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February 2, 2009

"Wanted: Law School Deans -- Lots of Them"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing article in The National Law Journal.  Here are some snippets:

Even in this economy, there seems to still be a demand for one high-paying job: law school dean. At least 27 law schools throughout the country are searching for new deans, and many are having a tough time filling the position.

Law schools from Harvard to the University of Arizona to Case Western to the University of Miami have all embarked on dean searches, and some are finding somewhat slim pickings, with the same applicants recycled for many of the jobs.

That's because law school deanships, once highly sought after, are now high-stress jobs, thanks in part to the economy. With fundraising plummeting, donors in short supply and state budgets being slashed, law school deans are finding themselves up to their necks in stress. Many have quit in the past year to go back to teaching, which still pays fairly well and has far fewer headaches....

The old model for finding a dean was to look internally at one's best professors, according to Susan Prager, executive director and chief executive officer of the Association of American Law Schools. That has been replaced in the past couple of decades by the model of hooking a dean or associate dean at a better law school, to give one's school cachet.  "You try to go up the pecking order," Jarvis said.

But in the past year or so, schools -- either unsatisfied with the crop of candidates or unable to persuade top choices to take the jobs -- appear to be reverting to the old model.

In addition to noting the ways in which a tough economy impacts law school hiring, this article led me to wonder whether any of the schools search for a dean might consider getting creative and innovative in their efforts. 

In this context, recall that Duke recently turned to a member of the federal judiciary to fill its top spot.  Might other schools have success convincing (supposedly underpaid) federal judges to come to the academy?  Or how about state judges?  Or how about all the lawyers leaving government service with the change of federal Administrations? 

Indeed, last I heard, former AG Alberto Gonzales was still looking for a job.  Particularly if a school looking to grab some headlines and generate some buzz, a search committee could do a lot worse than considering even controversial lawyers who are not among the usual dean suspects.  Just a thought.

Posted by DAB

February 2, 2009 in Deans and innovations | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The downturn

The economic downturn affects law schools in several conflicting ways.  It hurts state schools, because state funding for higher education of all kinds is cut.  We are already hearing about this happening at several law schools.  Private schools, in turn, become vulnerable because of their higher tuition as students become more cost-conscious.  On the other hand, applicant pools in general usually grow in hard times, because potential students have fewer other options.   Unfortunately, the preliminary evidence is that we may not be seeing this growth this time around.

Still, in most industries a downturn can be a time of innovation as businesses have to be smart and nimble to survive.  I hope that's true with law schools, but it may be hard to pull off.  In business, the innovations in transition tend to be towards efficiency and driven by management at the expense of labor.  In law schools, though, management is sometimes hard to distinguish from the labor, and the institution of tenure limits what a school can do with its labor force. 

Still, it could be that we are forced to sell ourselves better, to find new markets both for incoming students and our graduates, and to convince ourselves and others that the vocation of law is good, honest, and worthwhile. 

-- Mark Osler

February 2, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack