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Hiring networks in law and political science

- March 19, 2009

Daniel Katz, Josh Gubler, Jon Zelner, Eric Provins and Eitan Ingall have a “new paper”:http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1352656 suggesting that hiring networks in legal academics and political science work quite differently. Here’s their depiction of hiring and placement among legal academics (click on image to see larger graph).


As Katz et al. note, this is quite different from the pattern observed in political science.

bq. unlike departments of political science studied by Fowler, Grofman & Masuoka (2007), the aggregation of the micro-level decisions by law hiring committees converges not upon a cluster of institutions but rather upon two institutions – Harvard and Yale.

While the modes of representation aren’t directly comparable, a rough eyeballing of this graph from “Fowler, Grofman and Masuoka”:http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu/social_networks_in_political_science.pdf demonstrates Katz et al.’s point.


One plausible interpretation of this striking difference might be differing kinds of specialization in schools (such as law schools) that both train future academics and practitioners. Nationally oriented law schools can strive for two kinds of reputational excellence – excellence in turning out future scholars, and excellence in turning out practicing lawyers who land good jobs in top 20 firms etc. Given limited resources, it is likely that only a very few schools can strive for excellence in both, and if you have to choose one of the two as a law school dean, you are likely to choose excellence in turning out practicing lawyers, since the immediate rewards are greater. Thus, only a couple of schools at the very top of the pile are really going to have sufficient resources to concentrate on building up a program aimed at turning out future academics. (In all of this, I bracket questions such as what ‘excellence’ means in substantive terms, self-fulfilling expectations etc – which isn’t to say that these aren’t important). In contrast, nationally oriented political science departments don’t usually have the same direct material incentives to turn out practitioners, and don’t get much prestige for turning out, say, brilliant undergraduates who go on to do great things. Thus, you might plausibly expect that top political science departments will focus more on turning out future academics.

The other interesting phenomenon that Katz et al. allude to is the phenomenon of self-looping – that is, of departments hiring their own. They suggest that this is much more prevalent among legal academics than among political scientists, creating some methodological concerns. There is a very strong norm in political science against hiring your own (at least before they’ve gone out into the marketplace, worked elsewhere for several years etc, and even then it is uncommon). But there appears to be no equivalent norm in the legal academy, as best as I can see. Here, I don’t have a plausible explanation (if readers do, they are invited to put them in comments).