If Not Scholarship, What?
Bill Henderson has a tremendous post up on the Conglomerate which follows up on Dan’s post of earlier this week on the relationship between time and US News reputation ranking scores. As Bill and Dan have now shown, a law school’s academic reputation score is pretty sticky: even with increased, but varied, emphasis on scholarship in the last decade, few schools have moved much up or down. I guess this isn’t totally surprising, given the difficulty in transforming a faculty, the relative weakness of academic institutions at marketing, etc. But it is sobering.
As Bill asks: “Why does every law school strategic plan, formed in the crucible of USNWR rankings angst, emphasize a plan of more and better scholarship when, empirically, such a strategy is unlikely to produce substantial improvements relative to peer schools?”
This all raises, at least for me, two possibly interrelated questions.
1. Is this just an artifact of known US News data collection problems? That is, assume that Leiter’s rankings went back before 1999: would the resulting string evidence non-random movement of multiple schools over time? Will using less sophisticated, but very objective, systems like the SSRN top school ranking produce data that rewards and reflects pro-scholarship expenditures like an SSRN series, workshops, chaired lateral hiring, etc?
2. As I explored here, it is interesting to think about the application of Moneyball to law school hiring. Bill and Dan’s posts suggest that the comparative advantage of selecting for productive scholars as a rankings boost is waning. [Believe me, I don’t mean to suggest that this is nearly the only reason to select for scholarship, just a reason that rational schools might care about.] Billy Beane himself has remarked that the irrationalities he exploited in his early career (overvaluing the five tools, undervaluing walks and HRs) have largely been washed away, and he is finding it harder to exploit new advantages against well-managed peer teams. As I understand it, the new smart money in baseball is paying for defense and speed. I know this because the Phillies are paying for power and David Bell.
Are law schools in the same situation? And, if so, what should the smart money be spending cash on? Employment? Marketing? Facilities? Remember: the goal of this spending is to get as much relative peer-to-peer growth for your buck as possible. So, pretend you are a law school dean. What is in your next budget?