Does the Lack of a Profit Motive Affect Hiring in Academe? Evidence from the Market for Lawyers


  • An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2008 Society for the Development of Austrian Economics meetings in Washington, DC. We thank Randy Holcombe, the Editor, and two referees for comments.


The comparative performance of academic and economic markets continues to be debated. One factor potentially distinguishing academic markets is the profit motive. Profit and competition have been shown to curb discrimination in markets, and the absence of profit discipline could result in myriad forms of prejudice in academic hiring. We explore the role of the profit motive in the performance of academic markets by comparing the pedigree of employees of top law schools and top law firms. Top law schools are much more likely to employ graduates of top ranked law schools than elite law firms, and the difference exists at both the junior and senior levels. We find no evidence that the graduates of top 5 law schools outperform grads of less prestigious schools in publications or citations. In the absence of a profit motive, academic hiring appears more likely to indulge a preference for pedigree, and by implication, this may explain other scholarly prejudices in the academy.