Law.com recalls John Roberts law school days at Harvard. One of his classmates recalls:
Barrack, Rodos & Bacine partner Mark Rosen remembered that John G. Roberts had two goals when the two young men were classmates in their first year at Harvard Law School -- becoming a professor at the law school or serving on the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It's up to him to say whether he got the consolation prize," Rosen said, just a day after Roberts was nominated by President George W. Bush to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court.
His undergraduate History thesis advisor adds:
"He did not have that sort of showy type of intelligence," Strasbaugh said. "It was more of a controlled, thoughtful, not-aggressive type of intelligence."
I have wondered whether legal academia today (perhaps even more than other academic fields) tends to place an undue premium on a "showy type of intelligence" as opposed to "controlled ... not-agressive type of intelligence." I don't know, of course, whether this has always been the case. But it is my impression that this is the case today (there's no empirical test for this assertion, of course, so I could be completely wrong).
But compare, for instance, former appellate attorney Roberts to former Professor Scalia--who, I think we can all agree, has somewhat more of a "showy type of intelligence." From how he is described, one can guess that if Roberts were a professor today, he would likely be a doctrinally-oriented scholar and probably hornbook writer. In fact, Roberts does teach as an adjunct professor. These folks seem to be less-highly valued in the market today than interdisciplinary thinkers and theorists. If I am correct that law schools today tend to value "showy" intelligence as opposed to quiet intelligence, it seems to follow that we are inadvertently turning away some extremely able people from the academy.
On the other hand, given the institutional arrangement of modern law schools, it may be that this bias in inevitable. In particular, for whatever reason, law reviews today seem to overvalue novel, glib, and clever articles in the market, thus it may be that to the extent that the law school hiring process selects for "showy" intelligence, it may be an efficient response to peculiar market in which we sell our services, i.e., law reviews.
So, while at first glance the relative absence of people like "Professor Roberts" seems like a market failure in the professorial hiring market, it may be perfectly rational in light of the peculiar market for which future scholars are being selected. Today, it seems we find people like John Roberts teaching as adjuct professors (and I might add, these adjuncts are usually very popular with students who appreciate their attention to craft as opposed to bombastics) and passing along lawyering skills, whereas the profile of tenure-track professors looks completely different and selects for "showy intelligence."