Friday, November 02, 2007

Response to Comments

A couple of recent posts of mine expressing disappointment that my own school would launch an elite-only hiring campaign has draw some fire. I appreciate every single comment. Ok, I will admit that the charm of one commentator who wanted to “spit in my face” was not immediately obvious to me. And some comments, like the one saying that my decision to vote no on people who list Harvard or any elitist education first on their resumes is inconsistent (wrong?) because my own resume first lists my own Law School (UNC) at first puzzled me. What did the writer mean exactly? If my resume lists UNC first then it must be OK for a School to pursue an elitist-only hiring policy? I leave the reader to trace the logic on that one. I found the comment that defended the elitist policy because that is where you find the raw brain power also, well, peculiar. I am sure there is raw brain power at Harvard and similar schools (not as much as its graduates might like to think) but there is raw brain power at most law schools and we are hiring individuals not entire groups of people.

The best comment, before listing several good questions, asked where is the Moneylaw in all this and I’d like to respond to that question here.

I think the Moneylaw ideal is to hire people who are intellectually curious, productive, love to think and talk about ideas, etc. Moneylaw, to me at least, is about spotting actual talent and not falling for credentials as an indicator of talent. The predicate of most hiring processes seems to be that Moneylaw candidates can be identified by the schools they attended -- “brand” is an indicator of quality. In addition, the best brands are those schools that are expensive and highly ranked – mainly, as it turns out, by people who attended them.

My observations are that:

1. Moneylaw candidates are found at most law schools.
2. In almost 30 years of teaching economics or law, my impression has been that the non elites are equal to or superior to the elites. I have been consistently surprised, in fact, by the narrowness of the education of many elites and how frequently they are underachievers. Ultimately this led me to believe that a school cannot make a person into an intellectual nor keep someone from becoming one.
3. A minor empirical study I conducted indicated that elites at the bottom of the first tier of USN&WR are not more productive than non elites at this level. My school was one of those examined.

Let me go one more step. Let’s suppose the brain power is higher at an elite school AND that by plucking one person out of one of those schools, you get some of that brain power. I have two reactions. First, law teaching and scholarship are not rocket science. Rarely do I see an article in a law review as challenging conceptually as something in math, science, economics or philosophy. Brain power may play a minor role in turning out good scholarship. So, in a sense, what difference does the brain power make? It may be like looking for height when picking up your bowling team. (An elitist reading this may want to look up “bowling.”) Second, if 20% percent of the class at Harvard or its ilk possess “brain power” (something I concede only for the sake of argument) and only 10%, say, at Wisconsin, is hiring really based on drawing samples and hoping you guess right or is it based on in depth interviewing, calling reliable references (if any exist), studying whatever scholarship the person has produced, and looking over the life experiences of the individual. Hiring committees must think it is the former or maybe they are just lazy are actually threatened by what they might discover.

So my bottom is that a hiring policy that is exclusively focused on elites is indefensible as a Moneylaw matter. It is also indefensible in terms of the agency-like obligations of a hiring committee to do the best possible job for stakeholders, including students. Finally, it speaks volumes about the disdain elites feel for those not similarly privileged.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If my resume lists UNC first then it must be OK for a School to pursue an elitist-only hiring policy?"

I don't think that is what the commenter meant at all. Rather, the reality is that listing education at the top of ones resume is a conventional and widely followed resume format (as evidenced by your very own resume!). In fact, I honestly can't recall ever seeing a legal resume that didn't list education first. Drawing the conclusion that its an indication the candidate thinks its their most relevant qualification seems to be without support. The vast vast majority of people who list their school first do so simply because that is the conventional resume format, not as some grand value judgment about the importance of the school they attended to their job application. Frankly, I think your policy is just a thinly veiled means to automatically disqualify people who attended elite schools. Do you also automatically disqualify grads from non-elite schools who list education first on their resumes?

I would note that I say this as someone who strongly agrees with your overall view that the law school one attended should be near irrelevant to law hiring (compared to other factors, like publications).

However, automatically voting no just because someone follows the usual resume format and put the name of their school first (if that school is an elite school) seems to border on the absurd. Are you really basing hiring decisions on resume format rather than the substance of the resume? It seems to me that the "money-law" approach would mean not automatically saying no based on such silly and arbitrary criteria.

11/02/2007 10:08 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

I did not mean to thinly veil anything. I oppose hiring those people. We could not hire them for years and still be awash with people cut from the same mold.

Funny, though, how people cry foul when the shoe is on the other foot. So, if a hiring committee, like the one at my school, eliminates everyone who did not attend an elite school, that's fine. But automatic exclusion for elites is absurd.

But even if it were not hypocritical to cry foul about one while the other goes on, there is another good reason to exclude them. Law schools are brimming with elite education professors and have very few non elites. Excluding elites while hiring non elites is a rough way to increase diversity -- class, life experience, etc.

As to the "convention." It is the convention because it is a way fo elite school graduates to signal they are part of the fraternity. For me, and perhaps I am the only one, it would be best if candidates listed the things most relevant for the job he or she is seeking. First, publications and Next, positions held. Then class rank. If that is high enough -- top handful and there are the other indicia of law school success -- the school is irrelevant to me except as a possible indicator that one has not attended an elite school.

Don't misunderstand, this gets to the interview -- not a job offer.

11/04/2007 8:06 PM  

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