Other schools have been raiding the University of Chicago’s law faculty for a while now, but none so aggressively as Harvard. In February, Harvard caught its biggest prize yet: Cass Sunstein, 53, the renowned professor of constitutional law, author of more than 15 books, such as Infotopia and Republic.com, and a contributor to Harper’s and The New Republic. Harvard’s announcement calls him “the most cited law professor on any law faculty in the United States.” In fact, according to University of Texas law professor Brian Leiter, Sunstein’s departure single-handedly drops the U. of C. from second (behind Yale) to fourth (passed by Stanford and Harvard) in number of legal-academic citations per full-time faculty member.

Harvard’s star-studded faculty includes several other distinguished profs who were fixtures at the U. of C. Administrative and constitutional law expert Adrian Vermeule decamped in 2006. International law authority Jack Goldsmith accepted a Harvard offer in 2004 after stopping off in President Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel. (Harvard even stole away the dean of student life in 2004.) Most important, Elena Kagan, now dean of Harvard Law School, took a permanent position in Cambridge in 2001. To make matters worse, the U. of C. feels the loss of a few professors more strongly than most law schools—the school has about 30 full-time professors, compared with more than 80 at Harvard.

Leiter says Harvard’s staffing strategy has changed during Kagan’s tenure as dean, from hiring junior up-and-comers to courting established scholars. David Lat, editor of the popular legal blog Above the Law, says Harvard ramped up its raids after a 1999 school-commissioned study by the consulting firm McKinsey recommended that Harvard improve its faculty-student ratio. (Harvard’s 20-to-1 ratio was the highest of the country’s top 25 law schools, according to the 1999 rankings in U.S. News & World Report.) Since then, says Lat, “Harvard has been on a hiring warpath.” The result has been a ripple effect at the institutions whose faculty get wooed away, as they pilfer professors from other institutions. (Coincidentally, Leiter himself is moving in the fall, to the U. of C.)

Photograph: The University of Chicago News