Print

Academia Meets Free Agency

Academia Meets Free Agency
Columbia Law School's Success in Recruiting Junior Faculty
By Rebecca Thomas, Associate Editor

In an environment where the battle over talented faculty can resemble a free agent sports market, Columbia Law School has achieved outstanding success. The School not only attracts talent, but keeps its players from signing elsewhere.

Perhaps nowhere is the battle fiercest than among the top-tier scramble for entry-level faculty who will secure a school's future reputation.

"We have a junior faculty that is second to none," says Dean David Schizer, who devotes a significant amount of his schedule to pursuing and retaining faculty. In a recent interview with Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education magazine, Dean Schizer offered proof of Columbia's accomplishment. "Other schools seem determined to hire away our junior faculty - so far without success," he says.

Members of Columbia's junior faculty have turned down offers from a number of schools in recent years, including Harvard, Penn, Stanford, and Yale. The courting of junior faculty by leading law schools can be quite aggressive, not to mention creative. Law schools have been known to entice candidates not only with fine meals and choice apartments but, for example, with a winter visit to an alumnus' weekend home on a sunny beach.

"It's starting to feel like Major League Baseball," jokes Dean Schizer. "But the truth is, the most important reason why these colleagues stay with us is the very special intellectual community we have at Columbia, and the knowledge that they are an essential part of it."

This generation of junior faculty covers a wide range of expertise, including torts, family law, Chinese law, tax, human rights, constitutional and administrative law, bankruptcy, law and economics, and contracts.

Search for Superstars

Professors John Witt and Katharina Pistor, both recently tenured, specialize in (respectively) legal history and comparative and corporate law. Prof. Witt, who holds a Ph.D. in history and a J.D. from Yale, has won a host of awards for his book, The Accidental Republic (Harvard University Press, 2004), which argues that experiments in accident law at the turn of the 20th century-a period of appalling injury and death rates-set the pattern for many 20th century interventions of government in economic life, such as administrative law and workman's compensation. This year, Prof. Witt will publish his second book with Harvard Press titled Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of the American Nation. It explores the constitutional foundations of American nationhood through the little-known stories of five people, among them a bohemian Greenwich Village suffragist and a black Baptist minister from rural South Carolina.

Prof. Pistor is an expert in transition economies who has won accolades for her work on capital market development and contract enforcement in the field. The Law School had had its sights trained on Prof. Pistor during her years at the Harvard Institute for International Development from 1995-98. She'd worked with renowned macroeconomics and current director of Columbia University's Earth Institute Jeffrey Sachs, and had an extensive record of publications.

Law School Professor Adrzej Rapaczynski, who shared her interest in transition economies, forged a connection with the Hamburg native and eventually introduced her to several Columbia professors. Laying this groundwork no doubt helped snare Prof. Pistor when she came on the job market in 2000-01.

The Law School Appointments Committee exhibited even more of an entrepreneurial spirit with Professor Ariela Dubler. She was hired even before she went on the market. An article published in the Columbia Law Review while she was earning a Ph.D. in history at Yale caught the attention of the Law School. A strong presentation of her paper before faculty members secured her a place.

Prof. Dubler has since proven the wisdom of the Appointments Committee, winning the Willis Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching in only her third year in the classroom. A specialist in family law and the history of marriage, she also co-chairs with Prof. Witt the Program in Legal History, an interdisciplinary endeavor that presents a roster of talks by professors of law and of history from around the country.

Also hired in the pre-market manner was Professor Alex Raskolnikov. His selection came at the initiation of Dean Schizer, then a professor of law and a member of the Appointments Committee. The two had been colleagues at New York's Davis Polk & Wardwell.

"I was a summer associate in 1997 at Davis, Polk when I first met David, who was practicing in the tax law department at that time. He was as instrumental in getting me to join the firm as he was in getting me to leave," Prof. Raskolnikov laughs.

After the two crossed paths at a New York State Bar Association event in 2002, Dean Schizer agreed to read a paper Prof. Raskolnikov had written while he wasn't billing hours. The paper reflected solid scholarship, and he was hired in 2004. An expert in the taxation of financial instruments, federal income taxation, and tax policy, Prof. Raskolnikov serves as co-chair for the Transactional Studies Program and chair of the Deals Program.

Like Prof. Raskolnikov, Columbia graduate and Professor Gillian Metzger ‘96 also came to teaching with extensive practice experience, in her case as a public interest lawyer with New York University's Brennan Center. Prof. Metzger had previously clerked for Judge Patricia Wald of the D.C. Circuit and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ‘59. Among Prof. Metzger's areas of teaching and research are constitutional law, administrative law, and federalism. She addressed the last topic in a 2005 Columbia Law Review article titled "Facial Challenges and Federalism," which explored whether challenges to legislation enacted pursuant to Section Five of the 14th Amendment should be assessed on a facial or as-applied basis.Is hiring always this easy? Absolutely not, says Dean Schizer, who notes that the Law School's location in Manhattan can work in favor and against appointment committees. While New York is a world class center of business, law, and culture, it is also an expensive place to live - particularly for a professor with children. Much of the dean's time is spent on bolstering the Law School's hiring packages for all faculty but especially junior faculty.

Prof. Witt, whose wife gave birth to a son in December, finds Columbia's singular location a plus.

"Early 21st Century New York City" presented itself as a "spectacular place to live," he says.

Professor Elizabeth Emens, who joined the faculty last fall, found that the School's character is tremendously affected by the city.

"Its involvement in legal ideas and events, not just nationally but internationally, means that every week brings a combination of speakers and events that only this place could produce," she adds.

Prof. Emens, a Yale Law School graduate who clerked with Robert D. Sack on the Second Circuit, came from the University of Chicago, where she was a Bigelow Fellow and lecturer-in-law. Her areas of specialization include contracts, family law, antidiscrimination law, disability law, and law and sexuality.

1,000 hopefuls; 100 positions

The official process of hiring young faculty begins at the American Association of Law School's (AALS) annual Faculty Recruitment Conference, which Professor Avery Katz jokingly recalls as "a bunch of panicky grads in a hotel corridor." The November event, held in the nation's capital, draws more than 1,000 teaching hopefuls and representatives from nearly 180 American law schools. Competition is fierce; only 10 percent of applicants can expect an offer.

The Law School's hiring success leaves nothing to chance. This academic year, the Appointments Committee, co-chaired by Prof. Katz, waded through hundreds of applications. They are gathered via the web by the AALS' central clearing service, in which candidates complete registration forms summarizing everything from published writings and stints on law review boards to race and geographic preferences. The committee begins by narrowing the aspirants down to 100 names. Further scrutiny of qualifications winnows the pile down to a manageable 25 people, whose bona fides are then carefully reviewed, noting the presence of key prerequisites. The archetypal junior professor on a leading law school faculty holds a law degree from a top-tier school, has held a highly-coveted judicial clerkship (or two), served as an articles editor for the school's primary law review and, perhaps most importantly, is waiting for the ink to dry on a first published paper in a prominent law journal.

"At a school like Columbia, it's impossible to get hired without having published something," says Prof. Katz.

"The expectation that a candidate has produced a tenure-level article has certainly increased in recent years," agrees Professor Susan Sturm, who served as co-chair of a past appointments committee.

The committee members may meet with half of the 25 hopefuls during the AALS conference. Based on the 30-minute meetings, the candidates are finally narrowed down to five or six, who are invited to the law school to present a paper.

"In observing how they present their papers and how they respond to questions, we gather clues that give us some insight into how they'll perform in the classroom," says 2001-02 Committee Co-chair Professor Debra Livingston.

Getting a jump start

Very promising candidates - Prof. Witt is one example - may even be invited to a pre-AALS meetings. These are usually informal lunches that provide an opportunity for committee members to engage in a substantive discussion on legal issues of the day, as well as the applicant's writings. Columbia Law faculty who are not currently on the committee may also meet with prospects to offer an assessment.

Professor Ben Liebman, an expert in Chinese law, was also among those eyed by Columbia committee members before he officially entered the market.

"Professor Randy Edwards was a mentor of mine and my predecessor [as director of the Center for Chinese Legal Studies]," explains Prof. Liebman. "He played a key role in enticing me to Morningside Heights."

Prof. Liebman is already making a name for himself among scholars of Chinese Law, a field growing by leaps and bounds given China's burgeoning world presence. He is the director of the Center for Chinese Legal Studies, which hosts visiting scholars, offers fellowships, and sponsors conferences that attract scholars and practitioners from around the world. Among his recent areas of interest are the influence of the national media on China's legal system and the development of the country's courts.
Candidates are also plucked from the Law School's fellowship programs, where scholarly writing is encouraged.

"Cathy Sharkey was here as a fellow and there was tremendous interest in her writing," recalls Prof. Sturm.

Prof. Sharkey, whose areas of interest include torts, punitive damages, and remedies, has garnered a good bit of national attention from her proposal for a split-recovery scheme. In this plan, individuals not before the court, who suffered at the hands of the defendant just as the plaintiff did, might collect from a specialized fund, operating on the model of a "back-end" class action. Two years ago, her ideas attracted the attention of the California State Assembly Committee on the Judiciary, and she was invited to speak on a proposal that would allow the state to receive 75 percent of punitive damages allocated to plaintiffs in civil trials.

Another young professor hired via the fellowship route was Ed Morrison, who was a 2002-03 Olin fellow of the Center for Law and Economic Studies. An expert in contracts, bankruptcy, and corporate reorganization, Prof. Morrison came with impressive credentials, including a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago and clerkships with Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Prof. Morrison has shown himself to be enterprising and influential. During his second year at the Law School, for example, he organized a three-day conference on the evolution of bankruptcy laws and punitive damages for more than 40 federal bankruptcy judges. Also last year, his bankruptcy research was cited in a speech by U.S. Senator Russ Feingold.

Competition also takes place among the rush to recruit clinical professors, and the Law School scored a coup when Peter Rosenblum'92 LL.M. joined the faculty. Hired in 2003, Prof. Rosenblum came to Columbia from Harvard Law School, where he directed the human rights program. He now heads CLS's pioneering Human Rights Clinic, a two-semester program in which students represent clients in actual human rights cases. Prof. Rosenblum and his students have already been involved in winning cases, most recently one involving an ex-El Salvadoran colonel held responsible for crimes against humanity during the nation's civil war. Prof. Rosenblum, who holds the Lieff Cabraser clinical professorship, has also published extensively on human rights.

Another distinction of this young, gifted group is its involvement in law school administration. Profs. Dubler, Witt, Sharkey, and Metzger have each been chairs of the clerkship committee. As mentioned earlier, Prof. Raskolnikov chairs the Deals Program, and Prof. Liebman runs the program in Chinese legal studies. Prof. Pistor served as co-chair of the comparative and international law task force. After former Dean David Leebron announced his departure for the presidency of Rice University in 2003, Prof. Metzger served on the dean search committee.

And, irony of ironies, Columbia's hiring success is often aided by current junior faculty, who spread the word about the uncommon collegiality and lack of hierarchical constraints among professors here. They also serve in more official capacities. For example, Profs. Witt and Sharkey are now members of the Appointments Committee. Together, they are charged with recruiting the next crop of young scholars who will build on the work of the present junior faculty, who are building on the scholarship of the School's distinguished senior scholars - who themselves were junior faculty decades ago.

Considering a Teaching Career?

Many Columbia alumni are getting into the teaching market, thanks in no small part to Professor Carol Sanger, who heads the Law School's Program in Law Teaching. The initiative was created in 2002 to assist J.D.s and alumni who are interested in teaching law. The Report asked Prof. Sanger for her best advice to aspiring law teachers.

"First," she said, "there are things a student can do while in law school to increase the likelihood of getting a teaching position, including developing a scholarly agenda, starting work on an article, and developing a working relationship with members of the faculty.

"Second, [I make sure to] alert candidates to the realities of the market with regard to timing and substance. Candidates must have their materials ready the August before the year they plan to start teaching."

Columbia Law School ranks third among law schools in the number of its J.D. alumni in teaching positions at American law schools.