Faculty hiring practices, Brian Leiter speculates, have fundamentally changed during the past generation. He's right. Though Brian focuses on hiring practices at elite schools, all of legal academia has undergone a seismic shift in hiring practices. What Brian and his commenters say of Texas, Michigan, Stanford, Yale, and Harvard applies with ever-growing validity to the vast stretch of legal academia that fits an expanded conception of T4.
Brian Leiter quotes an unnamed "faculty member who has taught at several of the top law schools":
In the last 20 years, there have been two huge shifts in hiring. 20 years ago, lateral hiring was unusual: almost everyone built their faculties from the entry level, and almost no one moved -- at least among the top 10-15 schools -- unless it was for personal reasons. Hiring committees were essentially about entry-level hiring and you only looked at a lateral hire when someone reached out because they had an interest. Beginning in the early 1990s, lateral movement became much more common, leaving us in our present state of constant churning.
Second, once the initial round of churning was over and all the low hanging fruit had been picked, we shifted to lateral hiring of people just before or just after tenure. I think of this kind of hiring as a hybrid: it's almost an extension of the entry level. People are hired before they've really done significant work based on some early work that signals promise.
In commentary on Brian's post, Ethan Leib views these trends with approval:
I suspect this trend mirrors the trend away from hiring entry-level people who show only promise and Supreme Court clerkships. The proxies used during entry-level hiring have proven themselves to be very bad predictors and schools probably have grown to realize (or will continue to realize) that entry-level hiring at the top tends to be guesswork (and tends to create success instead of recognizing it). More, given the presumption of tenure, it is hard to get rid of people.
Regardless, whether you side with Ethan and me, or whether you rue the decline of the traditional proxies for future scholarly productivity, what all of us need is a guide to the types of faculty appointments that law schools today are likely to encounter. I've prepared the following taxonomy on the basis of my admittedly short but intense experience with law school faculty appointments. In each of the ten categories I cover, I offer a few observations regarding these three factors:
Cost. Strictly as a function of salary, some appointments cost more. The relevant time horizon for decisionmaking in many academic institutions is no longer than a single academic year. This may not be ideal, and it probably isn't, but this is the reality for most law schools outside the well-funded elite.
Risk. Jeff Harrison astutely observes that any offer of academic employment is, for all practical purposes, an offer of lifetime employment. In many instances, law schools come to regret at least some of the lifetime appointments they make. It's therefore worth exploring whether different types of appointments carry significantly different levels of downside risk.
Reward. Prospect of gain, not risk of loss, is the fundamental currency of hope. Generally speaking, younger scholars promise more upside than their more senior counterparts. Of course, risk is nothing besides misapprehended or unrealized "upside." So pick carefully.
Photo credit: The orchid thumbprints accompanying each of the ten types of faculty appointments discussed in this post appear on a Mauritius website, Orchids of the World.