Brian Leiter recently posted ruminations on his colleague's perception that lateral hiring at law schools has dramatically increased over the last 20 years. His colleague is sure that it has, but Brian is skeptical, at least as to the degree.
A few months ago, when I was discussing Jim Chen's Moneyball/Moneylaw theories, I posted an excerpt from a 1957 Journal of Legal Education article that was directly on point. Opining on the distinction between national and local law schools, Columbia law professor Harry Jones wrote:
Twenty years ago, it was common usage to discuss "local" and "national" in terms of analogy to "minor leagues" and "major leagues." The analogy never held in individual cases, since "local" schools had their Mickey Mantles and every "national" school its full share of .200 hitters; but there was much to it: the average salary of a "national" law school professor was about twice the average salary at a typical "local" school, and the "nationals" regularly replenished their faculties by a raiding process comparable to the major league draft. The most striking legal development since World War II has been a narrowing of the "national"-"local salary gap [due to taxpayer funding of public law schools, which presumably reduced the incentives to leave].
Jones, Local Law Schools vs. National Law Schools: A Comparison of Concepts, Functions, and Opportunities, 10 J. Leg. Educ. 281, 289-90 (1957).
Note that Brian's colleague has raised an empirical question that has a clear factual answer. The only thing holding us back is collection of the data. Several months ago at The Conglomerate, Funmi Arewa (Northwestern), discussed our joint longitudinal analysis of legal scholarship project. Our c0-PI's are Andrew Morriss (Illinois) and Ken Dau-Schmidt (Indiana).
Our study would span from 1928 to 2005. Moreover, we are not limited to a mere sample; rather, our data include every bibliographic entry in the Index of Legal Periodicals (ILP) during the last 87 years--over 600,000 scholarly article!
Well, last month, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) funded our grant proposal! The primary purpose of the grant is to build a relational database that includes bibliographic information (with ILP subject matter coding), author characteristics (from the AALS Directory), law school characteristics (which bear on journal and faculty status), and--eventually, with some luck and another round of financing--citation counts by scholarly journals and courts.
Note that the AALS directory offers a mini-career history for each AALS faculty member. Further, the directory has followed this same format since the 1920s (apparently, credentials have long been a topic of interest to law professors).
The bottomline is this: Sometime in late 2007 or early 2008, our research team will be able to answer the lateral mobility question with unparalleled precision, including relative trends among national and regional law schools. So stay tuned!