Throughout U.S. legal education’s history, a small number of elite law schools have produced the vast majority of law professors. Although law professor hiring is now more inclusive in certain respects, the law school an aspiring professor attended continues to serve as a powerful predictor of hiring market success. Some scholars have maintained that this preference for graduates of elite law schools infects legal education with class bias and distorts legal pedagogy, but the absence of reliable data on socioeconomic diversity within law schools has muted these criticisms.
This Essay reorients the debate on law school hiring by focusing on law professors’ undergraduate educations. This shift in focus is important for two main reasons. First, researchers have gathered reliable socioeconomic data on the student bodies of U.S. colleges, data that do not currently exist for law schools. Second, undergraduate education does not provide legal training or otherwise prepare students for legal academia and therefore should play little to no role in hiring.
Drawing on entry-level hiring information from the last three years, I find that new law professors graduated predominately from elite private colleges that serve the wealthiest strata of U.S. society. The median hire attended a college in which 67% of students come from families in the top income quintile, and only a fraction of students come from families in the bottom three quintiles. Whatever professors’ individual backgrounds, beginning in college they are socialized in highly privileged environments that shape their pedagogy and research. This Essay concludes by describing legal education’s marginalization of non-elite views of the legal system and suggesting that hiring practices should be restructured to allow for a more socioeconomically diverse professoriate.
Milan Markovic is Professor of Law and Presidential Impact Fellow, Texas A&M University School of Law.