Early Returns on Entry-Level Hiring

I was perusing through Solum’s entry-level-hiring list for this year. I was struck by the number of candidates that had either advanced degrees besides a J.D. or experience at a law school through a fellowship or visiting professor program. For the past few years, observers have noted that the entry path for law professor jobs was moving in those directions. However, the early results this year really underscore the incredible degree to which the market has shifted. The new survey reporting method being used at Legal Theory has a few kinks so the brief biography for a few reported candidates is incomplete. In some cases, I was able to find some more information with a quick Google search. However, my numbers below might be off in a few instances. By my count, there are:

95 total hires with adequate information

14 PhD’s

5 SJD’s

14 MA’s

15 LLM’s

58 hires who were VAP’s or fellows at a law school

15 hires with neither an advanced degree besides a J.D. nor teaching experience at a law school

I was most astounded that there were only 15 of the 95 hires so far were “naked” J.D. candidates (and one of those was a former U.S. Supreme Court clerk). Notably, that percentage roughly matches last year’s rate of “naked” J.D. hiring.

I wonder if, now that the entry-level hiring preferences of law schools seem clearly established, there might be some significant effects in the hiring process. The consequences of such information might start showing up in future AALS FAR candidate lists. It is my impression from reading the last two years of FAR packets, the majority of candidates are of the “naked” J.D. type. In the future, such J.D. candidates might recognize that their odds are long and either abandon their quests to become academics or apply to the various fellowship programs without ever going on the market for entry-level hiring. Before I was on the market (as a “naked” J.D.), I read every piece of advice around the Web about how to become a law professor (and there are a lot of great resources). However, with these new hiring patterns, those guides are largely out of date and many future candidates will surely recognize that the path to becoming a legal academic is quickly changing.

From the perspective of hiring law schools, I wonder if there is a substantial arbitrage opportunity for hiring “naked” J.D. candidates. With the incredible proliferation of VAP and fellowship programs, their aggregate ability to serve as proxies for ability and/or potential has probably diminished. For one-year VAP programs in particular, the amount of information available to hiring law schools is almost nil. The candidate submits their CV through FAR before he or she even begins the VAP. The opportunity for writing has, thus, not emerged. And faculty members at the visiting school are unlikely to offer any significant insight to the candidates. Hiring these “naked” J.D.’s to a tenure-track position as an alternative to a VAP might be a potential market opportunity for some schools. It’s unclear based upon Solum’s information how many of the hired candidates have visited at a school for more than one year. However, even compared to some two-year VAP candidates, a “naked” J.D. with publications might be undervalued in today’s market. Just as the Oakland A’s went from exploiting the undervaluing of the players with limited athleticism and plate patience to players with other, potentially undervalued skills, forward-looking Moneylaw law schools might see that the market has shifted too far against the “naked” J.D.

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6 Responses

  1. Frustrated anon says:

    As a “naked” JD candidate who was on the market this past year, I thought I would add my two cents. It may be that those without advanced degrees and, in particular, fellowships/VAPs are older and at a point in their lives where it is more difficult to find an entry-level position that meets their needs. In my case, I’m half of a two-career couple with two young children. I turned down one offer because the salary was too low given our mortgage and childcare costs. I turned down a second offer because the law school needed a quick answer and in this economy we could not take the risk that my husband would be unable to find a job. So I find myself likely going back on the market again next year, praying that the stars will align for us. I’m curious whether my situation is unique. In the meantime, I’m struggling to find the time to write another article. I would add that relative to PhDs and fellows/VAPs, it may be more difficult for those in private practice to find the time to do high quality scholarship. As a result, “naked” JDs may appear to have less scholarly potential.

  2. Stuart Buck says:

    This all seems an bad development for professional schools whose main worth to prospective students is the promise of teaching them how to practice law. How many of these new teachers are spending any meaningful time in practice in addition to their VAPs?

  3. Anon_Prof_Tier2 says:

    Stuart Buck said:

    This all seems an bad development for professional schools whose main worth to prospective students is the promise of teaching them how to practice law. How many of these new teachers are spending any meaningful time in practice in addition to their VAPs?

    Well, Stuart, the answer is “who cares?” Not that that is my answer, but as someone at a Tier 2 school that just went through a hiring season, teaching students is a secondary concern. In fact, it may be much lower on the list that that for most school.

    Schools want scholars. And “interesting” people. And, if the students get an education in the process, so be it. Unfortunately, that is the system. And, I think that it is getting worse.

    This follows Frustrated anon’s statement that those who work in private practice and have less time to write may appear to have less scholarly potential. This may not seem fair, but it is the way of the world.

    I would wonder what salary Frustrated anon turned down? I am not sure what kind of pay she is looking for, but if she is comparing her worth in the academic marketplace to that of private practice, she is unlikely to be happy in academia.

    All of this sounds like a rant by someone who hates his/her job. That is far from the truth. I am extremely happy in my career – and with my salary – but understand that the politics of academia are sometimes hard to swallow.

    Good luck!

  4. Frustrated Anon says:

    To Anon_Prof_Tier2 — I’m curious who you consider “interesting” people. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you, but are you suggesting that schools believe those with advanced degrees, fellowships, and VAPs are more interesting than naked JDs with experience practicing law? As for schools’ search for scholars, I can’t speak for others, but I have no doubt that my time in both private practice and government helps me produce scholarship that is much more thoughtful and original than it would have been 10 years ago. Unfortunately, my sense is that many schools assume the opposite.

    Just to clarify, I’m a government attorney so my current salary is on par with the salaries received by many junior law faculty members. Also, I hope you give those of us who enter the law prof market some credit — most of us investigate academic salaries before making the decision to leave private practice. If we thought the pay was too low, we would not make the switch to academia. (The offer I turned down due to the low salary was on the low end of the salary range for entry-level faculty. When I was single this salary would have been fine for me, but as the primary breadwinner for a family of 4 that is no longer the case.)

  5. Stuart Buck says:

    I’ve said this before, but it seems like it bears repeating:

    If law professors really want to move into a world of purer academic qualifications and skills, then they should lobby the University to create a “Department of Legal Studies,” where they could (1) think and write all sorts of interesting, abstract, and/or rarefied thoughts about legal theory or empirical effects of legal developments or whatnot; (2) teach any students who happen to be interested in such subjects; (3) be paid more on the scale of the rest of academia; and (4) leave the real law students — i.e., the 98% of students who want to learn how to practice law — to be taught by law professors who know a lot about law practice (whether or not they can write a dissertation).

  6. Brian Mitchell says:

    Is part of this simply explained by supply and demand? Do we have any data on the number of entry level applicants over the last 20 years and what the increase has been (if any) relative to the number of available entry level positions?

    If there indeed has been an increase in candidates, the increase in upfront qualifications can just be seen as an up-front filtering proxy for dealing with the larger numbers.