The Law School Signs a Top Free Agent

Courtesy Stanford News Service

It was a coup. Stanford had lured away Lawrence Lessig, Harvard's hotshot cyberlaw specialist. But even in academia, turnabout is fair play. At the same time Lessig was making a deal to come to the Farm, Stanford professor Janet Halley, an expert on antidiscrimination law -- and a former law school classmate of Lessig's -- accepted an offer from Harvard. Just another day in the high-stakes world of faculty recruiting.

No one will say exactly what sort of package convinced Lessig, 38, to move to Stanford -- or Halley to Harvard -- but the participants and observers say it takes more than a high salary to convince star profs to make a switch. Halley pointed to the "unique opportunities" available to her at Harvard and a desire to embark on a new adventure after 10 years at Stanford. Lessig, the nation's leading expert on cyberlaw and an adviser to U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson during the Microsoft antitrust case, cited more personal reasons: "My wife [attorney Bettina Neuefeind] and I were just married, and we wanted to make a decision about a location that would be best for both of us. The opportunities for her in the Bay Area were far more exciting than in Boston." An advocate of free speech and civil liberties in cyberspace, Lessig was a member of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, a research center that studies the development and regulation of the Internet.

Recruiting a heavy hitter like Lessig is very different from searching for junior faculty, says Pat Jones, the vice provost for faculty affairs. It requires much more individual outreach, involving administrators up to and sometimes including the president. "People want to feel special and wanted -- or to be special and wanted in the case of Larry," says Henry Greely, professor of law and chair of Stanford's program in law, science and technology. And it can be expensive. In science and engineering departments, new faculty may require lab renovations that can cost as much as $2 million. Most of Stanford's faculty appointments are junior professors hoping to work their way to tenured positions. But a sizable minority -- 27 of 87 in 1998-99 -- are senior faculty.

In Lessig's case, this spring was at least the second time Stanford had tried to get his attention. The University was one of his suitors in 1998, when he was a professor at the University of Chicago and chose to leave for Harvard. This time Stanford won out over Yale.