Thursday, November 20, 2008
The Common Thread
One debate that I have each year (and lose) concerns the fascination law school hiring committees have with candidates with elite credentials. Schools at the level of mine and lower only rarely attract candidates who graduated from top ranked schools at the top of their classes. Thus, the decision is between lower (and sometimes very low ranked) graduates from elite schools and the tip top graduates from other schools. By "other schools" I do not mean bad ones. No, I mean ones maybe just outside the top 10. Still, it continues -- the brand name trumps almost every other indicator of intellect and work ethic.
This is not a matter of relying on an accurate indicator of success. A little study I did last year indicated that elite grads at mid level schools are no more productive than the hand full of non elite grads. In addition, on average I think elite grads are less well educated that non elite grads who end up teaching at mid level schools. The elites (again, on average, not uniformly) seem to be narrowly educated. Very few seem to be able to talk about art, history, politics or any thing other than a very narrow range of topics. (They also seem relatively humorless -- not an irreverent bone to be found -- but that is another story.) They seem more technicianish.
I did a little study of all this with the goal of determining why non elites seem seem have more going for them than the elites. The only factor I have been able to come up with so far is that the non elites in legal education are very likely to have been, as children, and continue to be voracious readers. They are basically self-educated. Elites can also be voracious readers and self-educated but they do not have to be to be law professors.
This means a number of things but the most important thing is that somewhere somehow, hard-wired or socialized, they were intellectual curious. Learning itself was a reward and not because to meant getting an A or performing well as a "trophy child."
So, if I were on a hiring committee, what I would ask in addition to the lists I have posted before that were designed find to lower socioeconomic class people would be:
1. What was your favorite book at age 15.
2. What were the last 10 books you read that had nothing to do with law.
3. Name your favorite opera, aria, symphony or any non pop, folk, alt music.
4. Who was your favorite teacher before law school and why?
5. How would a Rawlsian design the faculty recruitment process?