Vanderbilt Study: Hiring Practices Preventing Change in Law School Faculties
Here’s another stat certain to make you stop in your tracks:
“…nearly half of new professors hired in 2008 graduated from only three law schools: Yale, Harvard, and Stanford.”
That was just one of the findings published in ”The Labor Market for New Law Professors,” which will appear in the next Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. Co-authored by Tracey E. George and Albert H. Yoon, law professors at Vanderbilt University and the University of Toronto respectively, this study shows that law school faculty committees are hiring professors whose credentials most resemble their own. And guess where those people who make these decisions often hail from? You guessed it: Elite law schools.
In their study, George and Yoon examined hiring practices in 2007-2008, starting with screening interviews. The authors discovered that top 50 law schools hire almost exclusively from other top 50 schools. What’s more, law schools generally hire professors who graduated from programs ranked higher than their own.
So why is this an issue? If you were a law school dean, wouldn’t you want to recruit faculty from the top schools? Theoretically, that argument is sound. According to George and Yoon, “theory” is a big part of the problem:
“Nearly all new hires in our study attended a small set of schools which are more likely to emphasize theory over practice. Missing from those experiences is substantial time outside of a law school. The lack of real-world experience affects the capacity of new hires to teach skills courses and to assist students making the transitions to those real-world jobs.”
In other words, the faculty selection process is leaving law schools increasingly out-of-touch with market realities. And this self-perpetuating problem grows with every new crop of hires and promotions. With clinical education growing increasingly important to employers, law schools risk being ill-equipped to prepare students for law careers, not to mention developing reputations for being irrelevant.
But what about efforts to hire populations underrepresented in the faculty ranks? Again, the focus on hiring candidates from top tier tends to squeeze out women and minorities. They may get more follow up interviews, according to the survey, but alumni from top schools still tend to land the jobs.
So where does that leave us? With law schools facing steep drops in enrollment, it’s harder than ever to earn a faculty position. And it could be even harder to pump fresh blood into law schools. Students will only get shortchanged as a result.
Source: Vanderbilt University
5 Harsh Truths About Getting Into Law School
So you want to go to law school?
Bashing law school has become a cottage industry, especially among attorneys. They lament their crushing debt, along with selling their soul to that Mephistopheles called the law. Alas, these attorneys were probably already damned. There are plenty of attorneys who can dip a finger into holy water without making it boil. Believe it or not, they have stable marriages, paid mortgages, and children who aren’t ingesting antidepressants to get through the day.
Before you reach this career crisis, you need to get admitted into law school first. And that’s no easy task, even with enrollments down. Even if you get passed the bar, a law career can lead to financial ruin, particularly for those who aren’t among the best-and-brightest.
Sound harsh? If you’re ready to fork over six figures and give away three years to law school, you’ll want to know the downsides and tradeoffs. And that’s what Evan Jones does in a recent essay that appeared on Lawschooli.com. Jones, a J.D. from the University of Chicago, doesn’t mince words:
“…It is bleak in the legal job market. Barely half of all 2012 students had full time jobs that required a J.D. nine months out from graduation…Even though their is evidence that long term, J.D. holders significantly outperform those holding only a bachelor’s degree… law can be a serious struggle, especially at the outset of one’s career. That’s in large part because it’s highly competitive and starting salaries follow a bimodal distribution. The legal economies recent woes tend to actually obscure the fact that there has always been comparatively few winners at the top getting a big payout. Lately, it’s getting worse.”
Wow! Not only will you struggle to find a job, but you may not ever cash in big with your degree. If you think that’s an eye-opener, consider Jones’ observations on grade point averages, LSATs, and scholarship money:
“Yes, law schools do use a holistic process of reviewing applications. However, that only affects people on the margins… chances are close to 100% that you’ll be judged entirely on your numbers, mostly the LSAT. If you have truly outstanding soft factors, it is possible they’ll come into play. Likewise, if you have very detrimental soft factors, they might hurt you (think an extensive criminal record). Other than that, you are generally going in the accept or reject pile based on your numbers.”
“Of the numbers, LSAT is by far the more important. Most law schools use an admissions index to make an initial determination regarding acceptance. From just that index score, you are going in one of two piles: presumptive reject, or presumptive admit. The typical index puts something close to 80% weight on LSAT vs. 20% weight on GPA…A bad GPA might keep you out, but a good GPA won’t get you in, not without a good LSAT.”
“Schools want students who help raise or help maintain their LSAT and GPA medians. They do this for two reasons. The first is not so noble: high student numbers help them in the US News law school rankings. The second reason is more legitimate: students with high numbers tend to perform better in law school. However, really, we can ignore reason number two when it comes to discussing scholarship money. Really, schools use scholarships to attract high LSAT/GPA candidates so they can jockey for position in the rankings.”
“Schools have a harder time attracting high scoring students, who will tend to enroll in more prestigious programs. They students are low-yield, meaning they’ll accept offers at a lower rate. Schools then use money to tempt them to come to their school instead X slightly more prestigious school. They don’t do this with students whose numbers are lower because those students are likely to attend without the additional incentives… What this means for you is that if you need a scholarship, you should be aiming for school where one or both of your numbers are above the school’s medians.”
“Only Harvard, Yale, and Stanford care if you have a lower score on the books. Anyone else who says differently is full of it… Why is this a harsh truth? Because you have no excuse not to take the LSAT again if you know or even have good reason to think you can do better. Often this means you have to wait a year to apply.”
“You want at least an above average LSAT score, so something north of a 152, before you consider applying to law school. This is around the minimum score that will need to get you into a ranked school…. You might be surprised to find that I don’t think there is fundamentally wrong with attending a school where you have less than 50% odds of getting a job in the field you are seeking. What’s off is the price. Tuition and fees often run to about $40,000 even at 3rd and 4th tier schools.”
“The biggest mistake (and perhaps the most common) that prospective law students make is to decide, absolutely, before even taking the LSAT, that they are going to law school. They get what I like to call “law school tunnel vision”. They commit to the idea, and nothing is going to stop them, even if the numbers clearly don’t make sense…”
Bottom line: Jones is encouraging candidates to look at law school realistically. If you lack the grades and test scores, you’ll start at a big disadvantage, both in terms of debt and the quality of education. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be an attorney. It just means that you should shop around and not rush the process.