Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hiring Biases -- Yet Again

It's law school hiring time and nothing much changes. My impression is that the hottest entry level candidates are those with elite degrees and Supreme Court clerkships. In fact, these candidates often do not make it it the AALS convention. Next are the top ranked grades of elite law schools.

While I do not know that those people turn out to be more productive than others and I can think of examples when they have not, it seems to me that the more crucial issue for a mid or lower level law school arises with respect to the next level of hiring. The choice for these schools is between second tier elite school graduates and the top graduates from non elite schools.

I do not know what every school does when faced with this choice but my impression is that a fair number of them go for the second tier elite school graduate. What I do know is that this bias cannot be based on any empirical comparison of the productivity of second tier elites and top tier non elites. No, it's purely self-referential hiring because God only know what would happen if the top ranked non elites were hired and out-shined the elite. We couldn't have that, now could we?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Elite Signals

People go to a great deal of trouble to communicate nonverbally. Clothes, haircuts, cars, houses, furniture. Very often they are trying to tell you something. For example, the beard. What does it mean? Some say it means, “I may be bald but I can still ‘do it.’” Or it may by saying “I want you to think I am not as conventional as I am.” And the Volvo of which I have owned many. For many it meant, “I am paying a really high price for a car to demonstrate that I am not a conspicuous consumer.” Now I am not so sure since the post-Ford Volvos ones feel tinny to me. The point is that you communicate either what you would like to be like or what would not be evident from just getting to know you.

So what is one to make of elite school signals. Ties, bumper or window stickers, etc. I think I read somewhere, although I could be making it up, that in timed experiments, graduates of Harvard mentioned it or worked it in someway within 4 minutes of any conversation. I know this is not non verbal but it does fit in the category of an appeal to a symbol as opposed simply allowing a person to know what you are really like.

But this is the question. If, as I believe, non verbal communication is really about something you are not or is generated by a fear that a basic unvarnished interaction does not portray you how you want to be portrayed, does that mean the elite school signalers actually realize that but for their symbols, no one would know the difference?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Safety and Excesses of the Captured Law School

I think there is an analogy here but, if not, the message is the same. One of the issues that came up in airline and trucking deregulation was whether competition would lead to lower safety. The idea was that lower prices would mean cost cutting. The neoclassical economist's answer was to discount this by noting that the profit motive -- in the interest of shareholders -- would have already led to cutting costs as much as possible.

Now switch to law schools or any school in the middle of a budget crunch. The argument similar to the less airline safety argument is that the budget crunch will affect the quality of the law school. Less revenue means lower safety. This, however, requires one to assume that before the crunch spending would have been cut to the lowest possible level consistent with the interests of shareholders.

I do not know the outcome as an empirical matter when it comes to transportation deregulation but everyone who is at a school that is going, has or will go through a budget crunch has a chance to test the theory about whether the school was operated in the interest of shareholders before the cuts. Let's say the snacks in the lounge are less lavish, the travel budgets a bit smaller, there are fewer "free lunches," not as many luncheon speakers, a couple of unfilled faculty positions and that faculty are asked to teach a few more students or a few more hours, and so on. Are shareholders worse off? Maybe there are some connections between luxuries for the faculty and the welfare to stakeholders but a budget crunch can reveal how tenuous that connection may be and how cavalier schools can be when spending the money of others.