Oh, Snap! YLS Grads on the Teaching Market
I am a fan of the University of Michigan's A2Z blog, written by Dean Sarah Zearfoss, whom I've quoted before in my posts (and who co-organized our blog panel last May). My admiration has only increased with her recent posts deconstructing on Michigan's employment statistics, which has so far had two installments and alludes to a third. Mainly, I'm impressed with Dean's Z's formidable math skills and her good humor in response to people correcting her on decimal point placement. Perhaps at some point I'll try to post similar data, but in the meantime, I'll just link to the Yale Daily News (a suitable authority in these parts), which basically says that Yale grads are doing fine on the job market.
I do, however, want to explore our statistics in a specific career field -- academia. This, of course, is a risky post to write, since one of the reasons some admitted students think that Yale will not be a good fit for them is because they have no interest in teaching. Despite Yale's dominance in legal academia (more on this below), law teaching is a relatively small percentage of the various career routes taken by YLS alumni. In fact, the dirty little secret about Yale Law School is that the vast majority of our graduates actually practice law. Shocking, I know. And the people who don't practice law or go into academia end up doing cool things like winning a million dollars on Survivor, being named one of People magazine's Sexiest Men Alive, and becoming the Deputy Chief of Consumer and Government Affairs at the FCC. OK, that was actually the career trajectory of a single grad, but you get the idea.
So law teaching. Every year I counsel a handful of admits who are absolutely certain that they want to become law professors, but aren't sure whether to come to Yale. Usually, these students have been awarded a prestigious, full-tuition scholarship -- we'll call it the JoeSchmoe Scholarship -- at another law school. JoeSchmoe Scholars, I am told, get special perks to help them in preparing for a teaching career: access to seminars, workshops, and conferences; the opportunity to work on legal writing projects; and one-on-one guidance from members of the faculty. Oh, and they have three days to make a decision or the scholarship "explodes."
It's hard to be rational with people who are making major life choices under duress, but I try. I usually first point out that the so-called "perks" offered to the JoeSchmoes are resources offered to every student at Yale as a matter of course. No titles of nobility here: all students get to know faculty very well, starting in their first term; all students write (at least) two piece of substantial legal scholarship with one-on-one faculty guidance; and all students have access to workshops and conferences at the School. In particular, all students are free to attend the Law Teaching Series, a year-long series of faculty-led sessions which guide students through each step of the process into legal academia, from preparing a research agenda to what a "job talk" is -- these alternate with workshops where students present their own papers to faculty and peers. The advantage, by the way, of having these opportunities open to all students is that aspiring academics get to engage in a dialogue with a large swath of their colleagues, rather than the same few people over and over again...yielding more refined ideas and better scholarship.
This often elicits some hand wringing, but the JoeSchmoes are usually still hooked on the whole "full tuition" thing. Fair enough -- no need to take on unecessary loans. Plus, law professors make pretty substantial salaries, particularly at the top schools. So if you could land the same law teaching job with no debt, then you would, in the end, be better off. So the question is: Is there a meaningful difference in the teaching opportunities that would be available to you coming out of Yale, compared to another school?
Enter Professor Brian Leiter. Leiter, who is a professor at the Univerity of Chicago, compiles detailed statistics on the leading producers of law professors in the country. You can view his most recent rankings of the institutions producing the most law professors here, which includes only people who have graduated from law school since 1995 (thereby providing the most current snapshot of legal academic talent). If you look closely at the tables, you'll notice a few things:
1. In absolute numbers, Yale is in a league of its own, placing more graduates since 1995 -- by a huge margin -- in both the top 43 law schools and the top 18 law schools than any other law school in the nation.
2. Accounting for its size (the "per capita" number), Yale is in a different universe when it comes to law teaching placement. You can look at it like this: Yale graduates in the last decade and a half have been over four times as successful in landing law teaching positions at the top 18 law schools as graduates of Harvard, Stanford, and Chicago; roughly twenty times as successful in landing such jobs as graduates of Columbia, Berkeley, and Virginia; and about forty times as successful in getting these jobs as graduates of NYU, Northwestern, and Michigan.
3. Almost every school on the list has hired more graduates of Yale than its own. (For a separate but related topic on this point, see this post.)
I have to admit that I was a bit stunned myself when I saw Leiter's numbers. The staggering odds favoring YLS grads in academia brought to mind images of the Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona...I mean, how is that even fair? It's not. But it does explain why, in an attempt to capture more of the market, law schools try to attract the best legal scholarly talent (usually through scholarships) and emulate Yale's pedagogical approach to these select students. At this point, however, there's still a lot of catching up to do, and -- to answer the pertinent question -- there remains a very meaningful difference in the law teaching opportunities coming out of Yale compared with other schools.