Oh, Snap! YLS Grads on the Teaching Market

February 11, 2011

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 unnecessary 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 University 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.


CT said:

Wow, thanks for this post...incredibly helpful!

February 21, 2011 2:29 AM

AC said:

Hi, I'm interested in legal academia and I have a question.

I'm currently getting a PhD in philosophy (specializing in ethics and political phil) and I'm thinking of applying to YLS eventually. Would it be better to go to LS after defending a prospectus, but before writing a dissertation (be ABD, in other words), or better to completely finish the PhD first and then do law? Or, would the two options be about equal (or, just to round out the space of logical possibility, would it just depend on my individual situation)?


February 21, 2011 6:18 PM

Jordan said:

Amazing post. Great Job!

February 22, 2011 1:14 AM

asha said:

@AC: This is a good question, and the answer is that it really depends on your situation. I imagine that if you are getting a PhD and are interested in going to law school and becoming a law professor, there is some overlap between your dissertation topic and law. If that is the case, it might be useful for you to come to Yale as ABD, because your legal training will presumably illuminate your dissertation research and will help you make a substantial contribution to legal scholarship (which in turn enhances your marketability on the law teaching market).

With that said, you should be aware that under ABA rules, we cannot give you credit for working on your dissertation (though papers you write for a class or as independent study that later become a part of your dissertation can be eligible for credit). So, you would need to find time while in law school, or afterwards, to finish your thesis.

You would need to balance the costs and benefits of the two issues mentioned above to determine whether it makes sense to go to law school before or after you finish your dissertation.

February 22, 2011 9:17 AM

SF said:

I always knew that Yale had an outstanding law program but I really had no idea that they were THAT good. When the numbers are presented it is shocking that Yale is so far ahead of some other great law schools like Columbia and Berkley in securing post graduate teaching positions. Thank you for the information, this was very interesting.

February 28, 2011 11:07 AM

George said:

So, based on your logic, if the data about actual placement in law teaching you mention warrants your conclusion that "there remains a very meaningful difference in the law teaching opportunities coming out of Yale compared with other schools", I guess you should also conclude that "there remains a very meaningful difference in law firm placement oportunities coming out of Yale compared with other schools". Evidence: 33% at Yale vs. 58% at Chicago and Cornell and 55% at Columbia got hired by NLJ250 firms.

I mean, self-selection works both ways, not only when it is convenient to explain Yale's relatively low biglaw placement rates.

May 26, 2011 6:27 PM

asha said:

@George: I'm not sure where you are getting your stats, but your numbers don't tell the whole story.

For the Class of 2008 (the most recent class for which we have detailed statistics several years out), 41.4% went to a law firm immediately after graduation. That number is deflated, as it is for every YLS class, due to the very high percentage of our graduates (more than any other law school) who obtain judicial clerkships immediately after graduation—for the Class of 2008, that was about 35.1% of the class.

If you look at the first non-clerkship job after graduation, which is the more relevant statistic, you'll see that for this class, 64% went to a law firm.

I would say that this number is still deflated because a large percentage of each class choose to forgo a law firm to pursue public itnerest/government work, mainly because of our very generous loan-forgiveness program.

You can find all this information here.

Hope this is helpful.

June 8, 2011 1:52 PM

George said:

Thanks for the data. I never thought Yale had a problem with biglaw placement. My point is that data about actual placement (in academia, clerkship or whatever) is a highly biased estimator of the "opportunities afforded to X law school graduates relative to graduates of other law schools". For that you would need a random test: ie, assign people randomly to Yale and to another school and see what their outcomes are. Otherwise, if people more inclined to go into academia choose Yale, it is likely that Yale will have a higher percentage of people going into academia even if the actual opportunities at both schools were the same.

Also, you should control for the better overall qualities of Yale incoming students, which I guess are directly correlated to postgraduation outcomes regardless of the opportunities that they will get while at Yale. I mean, if you're good enough to get into Yale, it might not matter that much (in terms of the opportunities afforded to you after graduation, it might obviously matter for many other reasons) if you choose to go or not. At least we do not have evidence that meets scientific standards of validity for such inference.

June 17, 2011 11:06 AM

John Personal Injury Lawyer said:

If you consider the pinnacle of academia to be deanship, it's hard not to be impressed by Yale's greater than 50% penetration into the top spot of T14 law schools (8 of T14).

June 19, 2011 8:15 AM

George again said:

Also, your use of "successful" in paragraph 2, as in "Yale graduates in the last decade and a half have been over FOUR TIMES AS SUCCESSFUL in landing law teaching positions etc." fails to take into account the presumably higher proportion of Yale grads who actually want to teach relative to grads from other schools. Maybe grads from other schools are actually more successful, meaning that a higher share of those who actually want to teach manage to do it, which I guess is the relevant metric for someone who wants to teach and is trying to decide where to attend law school. I am not saying this is the case, I don't know. But the fact is that your inferences of "relative success" from the Leiter data are seriously flawed and should not be taken at face value by people deciding whether to spend close to 200,000$ to come to Yale instead of accepting a scholarship somewhere else.

June 21, 2011 3:03 PM

Will said:

While self-selection probably accounts for some of the data, the numbers are more driven by 1) the pedigree-driven nature of legal academia placement (see below), 2) YLS's low student faculty ratio that allows faculty to mentor its students akin to a PhD program, and 3) the nature of the curriculum at YLS that is much more scholarly/theoretical than other schools.

Consider this recent article:


I might also add that YLS's clerkship placement statistics (especially circuits and SCOTUS) probably add to the success rate, given point 1).

July 15, 2011 1:57 PM

Kimberly said:

Great post. Thank you. I too wonder how much of the Leiter data has to do with self selection rather than "success" at placement. I sure wish someone could conjure up some data on proportions of those applying who do get where they are looking to go and those who don't. That would be great! Anyone up to conduct an interesting study?

July 22, 2011 8:24 PM