August 21, 2009
I was an appointments committee virgin...
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

...but not anymore.  I've just gone through my first stack of FAR forms. For the uninitiated, these are standardized 1 page CVs of prospective law professors that the AALS sends out to all law schools.  And, for those interested, there were 637 forms in the first batch, up by our count 7.5% from last year.

This fresh experience has made me ponder this story about a Michigan would-be lawyer who alleges age discrimination in faculty hiring at Iowa.  Unsurprisingly, given my new vantage-point, I'm sympathetic to Iowa.

When I was first hired, back right before the storied Summer of Two-Thousand Five (thank you, Matt Bodie, for the most musical comment ever), everyone had a blogpost with advice about the law teaching market. I still recommend hopefuls to Brad Wendel's website, which consolidates that advice.  That information was helpful because it let me know what law schools were looking for: scholarship, scholarship, scholarship.  Can you write, can you talk scholarly talk, can you take ideas out and play with them?  And do you want to do those things over and over and over again?

That's where the lawsuit gets sticky.  Dobkin has published quite a bit: there are 3 publications in the late '70s, and then 4 from 2006-2008. His complaint asserts that Iowa law offered the job to two other candidates, both under 40 and both less qualified.

This seems like a tough argument to make: what does it mean to be "less qualified" as a legal academic?  Especially if the yardstick is scholarly ability and appetite?  Even if Dobkin was "in private practice for 25 years and has handled more than 7,000 cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service," that doesn't speak to his scholarly ability.  His 7 publications over 25 years might not stack up well against a 30 year old applicant with 2 publications, if one is trying to gauge future productivity. 

You can fight the hypo and tell me that law schools shouldn't be looking for scholars.  That, ultimately, appears to be Dobkin's lawyer's argument.  He claims "Dobkin's situation [is] "endemic" to law schools, which he said traditionally favor younger scholars over seasoned practitioners in their hiring processes." Indeed, the National Law Journal article closes with his question: "Who would you rather have teaching future lawyers?"

But that's not really the question.  The question is, was Dobkin clearly "more qualified" than the 2 other prospectives offered the job, given academic hiring as we know it. 

Or am I missing something?

Update: Jeff Lipshaw reminds me of his excellent piece, How Not to Retire and Teach, which Dobkin clearly has not read...

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