Hidden in the recesses of the Yale Law School, nailed to the walls of faculty offices, rest mementos that link many a professor — framed diplomas from Yale.
About 57 percent of the 90-odd faculty members at the Law School have degrees from Yale College or the Law School or, as is the case for at least six law professors, both. The law faculty is comprised of a far greater percentage of Yale alumni than other faculties at the University, such as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the School of Management faculty, officials said.
But University law professors say the school is actively trying to recruit a diverse faculty with degrees from a variety of institutions, in spite of trends that would suggest otherwise.
Law professor Jules Coleman, who has been involved in hiring professors for the Law School in recent years, said the school has no conscious strategy to hire applicants with Yale pedigrees.
“There is no practice of hiring people from Yale Law School,” said Coleman, who earned a master’s degree from the Law School. “That is not part of anybody’s intention.”
In fact, although a Yale degree carries weight in the academic market, the Law School dislikes having too many home-grown scholars on its faculty, said Jerry Mashaw, who is among the minority of Law School professors who did not attend Yale.
“We constantly try to broaden the focus and get people from other places,” Mashaw said. “Even if people have Yale degrees, we like it if they have taught somewhere else before they come back here.”
Because of the Law School’s consistent first place ranking on national and international surveys of law schools, professors said, it is not surprising the school would find its most qualified candidates to be alumni.
“When you are number one and have been for an extended period of time, it is always more plausible that you would be hiring from the very best schools, which increases the likelihood of you hiring from your own school,” Coleman said.
Yale Law also has a history of producing graduates interested in pursuing careers on the academic side of the law. With this reputation, it is natural that students who are interested in teaching and scholarship would be drawn to the school.
“If you take any number of the faculty at law schools around the country, I would predict that the vast majority are Yale graduates,” Coleman said.
Yale law professor Jonathan Macey, who earned his juris doctorate from the Law School, knew he was interested in teaching law someday when he first came to the Law School. But Macey said that he did not think his Yale degree made much of an impact on the faculty committee that hired him.
“I think what they look at is people’s scholarship and potential for scholarly influence and teaching,” he said. “Certainly for someone out as long as I have, I don’t think it matters.”
Macey said it is not his academic pedigree that impacts his teaching as much as the students in his classes, and at Yale, many of his students plan to go into teaching law. Macey said he had applied for faculty positions at several universities and was told that their law schools could not take any additional professors with Yale degrees because they already had too many.
To avoid filling the faculty offices with Yale graduates, officials said that the Law School does not actively recruit junior faculty members.
“Because we know that we would be rationally biased to our own students because we know more about them,” Coleman said. “We are specifically trying to avoid that by not hiring junior faculty … Just because we do not want to replicate ourselves.”
Yale President Richard Levin said many other departments in the arts and sciences at the University have policies against hiring Yale graduates immediately after they earn their degrees.
“They think it’s better for graduate students’ career development to go off early in their careers,” he said.
Still, professors said, as long as the Law School remains top-notch, Yalies will hold a monopoly in the faculty lounge.
“You can get a better Ph.D. in philosophy from Arizona State, Rutgers, or NYU than from Yale,” Coleman said. “I do not imagine that it will ever be true in my lifetime that you can get a better legal education from any school but Yale.”