Gordon asks whether publication in elite peer-reviewed and student-edited journals is the only path to pre-eminence. Perhaps. But there is another factor at play, one that is difficult to measure: culture. If you could measure it, of course, a culture of engagement and productivity would be closely correlated with scholarly output. But I'm saying more than that. Schools can recruit productive scholars laterally without creating a culture of productivity, and my prediction is that such hires won't lead to long-term success. I'm also suggesting that with a strong culture in place, one could have some productive scholars recruited away without losing the culture. All of which is to say that there's an X-factor that makes the sum of a school's scholars worth more than the individual parts.
The study of corporate culture is getting serious; in my research on deal design and internal branding I've read interesting papers by Kranton & Akerlof, Langevoort, Van den Steen and others. One lesson is that strong corporate cultures are more likely to develop in firms in competitive markets (unlike, say, government or a local utility company).
Extending this idea to the academic context, the prediction is that as law schools become more competitive with each other, faculties develop stronger norms that will lead to better output from faculty members even where that output is difficult to observe. (The quantity of scholarly output is easy to observe, but quality is not.)
Faculties that fail to develop strong cultures will fade away. A related prediction is that schools that face less fierce competition for students (e.g. schools lazily cashing in on past success, or state schools with big tuition advantages) will tend to have weaker cultures.
Even if I'm right that culture matters, I haven't quite answered
Gordon's question. It's not self-evident that culture nurtures
scholarly productivity; one could also image a strong culture of
student-mentoring, or public service. But it does suggest, assuming
that scholarship is the most reliable measure of success, that law
schools seeking pre-eminence should nurture culture and not just buy
scholarly output on the lateral market. I'm not saying that lateral hiring is a bad strategy. Not at all. What I'm saying is that some, but not all, productive
laterals will add to the culture; others may just keep their door
closed and plug away. Presumably, this distinction is part of what's being investigated in a lookover visit or through the interview process.
How else does one encourage a culture of productivity? Some obvious ways:
- Frequent scholarly workshops with speakers from both inside and outside the school;
- Providing faculty members with ample funds to attend conferences, including those at which they do not present;
- Hiring juniors as well as tenured faculty, and encouraging formal and informal mentoring of junior scholars;
- Finding ways for faculty to establish a network of weak ties that can move their work forward in innovative, often interdisciplinary ways;
- Providing the dean with pools of funds to reward productive scholars.
It's easy for schools to say, "We have a great collegial culture at
Ames Law School." But not every school has the financial resources or
the inclination to encourage scholarly productivity. For those of you
heading to AALS this weekend, you might ask schools about the things
I've listed above. You may find a surprising amount of variation in
Another lesson from the corporate culture literature seems to be that culture cannot be force-fed from the top down. Deans should not be pressing Total Quality Management. Instead, schools might think more about emulating start-ups. Blogs are revealing lawprofs to be surprisingly entrepreneurial, and institutional practices like Google's "20 percent time" might work well. Since Thursday is the new Friday, we could make Fridays official "research days" -- no committee meetings, no faculty meetings, no classes, no speakers. In a world that's already full of slack like academia, it seems counter-intuitive to suggest that more slack will lead to higher productivity rather than shirking. But I think it's right.
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