the sometimes intangible difficulties of being a first generation college grad living and working in elite environments.

But I digress - let me get back to publishing in good journals - although sometimes I wonder why I bother. I probably need some coffee to cure my foul mood; maybe someone will brighten my morning and call me for an AALS interview - Really, I'm usually much more fun and light hearted, really.

Posted by: no_name | Sep 14, 2005 10:33:33 AM

I am on the appointments committee right now at a top 50 law school. My sense is that more focus on scholarship would tend to favor candidates who happen to be white males. Given that, I'm interested in hearing the theory as to why more focus on scholarship would add to gender/race diversity.

Posted by: Appts Committee | Sep 14, 2005 12:11:03 AM

I'm fairly sympathetic to the post. That's not why I'm writing, though. Rather, I'd like to point out that it's very nice of "anon" to be willing to at least nearly name names while hiding his or her own. It's nice to see someone who has the guts to stand up behind his or her views, who shows real courage in one's convictions.

Posted by: Matt | Sep 14, 2005 12:02:05 AM

[Comment responding to previous discussion regarding merits of hiring particular unnamed minority candidates deleted. -Hoffman]

Posted by: NOYB | Sep 13, 2005 11:25:07 PM

[Comment with information that could lead to identifying hires deleted. Please see previous comment. This is not the right place for a discussion of "diversity" and its effect on hiring. -Hoffman]

Posted by: Anon | Sep 13, 2005 11:13:05 PM

Mark: are you responding to Anon?

If so, even though I think there will no support for this claim, I remind folks of the blog's policy against naming names/institutions in this context. I will delete any comments that violate our policy as soon as I see them.

Additionally, I would much prefer if comments respond directly to my post, instead of engaging in a free-ranging affirmative-action-in-hiring debate.
This is not a public forum.

Posted by: Dave Hoffman | Sep 13, 2005 10:57:21 PM


Posted by: Mark | Sep 13, 2005 10:30:55 PM

Given that minorities are getting tenure-track positions at top-five law schools with resumes that would prevent a white male from getting a job at a top-fifty law school, it seems to me that the credentialism isn't a factor in any lack of racial diversity.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 13, 2005 10:24:06 PM

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