« Egyptian Constitutional Reform, Take 1 | Main | I've got your intellectual feast right here »

Thursday, March 17, 2011

faculty recruitment and the big sort

In the midst of a pleasant visiting semester in nyc, and thinking about other substantial time spent at wonderful law schools in rather different areas of the U.S. (noCal, C-ville, soCal, Austin TX, and now nyc), I am intrigued by the following:  with the convergence of law school salaries and culture (very roughly speaking, of course) around a certain mean, and controlling somewhat for rankings, isn't it all about location, location, location?

Given the enormous variation in municipalities -- a point reinforced in important recent academic work including the Bishop's "The Big Sort" and Glaeser's "Triumph of the City" -- will the law school hiring future belong to a cluster of schools located in "hot" areas?  More provocatively, will the vaunted "rural college town" go the way of the dinosaur? 

Any number of intense conversations with colleagues contemplating moves or, earlier, fretting about first-job offers, suggests that the urbanity of the law school, in all the multiple meanings of that word, is mattering a great deal indeed.  In the eye of the beholder?  Perhaps.  But I throw out the query:  Are y'all working more creatively to sell the city? the state? a hopeful story of progress in "Middleearth Law School" or "Skyscraper State?"

Posted by dan rodriguez on March 17, 2011 at 04:26 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference faculty recruitment and the big sort:


At one level, I'd certainly agree with anonprof06 et al. - midwestern cities and other relatively lower population areas can make wonderful places to live, raise a family, etc. And they're absolutely less expensive than larger urban areas. That said, how many women on the law teaching market or in legal academia, I wonder, have "spouses who don't have paying work" as anonprof06 notes? Off the top of my head, I can think of one I know. It strikes me that this is just the kind of thing that might correlate pretty strongly with gender. And therefore make it harder for women to accept offers from schools, however highly ranked, outside more populated or otherwise geographically attractive settings.

Posted by: anon | Mar 21, 2011 11:26:25 AM

Anonprof06 makes a good point. For example, with respect to my own Notre Dame Law School: Obviously, in some respects, being in South Bend, IN is sub-optimal, in terms of recruiting students and faculty. On the other hand, it's an affordable, friendly community and many people (e.g., me) find it easier to build a rich life here, and raise a family, than it might be to do so in some (great) cities.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Mar 19, 2011 12:45:50 PM

I agree a big city could be important for a lawprof in a dual career couple. For those on the market whose spouses don't have paying work, however, a small city/university town could be MUCH more attractive. In cities like NYC and DC, or in the Bay Area, a large income is needed to have what used to be a middle-class lifestyle (comfortable home, decent schools for children). A one-income family might find it hard to afford all that in many cities, but it's in reach if one takes a job in a cheaper area of the country. So the same factors that could lead a new prof in a dual career couple away from taking a job at an Iowa/Indiana/Georgia could make it extra attractive to a new prof with a stay-at-home spouse.

Posted by: anonprof06 | Mar 18, 2011 1:05:09 PM

My sense, consistent with some above have said, is that it's the two-career couple issue that has marked the biggest change, and created the most difficulties for rural schools (though some, like UVA, have turned it to their advantage by doing substantial couple hiring). In 1970, most men looking for law teaching jobs had stay-at-home wives. In 2011, most men and women looking for law teaching jobs have working spouses or partners, often, but not always, academic ones. The UVA model is obviously the way for the schools in smaller towns to stay highly competitive.

Posted by: Brian | Mar 18, 2011 11:33:07 AM

Speaking from my own experience on the market, the need to accommodate our two-career household swamped almost all other considerations. It led us to prefer city/near-city schools (more job opportunities generally), and to prefer more urban schools even above substantially higher ranked schools in less populated areas.

Posted by: anon | Mar 18, 2011 10:23:31 AM

Really interesting question...

The research you refer to (for a too long discussion of it, see this paper http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1471555) does suggest that the return to idea-based agglomeration have increased substantially in the last 30 or so years (Glaeser's Did the Death of Distance Hurt Detroit and Save New York is an excellent paper discussing this phenomenon.) Technological changes (of the type Ani talks about) have generally increased demand for urban/suburban-near-big-city living, not harmed it as futurists like the Tofflers assumed. But the whole concept of returns to urbanization comes from gains from collaboration (it's easier when people are closer) and from market size. Legal scholarship is a pretty solitary activity, at least comparatively, and the labor market is national, not local. So the gains to city v. rural schools aren't necessarily going to be particularly direct...

However, I suspect if the gains from having urban/suburban universities to local economies continue to be as substantial as the work in this field has suggested -- due to university-idea based start ups and the gains from increasing talent and depth in labor markets -- there should be some movement towards shifting state funds to urban rather than rural campuses (assuming no decrease in responsiveness in state legislatures). Law schools in urban areas will get some degree of benefit from shifting state resources to urban/suburban state campuses...

Further, the dual-career couple effect is not limited to couples that already exist, but I suspect is even stronger among single young law profs, who have strong reasons for wanting to live in places full of young, highly educated singles (the rise in "assortative mating" -- people dating and marrying people with similar characteristics -- has been a powerful and increasing driver of urban agglomeration).

Also, I suspect some difference among types of professors. Those who do a great deal of consulting (corporate, antitrust, ip) people will see higher (and increasing) gains to being a big city.

Finally, some have argued that in addition to increases in the economic returns to urban life in the last 20 or so years, there's been a shift in consumer preferences among the young. (Professor and developer Chris Leinberger is most associated with this argument.) Glaeser's book develops a really interesting stat to test this. In general, cities have higher average incomes but also higher average costs -- the profits from the increased productivity caused by agglomeration is competed away in housing demand. But you can look at the ratio of average income/cost of living to create a stat for how attractive a place is -- it roughly corresponds to how much of an income-to-cost hit are people willing to take to live in a certain place. Not suprisingly Hawaii and the pretty parts of california score really highly on this score, but some major cities have seen massive changes in this stat -- NYC has gone from being negative (higher incomes than cost of living) in the 70s to quite positive in the 90s. Where this stat has gone up, it means that living has gotten better, and so to the extent cities don't look like "the bronx is burning" 1970s, it will spur demand among all types of people, prawfs included.

Posted by: D.Schleicher | Mar 18, 2011 10:04:44 AM

I more or less agree with Ani: I think there are lots of changes afoot, which cut in different ways.

On one hand, the Internet has made it possible for scholars anywhere to be very connected to the scholarly world. The Internet has also made it easier to get access to goods and services that used to be hard to find -- just get Amazon prime and they'll ship it all to you. On the whole, these advantages tend to help schools that are more rural and less a part of major metro centers.

On the other hand, more and more professors are in dual-career families. If your spouse works, then finding a job for you next requires finding a job for your spouse. This tends to havor schools that are more urban and more part of major metro centers.

On the third hand -- if you have a third hand -- the fact that new academics are spending more time preparing for going on the market than they used to probably favors more remote schools. If wannabe professors are going to spend 3-4 years getting ready to go on the market -- and in so doing, are going to make career moves that make it harder to stay in legal practice or pursue other non-academic options -- they're more likely to be ready to take a teaching job *anywhere* over some other kind of employment. That will give a relative advantage to schools in more remote places.

On the fourth hand, the fact that the Internet can provide such a strong point of contact to the scholarly world means that professors might be less willing to go to remote locations to find their ideal scholarly community. If so, that would give a relative advantage to schools (especially traditionally "lower ranked" schools) in cities.

On the fifth hand.... ok, no fifth hand. But I do think there are a lot of different changes to consider.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Mar 17, 2011 5:51:30 PM

Well, location always matters, but it matters in different ways to different people. As a theoretical matter, we can imagine measuring its importance by comparing two otherwise identical schools situated in Location A and Location B, and determining the salary difference required to attract a candidate to School A versus School B. In fact, we can use this mechanism to compare preferences on a wide range of things (like rankings) that are otherwise not easy to compare. This is the beauty of prices for economists. We can literally compare the prices of apples and oranges.

But what would be the point of determining the price of a location? This number will surely be different for each different candidate -- some candidates will prefer Location A anyway, so the salary difference is negative, while some candidates will prefer Location B with all else being equal, requiring a salary bump to make up the difference. There will, of course, be an average figure, showing whether location is a net plus or minus across all candidates for School B. But this average figure will not be particularly informative for any school or any candidate. For other types of things like rankings the variance is probably less extreme and at least always goes in the same direction--higher ranked is always more preferred to lower ranked, whereas it is not clear that big city is always preferred to small town--and so the generalization is somewhat more useful. And for fungible goods the market clearing price of course is highly useful. But neither candidates nor schools are exactly fungible commodities.

Posted by: TJ | Mar 17, 2011 5:39:02 PM

Smaller towns have always been cheaper (generally), and have always had a quality of life appeal (generally). What's changing?

During the 1980s and into the 1990s, cheaper air fares and expanded service made it easier to participate in academic discourse regardless of location; this was reinforced by the internet and now by Skype, though to a less revolutionary extent than one might have thought.

These positive influences on mobility have been mitigated and probably overwhelmed by the pressure of two-career couples. Across-the-board increases in the cost of living, and the rising financial and non-financial opportunity costs of forgoing a second career, have made it more difficult for smaller towns to compete for new faculty, even if their relative cost of living is still appealing.

Another source of pressure will be adverse selection by students, who as they gravitate toward securing professional opportunities and experiential learning will also gravitate toward urban campuses.

Posted by: Ani | Mar 17, 2011 5:19:12 PM

fair point, of course. My loose provocation regarding so-called college towns risks detracting from my main purpose, which was just to raise the question: how much does location matter and, moreover, is it mattering more than ever before?

Posted by: dan rodriguez | Mar 17, 2011 4:57:47 PM

I'm not so sure. I was on the market this year, and found schools in college towns, with their affordability and high quality of life, abundantly more appealing than big city schools.

Posted by: anon | Mar 17, 2011 4:40:39 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.