Following on the heels of dybbuk's excellent story about LawProfs mocking their students because they had not already achieved the pinnacle of legal nirvana, I am about to extend an invitation to Ray Campbell to just come on over and join OTLSS:
[A] conversation I had the other day made me think a bit about whether the shift to VAPs [Visiting Assistant Professor. -Ed.] as an entry point is good either for some candidates or for the legal academy. The conversation started with what Brian Tamanaha has skeptically called the "law professor mantra" that law professors should be paid more than other professors because they could make more in law practice. I wondered whether this has any validity given the modern world of practice. I reached out to Larry Latourette, a former big law partner who now is a principal in the legal headhunting firm of LateralLink, to see if law professors these days really have any options in private practice.
As I suspected, there wasn’t much of a story there. "Law professors are not marketable," Latourette said. "If they think they are they are kidding themselves."
For law firms, the main reason is that no one gets hired as a partner without a portable book of business. "About 98 percent of getting hired is the book of business," Latourette said.
Wait, what? Somebody call Brian Leiter! Clearly this Latourette character has a Tourette Syndrome problem of his own - namely, bad-mouthing legal scholars wantonly and uncontrollably. Haven't we heard for years that the only reason LawProfs teach is due to humble abasement and self-sacrifice, and that BigLaw would fall all over themselves in order to make a legal scholar Partner if only given the opportunity? LawProfs are like legal Paul-the-Apostles, longing to be with BigLaw-Christ, but staying behind solely for our benefit as believers in the law school pipe-dream, don't you know.
He did note there were exceptions...[p]rofessors with active consulting or expert witness practices might persuade firms their marketability was proven. He also argued that people with the capabilities of your average law professor should find a role somewhere, even if the structure of the legal field made finding a private practice job difficult...[h]e acknowledged that at the outset of a teaching career the pay scales of private practice matter – the pay has to be enough to justify foregoing the higher pay of private practice. Even there, Latourette said, "Law schools could pay less." [emphasis added]
No, I'm sorry, those open road narratives are worth every penny...! We've been told so. Many times. By LawProfs...heywaitaminute...
His point was that many professor candidates weren't giving up that much because even in a pool of those with the very best academic records the odds of making partner were long. By the statistics, most law firm associates with law professor level credentials do not make partner. The skill sets and mindsets of teaching and practice are very different, and unblinking desire for the brass ring of partnership is a critical factor. "You have to want it very badly without thinking about whether it is worth having," he said.
I think this trend has systemic costs for the academy as a whole. As schools move to [the white-shoe VAP fellowship prior to faculty-hire] model, it has to reduce the diversity of the candidate pool. Not everyone can move temporarily to a job or take the pay cut for an uncertain future, and those who cannot suffer in comparison to those who can spend two or three years polishing an academic resume. Candidates from wealthier backgrounds thus have an edge.
Yep, law grads have been dealing with this very same preftige and social/financial backing disparity problem for decades now, but, funny, No One Cared at the time. Welcome to the world.
While Latourette knows the current big law market better than I ever will, I think there may be some counter examples out there. Latourette also does not profess to speak about other kinds of legal employers, which may be of much more interest to many potential VAPs. I know one Climenko fellow who turned down teaching offers to go as an associate to a top Wall Street firm. I know another case, a veteran lawyer with the proven ability to develop and try big cases, who moved from several years of being a VAP to being a partner with a small firm.
Maybe these turned-down VAPs will land on their feet, but the numbers don't look promising. Maybe Partner with a small firm is just-as-good as partner at a BigLaw firm, just like law grads go from wanting to save the dolphins and argue before SCOTUS to accepting work at a PI mill for $35k and no benefits (if they can get the work, of course). Regardless of how it turns out, however, there is one thing I know that we will certainly see - more and more LawProf Butthurt as the Law School situation worsens.