A faculty member who has taught at several of the top law schools writes about his perceptions of how the job market for faculty has changed over the last generation:
In the last 20 years, there have been two huge shifts in hiring. 20 years ago, lateral hiring was unusual: almost everyone built their faculties from the entry level, and almost no one moved---at least among the top 10-15 schools---unless it was for personal reasons. Hiring committees were essentially about entry-level hiring and you only looked at a lateral hire when someone reached out because they had an interest. Beginning in the early 1990s, lateral movement became much more common, leaving us in our present state of constant churning.
Second, once the initial round of churning was over and all the low hanging fruit had been picked, we shifted to lateral hiring of people just before or just after tenure. I think of this kind of hiring as a hybrid: it's almost an extension of the entry level. People are hired before they've really done significant work based on some early work that signals promise.
A few observations of my own, though I am happy to stand corrected by those with longer memories or more information. I suspect it is correct that the amount of lateral hiring has increased since the 1990s, though Texas in the 1970s was still doing a significant amount of lateral hiring (I can think of faculty hired from Toronto, Arizona State, SUNY-Buffalo, Indiana, and Washington-Seattle during that decade, and there were no doubt others--though it would still have been true that the majority of the faculty had been hired as rookies). But even at Texas, the pace of lateral hiring has accelerated, with the majority of new hires since 2000, for example, being lateral appointments (Mark Ascher from Arizona, Wendy Wagner from Case Western, Jane Cohen from BU, Larry Sager from NYU, Derek Jinks from Arizona State, Bernard Black from Stanford, Karen Engle from Utah, Ronald Mann from Michigan, Bob Peroni from George Washington, Leslie Green (on a half-time basis) from York/Toronto, Jane Stapleton (on a half-time basis) from the Australian National University, John Deigh from Northwestern, William Sage from Columbia, Daniel Rodriguez from San Diego, and Mechele Dickerson from William & Mary, in contrast to just five--Litvak, Kadens, Bracha, Damann, and Golden--at the rookie level).
So, too, when I think back to the University of Michigan Law School faculty of the mid-1980s (when I was a student), many of the biggest names had been lateral hires (Yale Kamisar from Minnesota, Terrance Sandalow from Minnesota, James Krier from UCLA, Joseph Sax from Colorado, James Boyd White from Chicago, Frederick Schauer from William & Mary), though some others were rookie hires who had stayed on (Richard Lempert, Donald Regan, Peter Westen), though many of what the students perceived (largely correctly, in retrospect) to be weak links on the faculty were in fact rookie hires who had been, as a matter of course, granted tenure. (Note, though, with both the Michigan and Texas examples that, until recently, most of the lateral hiring was not from scholars already ensconsed at top 15 law schools.)
Stanford, of course, rose to prominence with lateral raids on Columbia in the 1960s. My impression is that Yale has long depended on the lateral market to fill its faculty ranks.
I wonder how all of the preceding jibes with the experience of others who have been in the legal academy as long or longer than me or my correspondent? Has the job market experienced the shifts described? Are these shifts confined to a handful of top law schools or has the market for faculty changed throughout, from the most national to the most regional law schools? What do legal academics think of these changes?
And assuming, as I think likely, that there is more lateral movement in the last 15 years than in the prior generation, what explains that development? It can't be the U.S. News rankings since their reputational surveys are almost wholly unresponsive to actual faculty quality, as we have had occasion to note before. (Perhaps schools don't realize this, so maybe U.S. News has played a role?) Is it the turn to interdisciplinary scholarship, since lateral hiring in other academic disciplines, like economics and philosophy, is much more common, since it is often thought to take ten or twenty years for a scholar to establish his or her reputation?
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