Despite numerous calls for law schools to reform themselves, a new study suggests that you shouldn't hold your breath.
The study examined all of the recent hiring of tenure-track faculty members in a given year. And despite reports and op-eds calling for law schools to put more of an emphasis on practical skills, to pay less attention to the prestige associated with hiring graduates of elite law schools, and to diversify their faculties, the study suggests that they aren't doing those things.
What law schools are doing, the study says, is considering a broader range of applicants for faculty jobs early in the search process. But at various points along the way, they revert to past patterns and hire almost exclusively those who have been trained at elite law schools. In other words, law school faculty search committees hire people who are just like younger versions of those committee members.
"Nearly all new hires in our study attended a small set of schools which are more likely to emphasize theory over practice,” write Tracey E. George and Albert H. Yoon, law professors at Vanderbilt University and the University of Toronto, respectively. “Missing from those experiences is substantial time outside of a law school. The lack of real-world experience affects the capacity of new hires to teach skills courses and to assist students making the transitions to those real-world jobs.”
“Top 50 law schools hire almost solely from other top 50 schools, and all law schools typically hire their faculty from schools ranked higher than them,” George and Yoon write. They note that 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.
The study is forthcoming in The Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. George and Yoon examined every tenure-track hire by a law school in 2007-8. The competition is tough. Nearly 1,000 people apply over the course of a year for tenure-track openings, and offers are extended only to about one in seven.
All sorts of factors -- including being a woman or a member of a minority group -- appear to increase the odds of passing the first level of review. But in the end, it's the law school attended that appears to be the dominant factor. It is perhaps not surprising that the Harvard Laws of the world prefer to hire faculty members with that sort of pedigree.
But George and Yoon found that preference for elite law school alumni extends down the law school pecking order. The professors used the four tiers of law schools from U.S. News & World Report rankings. While those who are not first-tier sometimes boast about intentionally providing a different kind of legal education than one would receive at the elites, that doesn't extend to whom they hire.
Tenure-Track Hires by Tier of Law School and Law School Attended
|Hiring Law School||Tier 1 Alumni||Tier 2 Alumni||Tier 3 Alumni||Tier 4 Alumni||Foreign Law School Alumni||Not Reported|