Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Reading Resumes

Obviously, the most important information on a resume is about scholarship and teaching effectiveness, although I have yet to determine a way to evaluate the latter. In fact, I think it is pretty well settled that student evaluations are not dependable indicators of effectiveness.

Beyond the “hard” information, can a resume tell you something about what kind of colleague the person will be? I think so. I really liked what the form told me about a recent candidate. First, although the candidate had “pure elite” credentials, they were found near the end of the resume. In the publication section, the symposia pieces were listed in a separate category apart from books and articles. To me this signaled modesty and honesty because, all things being equal, I do not value symposium pieces as much as standard articles. It can vary, of course, but generally the symposium article is accepted before it is written and it would be hard for the sponsor to refuse to publish it. And so many symposia are choir practice. The resume was relatively short, meaning it did not include an entry for every Rotary Club speech. The image I formed was of a low maintenance, confident colleague who was likely to be a good listener and unlikely to spend hours in the dean’s office demanding extra travel money and special teaching loads.

And then there is the resume that, fairly or not, creates a negative image. “Pure elite” credentials are listed near the top. “This is who I am,” the resume seems to say. The list of publications is long and stuffed with everything that could remotely be called a publication – a panel discussion that was taped and then transcribed, an op-ed piece in a local newspaper, a three-page descriptive book review, a two- page introduction to a symposium. The resume is long because there is an entry for every law-related event ever attended whether a presentation was made or not. And don't forget every law school and university committee. I see this candidate as self-absorbed and constantly on the look-out to promote himself whether or not it is of benefit to the school. You know the type: constant demands for extra travel money, all kinds of special needs, etc.

If the relevant information is the same, I will pick the first candidate every time. It is not just a matter of what type of colleague I prefer. I think that choice is also consistent with MoneyLaw rules. If there is a tie with respect to productive potential, the lower-cost candidate gets the nod.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post, like some other posts here, raises a puzzle that I have about the Moneylaw approach. How do you tell the difference between lazy reliance upon a heuristic and proper reliance on hard data? I take it that a Moneylaw approach prefers the latter, but isn't there a good deal of judgment about what factors are good predictors of success? And unlike Moneyball, we don't have an extensive body of statistical information we can analyze to find objectively good criteria. I guess I'm just wondering whether there is a risk here that we are simply replacing old biases with new ones. For example, the reliance on the format and order of a resume seems rather questionable from a Moneylaw perspective.

12/06/2006 1:39 PM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...

I agree with A. Nonny Mouse. This is why I've posted my own extended response to this post.

12/06/2006 1:44 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12/06/2006 3:55 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...


How many times must a myth be true before it graduates to being a "rule of thumb," generally true, or a decent indicator in a world in which information is not perfect?

I feel that Jim and A. Nonnie Mouse (it took me several readings to understand that my Italian grandmother was not commenting) are engaged in a bit of myth-making for the sake of myth-busting. Mouse reduces my "resume responses" to format only. In fact, it has to do with the difference between a straight-forward resume as opposed to a puffed up "say anything you can think of resume" Mouse says this may be a "new bias." True, but it is one that emphasizes honesty over hucksterism. As I said in the post, all other relevant information being equal, I'll avoid the huckster.

Jim takes issue with my bias against symposia pieces and casebooks and suggests that those biases are linked to myths. I think he is right in many ways and here, in particular, you should read the symposium work before judging. (I think this is the same as don't judge a book by it's cover.) But if you cannot read all of them and you are faced with several candidates it is difficult. So, what do we know about symposia. First, they are an attractive way -- from the point of view of editors -- to fill up a volume of a second or third tier review. Second, they are attractive to law professors because it means the article is accepted before it is written. Third, most of the time the contributors are selected on the basis of something they have already written somewhere else. In fact, many times the expectation is that he or she will say it again only in 15 pages instead of 100 or at least take a position already staked out somewhere else. This raises all kinds of red flags when the "game" at many schools is to fill up as many lines on the resume as possible even if it means repeating yourself. Although reading the piece is best, as every economist knows, sometimes you settle for second best and to say that having presumptions is the equivalent of relying on a myth strikes me as an overstatement.

And now to casebooks. (By the way I have written both symposium articles and casebooks for what it's worth.) Sure, there can be good casebooks but I disagree with Jim in two respects. The first goes to the logic of his argument. I am weary of describing a general statement as a myth and then myth-busting by identifying some examples. It reminds me of the comments on my post saying that LLMs in tax should not be publicly supported. The most frequent argument in opposition was something like, "I knew someone who worked for the government who had an LLM." It also reminds me of what I was told when I wrote my first law review article. Having been an economist I was stumped by the fact that law professors could just make assertions with no support. A well-meaning colleague advised me: "Just drop an e.g., footnote and list three cases and it become the truth."

The second disagreement goes again to the problem of imperfect information. Is it really a myth that, on balance, casebooks are not the best scholarship? Well, what do we know about them. First, they are not refereed. Second, their existence is market-driven more than anything else. As far as I know, no casebook has been selected by Aspen, West or whomever because it was great scholarship. And given the number of contracts casebooks that exist, it appears you can write one if you and two friends will adopt it (and agree to do the bogus "new edition" every three years). Third a casebook may require some insight and imagination but it also requires a great deal of time doing menial things. In effect, a casebook requires a huge administrative component that is not scholarship. Thus, again I make the point: Is it myth to think that as a general matter an equal amount of time spend on an original analytical article has a better chance of producing better scholarship .

Jim may not like generalizations but that does not a myth make. And everyone, everyday, relies on them not because they perpetuate the status quo (although that is also possible) but because they are often good predictors.

12/06/2006 5:38 PM  

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