Friday, August 26, 2022

Where did aspiring law teachers in the first FAR graduate law school? (And why are there so few candidates in the first FAR?)


The AALS has implemented a better search engine, which allows one to identify where candidates received their JD (thus excluding LLM and SJD graduates from the picture, which makes for a cleaner comparison between schools).  Here is the distribution in the first FAR for the 16 schools that produce the most law teachers:   Harvard (24), Yale (21), NYU (10), Michigan (9), Columbia and Georgetown (8 each), Berkeley (7), Stanford (6), UCLA (4), Chicago, Virginia, Penn, Cornell, and Duke (3 each), Northwestern and Texas (2 each).  Recall, of course, that the success rates of candidates varies quite a bit by school, and does not track the number of applicants.  And this year's first FAR is unusually small.

One puzzle is why so many fewer graduates of elite law schools are entering the FAR.  I have a couple of hypotheses, but would be glad to hear from readers as well.   First, the private sector market is strong right now, with salaries having risen signifcantly, and lawyers with some experience are particularly in demand.  Second, the barriers to successful entry to the tenure-track market have risen significantly over the last 25 years, and even over the last ten years.  25 years ago, plenty of folks got good tenure-track jobs on promise.  Now, of course, one needs publications in most cases, and often the kind of profile one would associate with a graduate of a PhD program (one reason JD/PhDs are increasing their share of the market).  I suspect it is harder now for even the typical very strong JD from an elite law school to contemplate the moves (e.g., to VAPs or Fellowships), or carve out the time (for writing), that is now required. 

Thoughts from readers?  Signed comments preferred, but all comments must include a valid email address (which will not appear).  Submit your comment only once, it may take awhile to appear.

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I think this is a high priority question that law schools must try to unpack in a serious way. It worries me, as it goes to the future of the enterprise. When a lot of us entered law teaching, it was viewed (by us at least!) as one of the very most enjoyable and rewarding careers one could have in law, maybe even generally. Something has shifted over time, beyond cyclical effects. I have seen this happening over numerous entry level markets, from both inside and outside of committees. I would not be too quick to think this is about comparative economic trends that are cyclical--that seems insufficient to explain effects across all fields of academic law, as opposed perhaps to certain ones. I am a bit more drawn to the higher startup-cost hypothesis but wouldn't that only work if one believed that lots of people think they have a high risk of paying the start-up costs and still not getting hired? In my observation, that's fairly unusual for anyone capable who does the work and does it sensibly with a full commitment of time, with even a modest level of sound guidance. I confess I do not have another hypothesis worth offering at the moment. But this certainly deserves more thought and discussion. It is particularly important, in my opinion, that law schools continue to have deep talent pools from which they can constitute excellent faculties that represent a rich diversity of intellectual traditions, trainings, and expertises, including expertise across practice fields. That style of building faculties is a major aspect of our comparative strength within the academic industry.

Posted by: Sam Buell | Aug 22, 2022 6:30:36 AM

I wonder if this is more a statement about the quality of the "informal" market. Perhaps what is going on is that graduates of elite law schools are able to make themselves known through the faculty the school they attended spreading the word about them. Couple this with the improved private market allowing prospective faculty to be more selective in which schools they will consider and you end up with this result. Certainly in other disciplines this informal marketing of new Ph.D. students exists.

BL COMMENT: The "informal" market in law is not large enough to explain the drop-off (it includes perhaps a handful of candidates each year).

Posted by: Mark Weinstein | Aug 22, 2022 10:04:19 AM

It's also possible that last year's hiring surge (76 to 117 year-over-year) means fewer "repeat" candidates, and that hiring dipped a little deeper into a pool with people who were more likely to have these credentials that would have otherwise repeated. Lawsky reports Harvard JD hiring up from 5 in 2021 to 19 in 2022, for instance. It appears those 16 schools placed around 48 in 2021, to around 80 in 2022, leaving around 28 from "other" schools in 2021 and 37 in 2022 (all rough math, errors likely!).

Posted by: Derek Muller | Aug 22, 2022 10:17:22 AM

Given the very high number of candidates who have fellowships, some part of the answer must be that there are either fewer fellows running around or next year's "maturing" fellow class will be unusually large, right?

Maybe law schools cut the fellowship programs due to COVID-19?

It also could be the case that in an era of super-flexible work, the in-person, geographically inflexible nature of being a law professor is less attractive than it used to be.

Posted by: Jared Ellias | Aug 22, 2022 12:24:03 PM

FWW, I tend to agree with the barrier-to-entry explanation, with the specific twist alluded to in the post: To have a realistic chance, a candidate usually needs either a VAP/fellowship or a PhD. — and everyone knows it. As a result, the subset of those who were thinking of applying somewhat more casually — without taking a few years to do a VAP or get a PhD — is, over time, no longer participating in the market. My guess, at least.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 22, 2022 10:59:35 PM

If the name of the game is speculation, then part of the explanation might be that many calls for application might have deterred applicants based on gender and racial lines.

Posted by: Harold Morrison | Aug 23, 2022 4:14:44 PM

I want to go with all causes explanation: (1) last year the market dipped deeper (Derek) and there are fewer repeats; (2) there was more hiring "off-market" of fellows who would've ordinarily been in this year's class (Jared); and, compared to the glory days, (3) the lateral market has heated up a ton, meaning there are fewer laterals in the FAR pile than there used to be; and (4) there's a ton more information out there which makes taking a flier on the market less attractive (BL). No one wants needless rejection.

You'd have to do alot to convince me that these are in the aggregate a cause for concern, contra to Sam. That 2000s market that we were both a part of was nuts -- hundreds of people with no shot at all, and others who were plainly underprepared for the job of teaching and writing (as I was!) The question is: is today's market producing professors who are less diverse (all all dimensions) than that old one? I would be surprised.

Posted by: David Hoffman | Aug 23, 2022 5:05:46 PM

I'm a long-time practitioner looking to transition into teaching. My thoughts, anecdotal and speculative, on the reduced number of applications:

Law professors to whom I've spoken have tried to discourage me based on their own dysfunctional faculty environments and workplaces. They have also opined that my demographic identity hurts my chances. (However, when I tell them, apropos of nothing, that I'm gay, my odds instantly get better.)

I admit I have second-guessed whether I am trying to get into a profession in which one unpopular opinion or misinterpreted phrase will trigger ostracism and ruin.

The ongoing remote-work revolution has turned corporate law firm culture more tolerant and tolerable for many young lawyers.

The red-blue divide increasingly informs applicants' decisions on where to apply and where to go. I know of one red-state public university that has had a hard time convincing promising young scholars to accept its offers, at least in part because some of those applicants decide they cannot stomach living in what they regard a retrograde civic environment. The perceived risk is particularly acute now that public universities are battlegrounds where provincial Trumpist governors can achieve primetime cable-news celebrity. And do not discount the resonance of the Dobbs decision in leading female applicants and female spouses of applicants to believe, quite reasonably, that the red states are hostile to their expectations of safe medical care. These cultural-political differences, real and perceived, are sinking into the job markets of many professions. That likely includes the legal academy.

Posted by: Humphreys McGee | Aug 23, 2022 6:02:39 PM

I think a large part of this may simply be due to the lingering effects of the decline in law school enrollments between 2010 and 2018 when enrollment went from about 52,000 to under 38,000. The result was a decline in law school faculty hiring: several law schools closed and others contracted. The folks entering the market today would likely have started planning about four years ago at the bottom of the market when job prospects looked bleak, so fewer may have chosen this route. A look at the other side of the equation suggests a rebound down the line: while the number of applicants is way down this year the number of advertised jobs is way up, so folks thinking about academia as a career choice are likely to be optimistic.

Posted by: David Rosenfeld | Aug 23, 2022 7:47:40 PM

There apparently is an assumption that having a Ph.D. is an important qualification to be a law professor. I am a Michigan Law graduate but not a professor. What is the advantage of a law professor having a Ph.D. and what field of study is preferred? I am strongly in favor of professors with experience practicing law. Having a more theoretical approach to law based on Ph.D. training is not helpful to preparing law students for the practice of law.

BL COMMENT: Most law schools have a dual mission: to teach students and to produce knowledge about law and legal institutions. Having a PhD (popular fields include economics, political science, psychology, history, and philosophy) is very helpful for the latter, and may or may not be helpful for the former. Experience in practice, by the way, also does not guarantee effective teaching of law students. But legal pedagogy is not the topic of this discussion.

Posted by: Elaine Mittleman | Aug 24, 2022 6:24:42 PM

Just thought I would add a voice of agreement with David Hoffman that the lower numbers is likely a good thing, not a bad thing. When I was on an appointments committee for the first time, almost 20 years ago, I was astonished at how many people were in the FAR who had no chance of getting a job. In particular, there were lots of people who had never written any scholarship or shown any interest in writing scholarship. The AALS was happy to take their fee, and no one was telling them they had no chance. It seemed really unfair at the time, and I'm glad that doesn't happen nearly as much today as it did in the past.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 26, 2022 12:28:23 AM

Universities are not what they used to be, and so neither are academic jobs (especially in law, where there are attractive alternatives, unlike, say, for English PhDs). Universities have become centralized, corporatized, and bureaucratized, which means faculty governance is circling the drain. Partly for those reasons, partly because of technology that frees faculty from their offices or the library, and partly because of generational differences, many faculty do not consider themselves (or at least do not act as if they consider themselves) part of a "community of scholars" at their particular university, diminishing the quality of academic life as a joint enterprise. And the overwhelming emphasis on DEI and associated ideologies, with the force of administrative apparatus behind it, makes many of us uncomfortable and apprehensive about academic freedom inside and outside the classroom. All of those reasons led me to retire at age 68, and to be glad I'm not at the beginning of an academic career.

Posted by: Suzanna Sherry | Aug 26, 2022 9:00:25 AM

I'm late to this thread but surprised not to see more discussion of covid.

You're looking right now at a group of people who had to do the couple of years of preparation for the law teaching market in the middle of covid. For people without a lot of family responsibilities who knew exactly what they wanted to write and just needed time to get it done, that probably worked out fine. But because of (1) people with serious family responsibilities, or (2) people who found covid isolation difficult, and (3) people who needed the various mentorship opportunities, the chance to participate in faculty workshops, etc etc—opportunities that were diminished because of the pandemic—I would expect a significant dip in the numbers of people who are in any position go on the market right now.

This is a testable hypothesis in the sense that I would expect a dip that would last more than one year, but would eventually resolve itself, now that things are opening up again (especially schools and day cares, relevant to (1)).

Posted by: Joey Fishkin | Aug 28, 2022 10:33:39 AM

As someone who was on the market last year and not in this position, it did feel like being in a VAP/fellowship while on the market was almost a necessary condition to be hired. It is the first piece of advice that I give anyone thinking about law teaching: get yourself admitted into one of these programs (easier said than done I know). If this is true, then I would be curious to know if the number of VAPs/fellows has decreased. It does seem, for instance, that the number of Bigelows has been low these past couple of years. In a friendly way, I would ask: Why? What happened? I would have assumed, as Fishkin notes, that this represents a lagged Covid effect. Also, in my humble opinion, the market still seemed pretty damn competitive to me. I have a lot of attributes prized on the market (degree from top school, Ph.D., clerkship, fellowship, publications, and so forth) and, in the end, I ended up with one real offer (which I am super excited about). I look at other people hired in my area, like Aneil—a former Bigelow—and I am blown away by what they have achieved so far. There were not many hires, if any, where I thought, “This does not make sense.” I will be curious to see if things change significantly this year.

Posted by: Will Bunting | Aug 29, 2022 5:44:49 AM

Thanks, Brian, for initiating this illuminating thread. I am chairing the hiring committee at my law school, and the small pool alarms me, as does hearing through the grapevine of candidates who had interviews before the list was even released. I will post more about this on the ContractsProf Blog later this week, but for now I just want to note, if any candidates are still following this thread, that there are about 100 law schools, including my own, for which a Ph.D. or a VAP is not regarded as a pre-requisite for an entry level position. Teaching experience and scholarly promise are valued, but so is practice experience. We are not likely to be able to lure a Bigelow or Klimenko fellow to the great plains. I wish more lower-ranked schools had VAPs so that there would be a larger and less-exclusive pool of people with law teaching experience.

Posted by: Jeremy Telman | Aug 29, 2022 8:40:37 AM

I advise a large crop of JD/PhDs on the PhD side of their training, having formerly advised the JD side. It's true that we don't have anyone on the market this year but we have some excellent people in the pipeline (though fewer than a decade ago).

I would attribute the decline to

a) The effects of Covid which slowed many PhD students down, particularly if they relied on archives that were closed or fieldwork/data gathering that could not be done in the pandemic. In many cases, grad schools cancelled incoming classes to give their existing grad students extra fellowship years. So there's wonky PhD production at the moment that will even out over the next half dozen years or so. It's unusual here at Princeton to have none of our JDs/PhDs on the market in a particular year.

b) the delayed effects of horrible law school job markets. The students nearing the end of their PhDs were starting to plan their careers when the bottom fell out of the law school job market. Remember that JD+ PhD is at least a six-year and often a ten-year project. Some students may have decided the dual degree and therefore the teaching track wasn't worth it and so we see fewer students with JDs getting PhDs these days in the later cohorts that would be graduating around now. Already, however, I see more JD/PhDs coming into the programs at junior levels, so I suspect that the market will bounce back in 3-6 years.

Posted by: Kim Scheppele | Aug 31, 2022 3:21:49 PM

Post that is responsive, in part, here:

Posted by: Jeremy Telman | Sep 1, 2022 9:04:00 AM

As someone who has contemplated going on the academic job market, but has not, I think the increasing barriers to entry are having a meaningful deterrent effect. As someone who might have been a credible candidate 25 years ago if I put together a good job talk paper or a publication or two (high honors grad of top 5 law school, masters degree, appellate clerkship, interesting and selective firm and government experience), I might have taken the time on top of my already interesting and demanding job(s) to try to write a couple articles if I thought it would make me a credible candidate at a reasonable school (meaning a school where most of the students ultimately get jobs as lawyers, not T14). The calculus is very different if I have to do the same to even be a credible candidate for a VAP, move my family once, and go on an uncertain market again, and likely move again at least once, if not again on the lateral market, and facing heighened tenure standards. My current job is interesting, intellectually challenging, and secure. I would love to teach but hard to give that up for such uncertain prospects at such a high price.

Posted by: Government Lawyer | Sep 1, 2022 8:51:16 PM

The point about private practice is I think a good one, but it's incomplete without mentioning student debt. Everyone knows that law school tuition is skyrocketing ($110,000/year at Columbia!) and has been for a long time. Big law salaries have also increased, but, depending upon the window you look at, these increases don't even beat inflation. It stands to reason that many would-be academics are foregoing the job market until they've eliminated (or sufficiently reduced) their debt load. I suspect that many on the market are debt-free or nearly so. Perhaps Lawsky's surveys could start to track this, but many candidates understandably may be reluctant to share, even if they could do so anonymously.

I think there are a few compounding factors here as well. As a few people note, many successful candidates have a VAP or PhD. But each of these present huge opportunity costs in general, and the costs are greater when you carry a large debt load. (Imagine carrying debt in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, leaving practice to do a VAP for two years at a meager salary, and then failing on the entry-level hiring market.) Further, these de facto requirements push back when a candidate can get a TT job, meaning new professors are older and more likely to have obligations that strain their finances--children, aging parents, etc.

This is all to say that while a robust private sector attracts candidates, debt pushes them away from academia. Elite law schools' own sustenance--the tuition they charge--may have effects on the next generation of their faculty. There is considerable irony in that.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 2, 2022 11:14:22 AM

I apologize for commenting twice, especially as someone new to this world, but they announced at our faculty meeting that law schools are looking to fill over 300-350 positions this year. I would argue that this fact about the demand side of the labor market is equally, if not, more interesting than the supply side. I see many schools looking to fill 4, 5, 6 positions. I feel a school looking to hire this many junior faculty in one year would have been somewhat unusual several years ago. Does this also represent a lagged Covid effect? I know schools were restricted in their ability to hire during Covid. Is this driven by retirements, as some have suggested to me? If so, I am surprised that schools were not able to smooth this out more over time. Do people really retire without any notice whatsoever. It really does strike me as remarkable that there is this 200% increase in the number of positions sought compared to historical levels (where I know positions sought does not necessarily equal positions filled) at the exact same moment in time as we are experiencing historical lows in terms of the supply of prospective law professors (insofar as the FAR serves as a good proxy for labor supply in this market). I suppose from a very self-interested perspective this is good for me as a participant in this market. But, much more importantly, is this good for the profession more generally. I keep coming back to what Professor Buell said at the outset. These market dynamics really do appear to deserve closer scrutiny and discussion. I hope known of this harms this wonderful profession of which I am so proud to be a part.

Posted by: Will Bunting | Sep 4, 2022 7:50:54 AM

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