Law Professors Going Home

I assume that many of us are following the list of lateral faculty moves over at The Faculty Lounge and are eagerly anticipating Larry Solum’s list of entry-level hires. The laterals list includes Mark Janis’s move from Iowa to Indiana. Now I don’t know Professor Janis or his work, but I’m always interested in finding new scholarship to explore. In reviewing Professor Janis’s bio, I noticed something: He graduated from Indiana Law, the place to which he is now returning. Professor Janis is not alone – for example, several years ago my friend Bob Lawless returned to Illinois, from which he holds his JD. And these are just a couple of potentially numerous examples.

Which got me thinking: Do all law professors secretly yearn to return to the schools from which they graduated? There are reasons to think many do. First, while there are surely exceptions, those of us who became professors probably really enjoyed our law school experiences (if not we’d be far away from the hallowed halls). Second, we likely held those professors who taught us in the highest regard, and the chance to become their colleague has an allure that an unfamiliar school might not be able to match. Third, we may have family in the geographic area or just generally prefer it (after all, we chose to go there in the first place). And finally, our home school may have been especially supportive when we were trying to enter academia and since.

Perhaps this inquiry is largely theoretical since most law professors graduated from the very top schools where few wind up. But just for fun, if you graduated from Stanford would you pick it over Harvard if you had the choice? Do you secretly yearn to return home to the school that started this whole experience for you? Due to the sensitive nature of the inquiry, my guess is that the “anon”s will dominate any comments. But I thought it would be fun to ask…

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9 Responses

  1. Adam Mossoff says:

    I don’t know if it’s a secret yearning on the part of professors, but in the past I’ve heard colleagues describe this phenomenom from the perspective of the home law school. The phrase I’ve heard bandied about is that one cannot say no when the mother ship calls. 🙂

  2. dave hoffman says:

    I doubt that your first or second reasons have much, if any, purchase. It’s all about location & family & reputation, for most folks, I bet.

  3. Anon says:

    I’m not a law prof. But I teach at the same school that awarded me my Ph.D. I enjoy teaching here because of the school’s mission: public education. But I do not enjoy having my former professors as colleagues.

  4. eric says:

    Snowballs in hell would surely cite my chances of being hired by my alma mater (NYU) as the epitome of an improbable event. But, taking the hypo at face value, I can honestly say I have no yearning to return there as a faculty member — even though Darian’s 1st, 2nd, and 4th reasons all apply to me. It’s partly a matter of geography (Oliver Wendell Douglass is my role model), and partly a matter of institutional size (I loved being a student at a large law school, but I prefer teaching in a small one).

  5. Orin Kerr says:

    I don’t think it’s something so logical. I suspect people are unusually eager to teach where they were students because most profs first dreamt about how cool it would be to be a professor back when they were students. That sense of coolness becomes linked to the particular school, making it a “dream come true” to come back to the school to teach. Coming back to the school validates the person’s career more than going to another one, much like winning an alumni award from your alma mater has more meaning than winning an equivalent award from a school you never attended.

  6. Darian Ibrahim says:

    Orin said it better than I did. Incidentally, I just watched a terrific story on 60 Minutes on false identifications. One of the law profs interviewed was Richard Rosen, who is both a UNC prof & grad.

  7. To answer the question, I would take an (exceedingly unlikely) offer from my alma mater, Stanford, over an (equally if not more unlikely) offer from Harvard or Yale in a heartbeat. I loved my law school experience. And the weather in Palo Alto is much better.

  8. anony says:

    I love being a law professor. “Cool” is not a word a normally associate with it. So thanks for brightening my day, Orin! My pocket protector, bow tie, large glasses, and hunch back salute you!

  9. Anon says:

    I get the sense that for those of us who didn’t graduate from a top-5/top-10 law school, the odds of returning home are long. At my top-20 alma mater, there are almost no alums on the faculty. I get the sense that my ex-professors, with their eyes always on cracking the next higher tier, can’t imagine hiring their own ex-students unless they were insanely exceptional: Ranked first, Law Review EIC, Supreme Court clerk, etc, etc.