There has been so much going on with the start of the new semester that it raises a problem: what to talk about? Like studies about consumers who, faced with a plethora of choices tend to freeze and make no choice, I find myself bombarded with an embarrassment of riches in terms of blogworthy topics. So much interesting stuff to blog about, so little time.
So here are two subjects that have been on my mind this week. One is a follow-up to my last post; the other is new.
AALS Panel on Junior Faculty, January 4, 2008. In my last post I blogged about a panel I was on at the Association of American Law Schools' Annual Meeting in New York City, for which I presented an article entitled The Comparative and Absolute Advantages of Junior Law Faculty in the Classroom: Implications for Teaching and the Future of American Law Schools. As the article's name implies, it is a fusion of my interest in international trade theory and my interest in/dedication to quality teaching. The paper can be accessed online from my Social Science Research Network (SSRN) page here. (You may need to register for SSRN if you have not used it before, but registration is free.) The panel went well--no hecklers, and there was good feedback. I am looking forward to the article being published this year in the BYU Education and Law Journal.
Good Lookin' Lawyers. The ABA Journal and Legal Blog Watch have reported on a study which concludes that good-looking lawyers make more money, on average, than those considered less good looking. This sounds like one of those "master of the obvious" studies, doesn't it? In a separate study, the FDA has concluded, after five years of intensive research, that the color of most oranges is . . . wait for it . . . orange.
But on a more serious note, it is disturbing that looks should matter in a skills-based profession like the law. I do not care what my doctor looks like; I care about whether she or he is competent. (Although come to think of it, having a healthy-looking doctor is somewhat reassuring, I suppose). It's especially disturbing that looks should matter in a profession that conducts so much of its business via e-mail and telephone.
Perhaps law firm hiring committees do not have entirely the same set of interests as their clients. Maybe their hiring decisions are based in part on their own visual preferences, instead of the best interests of their clients. Or perhaps it's subconscious on their part, and all other factors being relatively equal, looks tip the scale between two similar candidates. Or maybe there is a subconscious effect on the candidates' side as well: maybe better looks breed more confidence, and thus better interview results. Or maybe all three. I am not an expert in psychology, but it does seem likely that these factors play a part.
If we accept the fact that appearance matters to us, and I think that's largely incontrovertible, perhaps the question is whether anything should be done about it. Is this something that simply "is what it is," or should law firms, and law schools, take steps to try and counter this bias in favor of people perceived to be more attractive?
And for those who may be wondering, I will not be writing an article on the comparative or absolute advantages of better-looking junior faculty in the classroom. Some areas of interdisciplinary study are better left untouched.