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April 22, 2011


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Alfred Brophy

I think firms can help garner positive publicity. I wrote about this some in connection with the brochure that Witt/Kieffer produced for the University of Richmond dean search:

Perhaps another key function of search firms is to help screen out people, rather than to drum up more candidates?

I'm guessing here that firms can streamline the process, help deflect those who aren't great fits with the school, and basically help facilitate the selection. I think outsiders can shape the process to keep everyone focused on the goal of hiring. They're probably like coaches for the law school. I've heard that they sometimes push candidates on schools, though I wonder how much that really affects the final outcome.

Jacqui Lipton

I'm wondering how much screening out the search firms actually do. After all, it's in their interests to place someone which may mean putting as many candidates before the search committee as possible. I've heard of several searches using firms where the firm really didn't do much, if any, screening out (although they were able to make some comments to the relevant committees about who the committees might want to prioritize).

Alfred Brophy

I don't know the answer to your question from first-hand experience, as I've never been at a school that's used a search firm -- and in fact I've been most fortunate to not have been at a school undergoing a dean search since around 1998. (I've been through all sorts of other time-consuming tasks -- like ABA inspections, huge hiring agendas, curricular reform, ... but not a dean search.)

Still, it wouldn't surprise me if the firms do a lot of initial calling and then narrow down the slate that's presented to the search committee. Seems to me that if you're interested in a successful search one way to go about that is to focus on a few, very well-qualified candidates. Again, it's been a long time since I've been involved in one of these searches, but my sense is that a lot of people who have demonstrated few of the skills that are necessary to be a successful law dean apply. Those people need to be handled with respect and dignity, without having the search committee spend a huge amount of time on this. I'm guessing that search firms are pretty good at that sort of diplomacy.

Orin Kerr

I could see the case for hiring a search firm to fill a lateral faculty position. Schools are often terrible at identifying who is good and who can move, and a professional firm would have a lot of advantages in helping to figure this out. But I don't see the advantage of a search firm for filling out a deanship. Deanship vacancies are very public, and anyone interested in being a Dean knows how to apply.

Mark Fenster

If it can work at arm's length to enable a public law school to recruit sitting deans who would be understandably shy about having their interest known, a search firm would be very helpful for schools in states with strong open meetings and open records laws. In the University of Florida's most recent presidential hiring, the very final list of finalists, made public a mere day before the final three candidates were announced, had a number of names that had not previously appeared on the search website. These new names included the person that the university ultimately hired, who at the time was president at the University of Utah. There was likely no way that would have been possible in this state, where all meetings and applications are public, unless the university used a search firm that shielded the search committee from the recruitment process. I leave aside whether this practice is within the spirit (or even, frankly, the letter) of the law. But it's undoubtedly quite useful to search committees, and an element of the search process that private schools are generally shielded from.

On a completely other topic, I'm currently on a search committee for a new career services director and we're using a search firm. It's extremely helpful, because this is a position that no one on the committee has any experience in hiring and our initial search failed. It's my first experience with a search firm, and I must say that thus far I'm quite impressed.

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