Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Law School Football Team

From time to time a law professor at another school writes to me rather than comment on a post. Here is part of an email from what I assumed to be a first or second law professor. He or she had just come from an appointments meeting at which a number of candidates were discussed.

"I assumed that the hiring meeting would show me that people took the hiring process seriously. While this was certainly true of a number of people on my faculty (I suspect a majority), others really surprised me. Lessons that I learned from the faculty meeting (based on oral comments at the meeting rather than the vote itself):
1. scholarship matters except for when you like a person
2. the job talk matters except when you like a person
3. when you don't like a person, you say it indirectly ("something does not seem right about them" without explaining what it is)
4. scholarship matters except when you don't like the person
5. written faculty comments on the visit matter except for when they do not
6. we arbitrarily either count or discount practice experience based on how much we like the candidate."

Note that "like" a person plays a role in 5 of the 6 rules. I wonder how the rules might apply to selecting members of a football team.

1. Wide receiver speed matters except when you like the receiver.
2. The punter's hang time matters except when you like a person.
3. When you do not like a lineman say it indirectly. ("Something about his stance just does not seem quite right.")
4. The quarterback's accuracy matters except when you don't like the person
5. What the experts think matters except for when they don't.
6. Past yards per carry for a running back either count or are discounted based on how much the candidate is liked.

Pretty crazy way to pick a football team right? The team would lose every game. Is there any reason to think the "like" factor is different for law faculty success. At least in football there will be an objective measure of success and an opportunity to cut players. In law school hiring there are no measures and the initial hiring decisions are for lifetime jobs.

What the young law professor described at his school sounds like a great approach if you are deciding who you want to go down to the bar with after school for a drink. It's a disaster for the stakeholders of a law school.


Anonymous said...

Tell me about it. I've been on the faculty hiring committee this year, for the first time. I was actually excited about the opportunity to help build up our faculty and move the school toward its stated goal of "Top 100" ranking (a dubious goal for a variety of reasons, but anyway ...). Instead, I sit and shake my head in wonder as my senior colleague fritter away that opportunity, preferring to advance their own petty agendas -- justifying their selfish conduct, of course, by high-minded rhetoric. If I weren't already a cynic, this would have done the trick.

Jim Chen said...

I just noticed this, Jeff. Kudos. You should cross post it on MoneyLaw, where football matches if not exceeds baseball in intellectual currency.

Anonymous said...

The politically correct term for this is "collegiality." For some reason professors believe that it's more important for them to get along with their fellow faculty on a personal level than do people in other occupations, despite the fact that, on a day to day basis, professors are likely to have almost no contact with one another.