Law School Recruiting: Location, Location, Location

Law school recruiting season is in full swing. This means, not surprisingly, that our faculty is waiting to hear back from a candidate to whom we’ve extended a job offer. What’s the delay? As is often the case, when you’re recruiting to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, geography can be an significant issue. Many lawyers-turned-aspiring-profs make significant compromises – school quality, package, salary, etc – in order to land in a desirable city. This makes sense, but it is my impression – grounded only in anecdotes – that geography drives the hiring process more in law teaching than in other academic disciplines. Compared to law teaching candidates, aspiring liberal arts profs appear to weigh department quality more heavily, and geography less so.

If I’m right – and I’m curious whether others think I am – why is this so? Two reasons come to mind initially. First, those who attend graduate school for the express purpose of finding an academic job spend more time buying into the education hierarchy and coming to grips with the geographic compromises they are likely to face. Law teaching is often an afterthought for law students and, in any case, they certainly don’t spend three years kvetching about how they’ll have to move to Stillwater once they graduate.

Second, because profs in most fields make less than law profs, perhaps they prefer less popular (read: cheaper) locations. A salary of $35,000 a year gets you a good life in Tuscaloosa. In Boston, it buys a load of ramen.

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9 Responses

  1. John Armstrong says:

    As an “other academic”, I’d say a lot of it has to do with the cultural expectations of success. People don’t go into the ivory tower to make money, which immediately puts them at odds with the normal social markers of success. They see a huge value in job satisfaction, and take a quality department over the best location.

    Also, I don’t know how much travel is associated to law prof jobs, but there’s a fair bit in academics. As a friend of mine getting into tenure-track put it, “You get the job at Texas Christian for the winter and travel to M.I.T. for summer conferences.”

    All that said, law profs look to start in the neighborhood of $35K? Across the academy, mathematics tends to get the short end of the stick (before grant monies), and I don’t know anyone finishing with me who’d accept that offer. Are you sure other fields make less than law profs?

  2. Stuart says:

    Perhaps also the opportunities for consulting work are better in the more desirable geographic locations? Given that lawprofs can get some pretty well-paying gigs consulting for private firms and companies, the fact that these firms and companies tend to be clustered in bigger cities suggests that lawprofs would want to be there. At least it’s one factor to take into account.

  3. Ben Barros says:

    John, I think that Dan was talking about entry-level liberal arts professors when he said $35k. Entry-level law professors make a lot more, which makes it easier to live on an academic’s salary in a high-cost market.

    A couple of other possible explanations: law professors often have practiced before entering academia, and this practice tends to be in big cities. Once you’ve lived in New York or San Francisco, a more rural area might not be as attractive. Also, because law professors tend to move to the academy a little later in life, dual-career issues might be a bigger factor, especially for someone married to another lawyer.

  4. Bruce says:

    There are way more law professor jobs — and law profs tend to be a more flexible lot in terms of specialization. It’s a lot harder in any given year to land a spot as, say, a historian of medieval Europe who’s written a dissertation on the plague in France. The number of annual openings for such a person can (from what I’ve heard) sometimes be counted on one hand. I think candidates in other fields tend to be more desperate.

  5. BuddingProf says:

    My guess about this phenomena: many law school professors are either (a) single when they start or b) have met their spouses at law school or in law firms. This leads junior law profs to either a) want an active dating life or b) want to live in a place where their spouse can continue to practice. When you throw in the fact that most law profs come from a narrow band of schoools — harvard, yale, columbia, stanford, nyu and chicago mostly — and people (i.e. spouses) from those schools tend to work in major cities, I find it less than surprising that law professors give up a great deal to live in bigger cities. Compare this to junior liberal arts professors who are, generally speaking, older when they go on the market for the first time (pesky phd requirement) and are less likely to be married to lawyers or other big-city focused professionals.

    It’s just a guess, but I think it is probably a significant factor….

  6. Amy says:

    Ph.D. have already made a commitment to teaching, have a limited window of marketability, and have few options outside of academia. By contrast, I think it’s pretty easy for someone with a law firm job who has an offer to teach in a less-desirable location to turn it down. In that situation, your livelihood doesn’t depend on finding a teaching job, and you can always give it another shot and see if you come up with something better next year.

  7. 2006prof says:

    Is it really the case that liberal arts profs follow prestige and law profs don’t? When I was on the lawprof market this past year, my advisors described how they had worked their way up the ladder to get a position at the highest-ranked school possible, so clearly prestige/ranking matters to a lot of law professors. And on the other side, I personally know individuals with liberal arts doctorates who turned down offers from, or who were finalists at and withdrew from, Ivy League departments to take positions at good liberal arts colleges. I just take generalizations like this with a grain of salt…

  8. lawguy says:

    One more difference is that lawprofs are not dependent on outside grants. Profs who need outside funding are more likely to focus on the quality of the institution, which determines the grants you can get.

  9. peter imwatok says:

    sometimes llook down and wonder why that life is so unfair fore since my childhood dreams were to be one day one of the international lawyer. for your sentments and even the language that as been refined in this brief note are wonderful please my the almighty God give all those who have the opportiunity to study law the knowledge and wisdom, pray for me also as the dreams of my father have been shurtered down by the devil through missery God bless u all thanks amillion.