Cluster Hiring in Law Schools?

Josh Wright —  9 January 2007

This article documents the “cluster hiring” strategy employed by the Duke Economics Department over the past several years (HT: Marginal Revolution). The article defines cluster hiring as: “recruiting groups of researchers who share an approach to an academic discipline and have existing relationships.”  Part of the motivation for this hiring strategy was simply to increase the size of the faculty, but Department Chair Thomas Nechyba describes the strategy as part of an “intellectual vision of getting people to come here who otherwise would have never worked together, and who could combine their skills here in a way that creates much more than they individually could have.”

This is a very interesting approach to faculty hiring, and it certainly makes sense to hire “intellectual couples” (as the article describes pairs that are likely to collaborate) or “trios” in order to take advantage of these complementarities.  Being a relatively new law professor, I don’t know whether any law schools have adopted this approach in recent times.  GMU’s string of law and economics hires under Henry Manne in the late 1980s certainly qualifies.  I can also think of examples of a law school making several excellent hires in one field of expertise simultaneously or over a few years time in order to bolster the school’s presence in that speciality.  But cluster hiring as it is described here seems to have the additional dimension of explicitly seeking co-authors, potential co-authors, or colleagues that would produce synergies even if not through co-authorship.  Are there historical examples of law schools making “cluster” hires?  if so, how’d it work?  Is this a good strategy for law schools?  Or if this a less feasible strategy for law schools because co-authorship is looked upon, let’s say, less favorably than in other fields?

4 responses to Cluster Hiring in Law Schools?

  1. 

    One shouldn’t forget that money is, among other things, a potential: it both creates and attracts potential. As such, it shouldn’t be regarded as something that limits our visions and undertakings; in fact, it’s the opposite!

    Therefore, if you have a cluster strategy with potential, money naturally will come 🙂

    I wish everyone could see money in this positive light.

  2. 

    Thank you both. Vladimir, I’m afraid that actually executing this strategy is well above my pay grade. But I agree with you that the benefits of clustering have decreased as the costs of co-authoring have declined significantly. That said, my own personal sense (owed in large part to my experience here at GMU) is that these benefits are very important.

    Frank, the “institute” issue is an interesting one. The idea certainly does appear consistent w. cluster hiring — but I wonder as an empirical matter how frequently this occurs.

  3. 

    If you believe “cluster hiring” is going to further your concepts and research visions – then go for it!

    Thank God, we now have the internet, so it’s a lot easier for resonant minds to collaborate and share ideas. But then, of course, it’s a always better to have your intellectual friend down the hall. No web interface can match the stimulation of a face-to-face conversation over a cup of coffee/tea!!

  4. 

    I have not heard of that idea exactly, but it does seem to jibe with the general law school trend of starting “institutes.” Perhaps the affinity-synergy in subject area that institutes bring could deepen into methodological commitments.

    Speaking of innovative economics hiring, check out the Wall St. Journal article from a few days ago on how the dating site Cupid.com inspired changes in the hiring of economics professors this year. Apparently they get to send a few, secret, signals to the schools they really want to be hired by…just like the “two electronic roses per month” that men on Cupid.com get to send to women on the site. This increases some signaling costs, or at least makes certain signals scarce.