Who Could Be Hired Today?
The trend in hiring law professors with graduate training in other disciplines as well as law degrees is not new; it’s been underway at least since I was a student (1988-1991). Some of the best classes I took were with individuals who had such backgrounds. But the emphasis has become even more intense in recent years. It is no longer considered obligatory to put in a few years doing actual legal work, before signing up for the AALS faculty recruitment conference.
There are various reasons for this phenomenon, including the ever rising demand that even entry-level faculty have publications already in hand; the institutional interest in rising in the rankings, on the supposition that scholars with more credentials improve overall reputation; the constant interest in being more academic in orientation and avoiding the stigma of being perceived of as a merely “trade school;” and of course the tendency of faculty to replicate themselves, so that colleagues with doctorates prefer candidates with the same. It does not seem, however, that there is any particular correlation of multi-disciplinary training with conventional political preferences: there are economics and history and literature Ph.Ds whose theories and models are conservative, as there are whose work is liberal.
While it is better that those of us whose research cross over into other fields (as mine does) are trained formally, rather than dilettantes (as I am), I have a concern that we will see this new breed of law professor not as one of many valuable types an institution should recruit and nurture but rather as the best and the only type that matters — to the exclusion of those with substantial practice experience, those who would teach in clinical programs, and those who produce the sort of doctrinal analysis that was perfectly respectable a generation ago and valuable to judges and lawyers today still. It does a disservice to our students, among others, if we become so enamored with our own speculations and engrossed in impressing one another with our citations to Wittgenstein (and, yes, I know enough about Wittgenstein to distinguish between the earlier and the later) that we forget we earn our keep by training individuals who by and large become advocates and counselors for causes and clients. Some of us should do work that is of greater interest to sociologists, but some of us also should do work that is of greater interest to the bench and the bar; others of us will try our best to do a little of each. These are all worthwhile contributions.
It is a common observation among us that “I couldn’t be hired today,” certainly those of us who have no better than a naked J.D. Curiously, we treat this development as if it were a force of market dynamics. However, it is very much within our collective control. Faculty governance is at its strongest in the decisions about who to invite to join the body, and all it takes is a few members of an Appointments Committee to point out the strengths of the applicants who would have been the norm only a short while ago.