Pikettian Law Schools

Amid a general trend toward far less lateral recruiting by US law schools (see here and here), there are some contrarian schools on the move this year. They are expanding their faculties, while others cut budgets by reducing faculty size.  For example, each of the following schools recruited three lateral tenured law professors this year:  Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Stanford, and Virginia.  (Source: Brian Leiter, here).

In the academic year just ended, only 28 U.S. law schools (of more than 200) recruited any laterals, the vast majority abandoning a long tradition in legal education.  They moved a total of only 46 professors of many thousands in the profession, down considerably from levels seen in decades past.

Other schools in this minority bucking the trend, with two recruits apiece this year: Alabama, Berkeley, Boston College (where I once was a professor and academic dean), BYU, and Penn.  Among those hiring one tenured  lateral are my own George Washington as well as our archi-rival Georgetown and Northwestern and Texas.

At the other end of the resource spectrum, dozens of schools cut salary expense, the largest line item on academic income statements. They are encouraging early retirement and not replacing the vacancies.  For example, each of the following schools reportedly engaged in significant buyouts in the past couple of years: Albany, Appalachian, Barry, Buffalo, Charleston, Charlotte, Elon, Faulkner, Florida Coastal, Hamline, Liberty, New England,  Phoenix, Seton Hall, Vermont, and Widener.

Others are more curious and harder to classify. Take U. Cal. Irvine, a newcomer climbing the ladder in part through aggressive lateral recruiting, setting the year’s record among schools, reeling in four.  Or Florida International, which hired two laterally this year.

Curiosities aside, in a capitalist society, the rich do get richer and the poor get poorer, as Thomas Piketty has reminded everyone while soaring to academic stardom. Is it surprising that, in such a civilization, the fancier established schools get bigger and stronger faculties while weaker rivals cut faculty deeply through aggressive buyouts?


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7 Responses

  1. Orin Kerr says:

    I suspect the dynamic is less “the rich get richer” than “those in great demand are less sensitive to decreasing demand.”

  2. Howard Wasserman says:

    Lawrence: Not sure where you got your information on FIU, but we did not buy anyone out, much less invest in “significant buyouts.” We were fortunate enough to hire two early-tenured laterals, that’s it.

  3. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Howard: Thanks for the correction; I apologize for the mistake and edited the post. –LC

  4. Seems like the law schools are competing like businesses, which in a way, I guess is right. As a business you want to be the best, seems like this is what his happening, and in turn, is ‘making the rich, richer’ as you put it.

  5. Tom Campbell says:

    Professor Cunningham: May I please ask you to note that your information on Chapman is inaccurate. We did not buy out any faculty. In fact, this year, we added four new faculty members, including a significant lateral hire, Lan Cao, who was a Boyd Fellow and Professor of Law at William and Mary Law School before joining our faculty last fall. She is now the Betty Hutton Williams Professor of International Law at the Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law. Thank you for correcting your post.

  6. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Tom: Thanks for the note. I’ve omitted Chapman from my list. I also modified it to clarify that the list of reported buyouts is not limited to a particular academic year, but have been developing over a couple of years since the crisis hit.

  7. James Jones says:

    Another view: schools doing the hiring are irresponsible, still driving student costs up with reckless abandon, and those doing the buyouts are responsible and interested in their students. Not all Columbia et al students, though paying $150,000+ for a JD, have jobs or well-paying jobs. Kudos to the faculty of Seton Hall, Vermont et al who accepted their schools offers to retire early. (Sorry Tom, as Chapman would have looked better being on the list of buyouts than on big time hiring!)