Leaving legal academia

Geoffrey Manne —  13 April 2006

This post has two related aspects to it, a personal and a general. First the personal:


Beginning this summer I will be working for Microsoft — for the time being, anyway, on leave from Lewis & Clark Law School. My official title will be Academic Relations Manager in the legal and government affairs department (the general counsel’s office). Primarily my role will be to foster “intellectual cross-polinization” between legal academics and academic economists on the one hand and Microsoft lawyers, policy makers and technologists on the other. I will be organizing, attending and/or sponsoring conferences, seminars and the like; reviewing and, where appropriate, funding academic research (primarily in antitrust and intellectual property); and generally facilitating the exchange of ideas and information between Microsoft and the legal and economics academies. Frankly, I don’t know yet precisely what I will do with the position, but I look forward to finding out. In particular, I look forward to being in a position to influence (however slightly) the academic research agenda in a practical direction — to help ensure that there is some meaningful overlap between what (an important corner of) industry is doing and what academics think industry is doing. The job doesn’t take me very far from academia, and, like now, a good portion of my job will be reading and assessing the latest literature on topics that I happen to find fascinating anyway. So those of you who write and research in antitrust, intellectual property (and cyberlaw) . . . let me know if you’re working on anything really interesting (now there’s a low bar).

So now the general point:

There has been much discussion recently about new lawprof hires, lateral moves within the legal academy and ancillary matters like US News rankings and ABA governance and tenure in the academy. But I’ve never seen any discussion — systematic or otherwise — about the extent of departures from academia by legal academics. It must happen. It must be the case that some academics have returned to private practice, headed off to make their fortunes in business, or gone to work at foundations or other nonprofits. I do know that there is some movement from academia toward the judiciary, of course. And likewise there is a fair amount of temporary movement from academia into government and back to academia. Let’s leave these folks out. Whom do you know who has left a full-time, tenure or tenure-track legal academic position to work in a law firm or business or government or elsewhere, never to return to academia? And why doesn’t it happen more often?

Geoffrey Manne


President & Founder, International Center for Law & Economics

13 responses to Leaving legal academia


    With all due respect, haven’t you just taken a job that is indistinguishable from being a lobbyist, if not a pimp? In “funding” research in antitrust and intellectual property fields, are you not simply trying to create articles that can be cited by Microsoft lawyers in court pleadings, creating the misleading and inaccurate perception that these are something other than works of advocacy paid for by Microsoft? I think what you are doing is very troubling, and has the potential to undercut the credibility of legal scholarship as a whole.


    Congrats Geoff!!! This is exciting news, both for Microsoft and for you. There ought to be more of an interface between academe and industry than we currently see. You will do much to fill that gap. And with Microsoft successfully leading the way, other firms soon should follow.

    Here’s an idea for an early project. Remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill? In the wake of it, Exxon sponsored a lot of academic research on the issue of punitive damages by scholars of all stripes. Some of that research led the Supreme Court to rethink the issue and impose limitations on the extent to which punitive damages could outstrip compensatory ones. Microsoft could support research in a similar way. If there is a particular problem about which Microsoft would like to see more academic thinking, let capable scholars know about it and sponsor research that they do in the area.

    Michael Guttentag 14 April 2006 at 12:06 pm

    Geoff. For me, this is a personal loss. I’ve enjoyed having you as a colleague, though we’ve never met.

    My hope is that you wander widely around Microsoft and far a field from your initial position as Academics Relations Manger. I think you will be a wonderful contributor at a fascinating firm. And with that experience behind you, I hope you will return to academics, and help us do a better job of thinking about corporate organizations as they are and as they should be.

    As you set out for Ithaka
    hope your road is a long one,
    full of adventure, full of discovery.
    – Ithaka, Cavafy


    Thanks for all the comments. I’m pleased to see that others whom I hold in high regard agree that this position is potentially an important one and one that, innovative as it seems to be, may portend good things to come for relations between business and the academy.

    I also agree with Bill H. that part of the non-movement away from academia can be explained by the generally-limited transferability of academic skills (whatever those are). Or as someone else put it to me, “academics have no marketable skills.”

    For what it’s worth, here’s my comment from the glom that Bill S. refers to:

    Gordon — Thanks for the post. I’m not not looking over my shoulder; I wanted to use my move as a lead in to the question about permanent departures from academia more generally, not necessarily to cast my own move in precisely that light. Let’s just say the future is uncertain.

    The point about tenure must be part of the answer to the question about the paucity of permanent departures, but it is ultimately unfulfilling. We can all estimate the present value of near-guaranteed, long-term employment. Surely it is within the realm of reason that some of us would occasionally recieve offers outside of academia that exceed this amount (plus salary and all the other perks, of course).

    The influence-on-the-world point is a good one, and it explains much of why I chose to take this position at Microsoft: I stand to have far more substantial influence from there than from within the ivory tower. What is so interesting about this point is that, for most law professors, it probably isn’t true (that they have any influence on the world, I mean); I’m sure we all believe (hope?) our influence on the world is exponentially greater than it really is. Of course all that’s required to staunch the flow of legal academics from the ivory tower is the belief, not the reality, but I wonder why the belief persists. Oh, and there is surely a strong correlation between actual influence on the world and the ability to command a return outside of academia.

    On your last two points: I will not be using time sheets. On the other hand I now have something I think they call a “boss,” and my vacation time is counted in weeks (and on one hand, at that), not months.

    I intend to continue blogging, but I haven’t discussed the matter with anyone at Microsoft. At the barest of minimums I will continue to read blogs (hmmm . . . I wonder if I will continue to maintain that reading blogs is a part of my job, however) and comment liberally.


    Geoff: Congrats again on the new position. I saw your comment over at the glom re: your future blogging. If it will help, we can add "intellectual cross-polinization" to our tagline.


    Geoff, congratulations! It’s about time someone worked at making the Ivory Tower relevant again, and I can’t imagine a better candidate. Just blogging has been a great chance for me to talk to real people with real concerns about law, and I’m impressed that you’re taking the mission one step further.

    All the best,

    P.S. Jeff sends congrats as well.


    Geoff, Congratulations on your new position. I completely agree that there is a huge opportunity for dialogue between business and academia. The reason we don’t see more non-government, non-judicial departures is that there no clear non-academic career path for people with research skills. In addition, your new gig requires a tolerance for risk that might be rare in academia.

    That said, because of the complexities of globalization, it probably pays — from a business perspective — to have someone like you thinking about these issues fulltime. Sounds like potentially interesting work.

    So good luck on blazing this new trail!


    Good luck at Microsoft.


    Congrats on the new position!

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