Inbreeding and the reproduction of elitism: an empirical examination of inbreeding in Australia legal academia

Angela Melville, Amy Barrow, Patrick Morgan

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Academic inbreeding refers to the practice of universities hiring their own graduates. Academic inbreeding has been shown to reduce research productivity, encourage hiring and promotion practices based on social connections rather than transparent, objective and merit-based criteria, and to inhibit innovation by entrenching existing academic culture. Despite the negative effects of inbreeding, there is little empirical research on the problem. This paper investigates the extent and profile of different types of inbreeding among 700 legal academics in 17 Australian law schools. It examines the extent, characteristics and effects of different types of inbred academics, including ‘highly immobile’ academics who have spent their entire careers in the one institution and ‘silver-corded’ academics who return to their alma mater after working elsewhere. We also examine whether inbreeding relates to the status of the university and law school in which an academic is employed, gender, level of appointment, and research productivity. We find that over 40% of Australian legal academics are inbred at some level, and that high levels of inbreeding are more likely to occur in elite law schools and among female and early career academics, although inbreeding does not relate to research productivity.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalLegal Education Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2020

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 Licence.


  • legal education
  • legal profession
  • law
  • academic institutions


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