Why Don’t More Women Want To Be Law Professors?

ProfessorImage.gifFor several years, the number of women in law schools has been very nearly the same as the number of men. But more men want to become law professors.

Among entry-level applicants for law teaching this year, the ratio of men to women is about 3:2. (The figure is based on the list of participants in the Association of American Law Schools recruiting program, the normal route to law teaching.)

Many schools want to increase the number of women on their (largely male) faculties, but the task is difficult if for every two women applying for jobs, there are three male applicants.

As reflected by the overall stiff competition for teaching jobs, being a law professor is a wonderful thing. Professors get to work on whatever interests them. The hours are embarrassingly flexible—few other jobs let you leave town for the entire summer. The pay, while less than in private practice, is very good. Nobody is supervising you on a day-to-day basis. And you can avoid co-workers you don’t like.

So why don’t more women law graduates apply for this most perfect of jobs?


Perhaps men are more likely to accumulate the credentials for entering academia: things like high grades, strong faculty recommendations, post-graduate fellowships, prestigious clerkships and prized work experience. An unequal distribution in these things might explain why men apply for teaching jobs more often than do women.

Though I haven’t tested it, I have a hunch that there is another explanation for the gender disparity: the surplus male applicants are the weakest candidates in the entire pool. If one were to eliminate, say, the bottom one-third of all of the applicants for teaching jobs, the gender ratio would return to 1:1.

Women, I suspect, apply to be professors only when their credentials make them competitive. Men, however, apply even if they are unqualified.

Because men imagine they are better than they really are and they care less about being rejected, they toss their hats in the ring. Women are less likely to exaggerate their chances of success and they consider failure an unacceptable outcome, so they only go forward with the application if they have a decent chance.

If the hiring process were perfect—everyone getting the faculty position they deserve—then this explanation would present no problem. But because of the vagaries of the process, some of the weakest candidates always make it through.

Men will luck out more often just because there are more of them; some of the women who refrain from applying would succeed if only they were to take a chance.

If my hunch is right, the overall result will be a continued gender imbalance in legal academia. Ignorance and hubris give men an advantage.

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4 Responses

  1. Dave! says:

    And here I just thought this was more evidence of women being smarter than men. 🙂

  2. Doug B. says:

    I think it is generally well understood that to be a “serious” applicant for a tenure-track teaching position, one need to be willing to relocate nearly anywhere in the country. I have a hunch that more men have a family dynamic that empowers them — or at least enables them — to be able to relocate.

  3. KCuj says:

    Here’s a test: Look through the AALS for the candidates that have lots of publications. Gender imbalance or not?

  4. Ann Bartow says:

    You pose an interesting question. Here are some possibilities:

    1. Women have less pleasant experiences in law school than men, and so are less interested in returning to a law school environment.

    2. Women receive less encouragement from law professors to consider teaching careers.

    3. Women are aware that women in law teaching get disproportionately steered toward nontenure track positions in legal writing, clinics, law libraries, “institutes” and “centers,” and as lecturers, and “visitors from nowhere.”

    4. Women get discouraged or rejected by law schools that do part (or most) of their hiring outside of the AALS process. I don’t know the current statistic but at one time over half of entry level hires were done outside the process. Many people use professional connections to obtain teaching jobs, and I suspect the vast majority are men.

    5. Women get turned off more than men by scholarly climates that seem to start from a position of “you are stupid and your ideas are stupid and here’s why.” Not all law schools have this climate, thank goodness, but some surely do.

    6. Talk to the dean or faculty at any law school in which women are underrepresented and you will often be told, “Women don’t want to come here.” This has other permutations: “This area isn’t a good place for professional/single/lesbian women.” Often this is blamed on the city or region in which the law school is located, but it is a message that is clearly conveyed to women who might otherwise want to teach. I can’t remember ever hearing a law school lament that “men don’t want to come here.” I think men get more enthusastically recruited and “sold” on teaching at any particular law school, and on teaching in general – simply my observation but an opinion that many law prof friends share with me.

    7. Men get offered more money and better “deals.” This obviously is a controversial assertion, but rather than flaming me, people should collect the data at their own law schools, comparing starting salaries, current salaries, “chair” stipends, teaching loads, teaching schedules, release time, service loads, administrative loads, number of research assistants, research and travel money, and special benefits and accomodations.