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January 21, 2013


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Alfred Brophy

Thanks for this list, Dan. Seems like more schools than in past years (or at least more than I remember) are using search firms. Are there real advantages to the search firms and if so, what would those be? Do they turn up people who wouldn't have applied otherwise or are they better at vetting candidates than a university committee would be? Something else?

Also, here's a link to Korn Ferry's announcement of the search for dean of the Charlotte School of Law (you linked to the ssrn announcement)


Thanks, Dan

Ralph D. Clifford

Following up on Al's question on search firms, I would have to answer with a clear "yes" -- search firms can be really helpful in a Dean search. I was on the search committee for our recent Dean hire. The two main things that the firm added to the search above other searches I have participated in was extraordinary reference checking on all of the candidates plus the ability to encourage candidates to participate in the search who would not likely have done so without the firms encouragement, particularly because we did not have our provisional ABA when we did the search.

Two other things stand out. First, the search firm did all of the clerical work. When a file was turned over to the committee, it was complete and consistent. While this may also occur with "normal" clerical support, I have found that it is rare as the assigned administrative support also has his or her normal job to do. Second, a few times, the firm representatives were able to mediate some discussion on the committee as the choice of candidates was made. There was overwhelming support for most of the candidates who were ultimately selected by the committee but, as is too often the case in academia, we were all so busy expressing our support in our own way that we failed to recognize the near universal agreement.


I think search firms are a waste of money. They are very costly and can diminish the faculty role and input in governance, especially if the search firms insist on candidate anonymity (as they encourage faculty to do) until the very end when the finalists get foisted on the faculty with little input.


My experience is limited, but I've been on dean search committees for each of the past two years (at different schools). One used a search firm; the other didn't. Bottom line: I agree with JustMe that they are not worth the money. Of course Dean Clifford is right that the search firm's administrative support is often better that can be provided locally. But beautiful binders (that we paid for) is basically the only contribution I felt that the search firm added. They did reference checking, but (because of the write-ups of their checks) I had very little confidence in what they asked or how deeply they probed. Plus, their involvement added yet another person (with a busy schedule) further complicating the already-difficult task of scheduling meetings. My sense was that the firm did not broaden the pool--at least not with candidates that even remotely interested us. Dean Clifford makes a good point that a search firm might be useful for committees that may be inefficient or divided. I suppose they might also be useful for committees that aren't terribly motivated to find the right dean (i.e., committees not otherwise willing to spend the time recruiting and vetting candidates). In the ordinary case, though, I would say it's an easy call: save your money.

For those hiring a search firm, one other piece of received wisdom: don't hire the search firm because of the reputation of the "firm." Instead hire the search "consultant(s)" with whom you are going to work; it is their reputation/references that matter, not the company's.

anonymous this time

I'll be serving on a dean search committee (not yet officially formed) that will almost certainly be hiring a search firm (the central administration thinks it's a good idea). Can anybody recommend individual search consultants worth working with?

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