Author: Dan Filler


US News Rankings For Newer Law Schools

I created a list of law schools that have received full ABA accreditation (for the first time) in the last 30 years. (I left off Penn State/Dickinson, which had been previously accredited as Dickinson, Widener – Harrisburg, which is a spin-off campus from previously approved Widener, and UDC…simply because I’m not sure of its Antioch history.) There are 23 schools in all. Of these 23, four – George Mason, Cardozo, Georgia State and UNLV – are ranked in the US NewsTop 104 (four schools are tied at 100). Three others – FIU, Pace, and St. Thomas (MN) – are listed in the third tier. (FIU and St. Thomas have just been fully accredited, and they are clearly succeeding very well.) The remaining 16 are listed in the fourth tier.

I re-ranked them in terms of US News faculty peer reputation and lawyer/judge reputation. Not surprisingly, the three top schools for reputation among law faculty are relatively older: each has been accredited well over 20 years. Remarkably, UNLV comes in at number four despite the fact that it has been around less than a decade. (Dick Morgan, and the UNLV faculty, have done impressive things in Vegas.) Also interesting: the same four schools appear in the top four for lawyer reputation. And here’s a chicken and egg question: all four also appear in the top four for median LSAT.

Here are the rankings.

Faculty Peer Reputation (1-5 scale) (first year of provisional accreditation is in parenthesis)

1. Cardozo (1978) (2.7)

1. George Mason (1980) (2.7)

3. Georgia St. (1984) (2.3)

4. UNLV (2000) (2.2)

5. Pace (1978) (2.0)

6. CUNY (1985) (1.9)

7. St. Thomas (MN) (2003) (1.8)

8. Touro (1983) (1.7)

8. Northern Illinois (1978) (1.7)

8. Roger Williams (1995) (1.7)

8. Texas Wesleyan (1994) (1.7)

12. Chapman (1998) (1.6)

13. Campbell (1979) (1.5)

13. Florida International (1.5)

13. Mississippi College (1980) (1.5)

16. Ave Maria (2002) (1.4)

16. Thomas Jefferson (1996) (1.4)

16. Regent (1989) (1.4)

16. St. Thomas (FL) (1988) (1.4)

16. Whittier (1978) (1.4)

21. Appalachian (2001) (1.3)

21. Florida Coastal (1999) (1.3)

23. Barry (1.2) (2002)

Lawyer and Judge Reputation (1-5 scale)

1. George Mason (3.4)

2. Cardozo (2.9)

2. Georgia State (2.9)

4. UNLV (2.4)

5. Campbell (2.3)

5. Pace (2.3)

7. Mississippi College (2.2)

7. St. Thomas (MN) (2.2)

7. Whittier (2.2)

10. Ave Maria (2.1)

10. Northern Illinois (2.1)

10. St. Thomas (FL) (2.1)

13. Touro (2.0)

14. Roger Williams (1.9)

14. Thomas Jefferson (1.9)

16. Regent (1.8)

17. CUNY (1.7)

17. Florida Coastal (1.7)

19. Appalachian (1.6)

19. Chapman (1.6)

19. Florida International (1.6)

19. Texas Wesleyan (1.6)

23. Barry (1.2)

UPDATE: I mistakenly dropped FIU and Regents from one list each in the first iteration. I have made corrections.


The Vexing Failures of Interdisciplinary Research has an interesting post discussing the limited success of interdisciplinary scholarship. One commentor, Kieran Healy – a sociologist at Arizona and Australian National University – points to a similarly interesting article of his, The Contribution of Sociology, forthcoming in A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, which discusses how and why sociology has seen more disciplinary heterodoxy than other areas.

Another commentor to the post, Jacob Levy, suggests that one powerful counterexample to the failure of interdisciplinary research is the law and economics movement. And a debate in the comments ensues. All worthwhile reading for people interested in interdisciplinary scholarship as its own social phenomenon.

On balance, it suggests that professors are like lawyers: ever protective of the guild, however that may be defined.

Hat tip: Gordon Smith.

UPDATE: I truly am a cadet, as Patrick’s comment points out: Nate blogged on this issue right here at Co-op a couple of days ago.


Does An LSAT Score Belong On A Resume?

In a discussion over at Empirical Legal Studies Blog, on the issue of Vault’s new list of the Top 25 Underrated Law Schools, Jeff Stake and Bill Henderson both bring up the question of whether students ought to put their LSAT scores on their resumes. This turns out to be an interesting and complicated question. Bill suggests that including this information may be dangerous because it:

raises some difficult signaling problems. If it higher than a recruiter might expect, one might wonder why candidate X is not higher in the class; if is lower than expected, it does the candidate no good. These dynamics work against this practice being commonplace.

I’m not sure that Bill has this quite right. Top grades may be a good proxy for attorney quality (though that is far from certain) and firms rely on this information routinely. But they also rely heavily on the identify of the law school to distinguish between students with similar law school records. Maybe that’s because they believe a Harvard education is better than a State U. education. Maybe it’s because law schools are curved, and they figure top grades at Harvard provide more information than top grades at State U. But I suspect they use a student’s law school as a proxy for undergraduate record (as captured by school and GPA) plus intellect (as captured by LSAT scores.) A resume typically includes an applicant’s undergraduate record anyway. Only the LSAT is missing.

The problem is, many students who could attend Top 15 law schools decline to do so. I suspect that the majority of all public law schools, and many reasonably flush private law schools, have a significant student segment sporting impressive LSAT’s. Yet I’m guessing that recruiters at many fancy firms assume that an Alabama or Drexel student could not have gained admission to a Duke or Cornell. And top firms – in NY, at least – give relatively few interviews to students outside of the Top 15 law schools. They demand very high grades and, even then, are quite picky. How do students who do well, and who want jobs typically reserved for graduates of top schools, fight their way into the mix? One way to do this might be to share a high LSAT score.

Unfortunately for student with high scores, including an impressive LSAT on a resume may be viewed as tacky or crass. Or as those etiquette-loving folks at Auto-Admit put it, it makes you look like a bit “toolish.” I don’t disagree that including LSAT’s may trigger social sanctions, but in many ways these sanctions are unfair. Students who apply from Harvard are strutting their LSAT’s every time they send out a resume. Why is it that students at other schools who also earn high LSAT’s can’t share that information – particularly when we know that, implicitly at least, employers rely on this data for hiring?

UPDATE: David Bernstein and Andrew Perlman offer additional comments on this same theme.


How Regulation Helps The Regulated

Some people may assume that companies in regulated industries dislike regulation. Or that they only like regulation to the degree that it allows them to artificially inflate prices. Today’s NY Times story about long-term care insurance – and in particular, those insurance companies that actively resist paying out on their policies – shows how soft regulation can damage an entire industry. The Times focuses on Conseco, a company that receives large numbers of complaints about its services. More generally, the story targets the high rate of claims denials for long-term care coverage. Yet in the midst of this bad news, it appears that one insurer at least – Genworth Financial – is keeping insureds reasonably happy. Its complaint rate is a fraction that of its competitors.

While Genworth is probably pleased to be identified as the best of the bunch, I suspect that this story is horrible news for the industry as a whole – and Genworth in particular, as the largest insurer in the segment. Consumer-friendly companies don’t need their entire industry tarnished by the bad behavior of others. They may support government regulation because it has the potential to reduce, or even eliminate, the lousy providers that damage an industry’s reputation.

From a market point of view, perhaps this is bad news. Maybe we want a few lousy insurance companies. In a world with free flow of information, some insureds might prefer to use Conseco notwithstanding the risk that they’ll never be able to collect. This is particularly true if Conseco offers a lower price point in exchange for this risk. (Then, choice of insurance company becomes part of the risk you manage with your premiums.) But in a real world, with highly imperfect access to information (a state that improves, slightly, with today’s story), consumers are probably unaware that the Conseco policy carries greater risk of claim denial. I’m betting the Genworth will be doing all it can to encourage a very public spanking of Conseco and similar companies. It needs regulators to reassure consumers that when they spend $100 a month to insure their long-term care needs, they actually get what they pay for.


The High Cost of Criminal Litigation

Doug Berman has a good post here (and here and here as well) on the costs of prosecuting capital cases. It appears there’s been a big flap in Atlanta over expenditures for the defense of Brian Nichols, the fellow charged with killing several people in a rampage at the Fulton County Courthouse. Berman quotes an Atlanta Journal story suggesting that the cost of prosecuting Nichols will exceed the cost of the defense. I would expect as much. Notwithstanding complaints about the cost of indigent defense, prosecution of serious and complex cases costs a ton. The difference is that defense costs are fairly transparent: they are either funneled entirely through the court (in the case of court appointed counsel, and subsequent requests by counsel for costs related to litigation) or through a public defender’s office (and perhaps the court as well.) It’s easy to figure out how much it costs to defend a Brian Nichols. As Doug and the Journal suggest, costs of prosecution are much less transparent – but pop up everywhere…in police department budgets (and often across multiple different law enforcement authorities), prison budgets, state forensic lab budgets, court administration budgets, and potentially elsewhere as prosecutors seek assistance with their case.

At the end of the day, I’m not particularly troubled that very serious cases cost a lot. I worked for a couple of years at a large NY firm. Clients routinely spent over a million dollars in fees in a $10 million dispute. It’s always struck me that, on balance, the decision to execute a person – or to send that person to prison for life – is just as important as guarding cash in the corporate till. To put it another way, I absolutely believe that Brian Nichols is as entitled to excellent counsel as was Phillip Morris (cigarettes) or Johns Manville (asbestos) or Dow Corning (breast implants). When students ask how I could represent criminals as a public defender (or as the query is usually phrased at cocktail parties, ‘how can you defend those scum?”), one of the best explanations in terms of both accuracy and resonance with skeptics is equity: do rich people and corporations really “deserve” better counsel than poor people?

By the way, if you don’t recall the Nichols case, it’s the one where the defendant ended his siege by arriving at the home of one Ashley Smith. At first, it appeared that she subdued him with her newly discovered wisdom from The Purpose Driven Life. Much as Rick Warren loved this narrative, reality turned out to be somewhat more complicated. Here’s how Wikipedia captures what happened:

Smith was held hostage for several hours in her own apartment, during which time Nichols requested marijuana, but Smith told him she only had “ice” (methamphetamine). In her book “Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero” Smith revealed that she “had been struggling with a methamphetamine addiction when she was taken hostage” and the last time she used meth “was 36 hours before Nichols held a gun to her and entered her home. Nichols wanted her to use the drug with him, but she refused.” Instead, she chose to read to him from the Bible and The Purpose Driven Life. She tried to convince Nichols to turn himself in by sharing with him how her husband “had died in her arms four years earlier after being stabbed during a brawl.” Smith also writes that she asked Nichols “if he wanted to see the danger of drugs and lifted up her tank top several inches to reveal a five-inch scar down the center of her torso — the aftermath of a car wreck caused by drug-induced psychosis…. When news of his crimes was reported on television, Nichols looked to the ceiling and asked the Lord to forgive him. In the morning Smith cooked breakfast for Nichols.


New Insights On Federal Policy Regarding Recorded Interrogation

In the mish-mash of material produced by DOJ to the House Judiciary Committee (as part of its US Attorney firing investigation), one set of memos caught my eye. There was apparently a robust debate within DOJ, and various investigatory agencies, over the question of whether federal policy ought to mandate the recording of interviews and interrogation. Apparently, certain jurisdictions – particularly the US Attorney for the District of Arizona – put pressure on the feds to allow routine recording of such interviews. This proposal was successfully resisted, although Arizona seems to have been permitted to adopt such a policy on a pilot basis.

I was particularly intrigued by the handwritten annotations to one memo. In the missive, from the FBI Office of the Geneal Counsel Investigative Law Unit (Choi Jung-Won) to all FBI field offices, the author notes that juries might be turned off by real-world interviewing techniques.

As all experienced investigators and prosecutors know, perfectly lawful and acceptable interviewing techniques do not always come across in recorded fashion to lay persons as a proper means of obtaining information from defendants. Initial resistance may be interpreted as involuntariness and misleading a defendant as to the quality of the evidence may appear to be unfair deceit.

More surprising than this relatively mundane plea to bury investigatory strategies (that might – oops! – result in false confessions) was the handwritten sidenote that read “So we want to hide the truth? Don’t want jury to reach its own judgment?” This marked-up memo seems to have come from files of the otherwise plain talking Bill Mercer. You remember Bill Mercer? The one who told a deep-sixed USA that replacing the old prosecutors with fresh blood would help pad the resumes of the new appointees, making them better situated for future nominations to the federal bench. It’s not clear if Brutally Honest Bill penned these comments, or if they came from some guy named “Ron” (who is probably Ron Tempas from the DOJ.)

In either case, it was certainly refreshing to hear someone on the inside of law enforcement actually willing to mock the claim that juries must be protected from the truth of the interrogation process. All the more so if it it came from someone so close to the top.


Creative New Ways To Stigmatize Sex Offenders

Apparently some crafty Ohioans have come up with a fresh new way to alert the community – any community – that a convicted sexual offender is in its midst: the fluorescent green license plate. When you see one of those eco-friendly tags on a car, you’ll know to pass carefully and quickly. These tags would supplement the state’s ongoing use of yellow plates to identify convicted drunk drivers. One of the odder aspects of the story is that a proposal to issue convicted sex offenders pink plates died in 2005 due to opposition from, among others, Mary Kay Cosmetics. (Someone needed to protect traditional femininity from the stigma of sexual transgression!) The story is here

I wonder whether Ohio will allow dirivers to combine these trendy affinity plates. For example, could a sex offender who is also a fan of Tulane football get fluorescent green plates that say Go Green Wave?

I’m not saying the proposal is total nonsense (although I am verging on saying that) but at some point this madness and paranoia simply has to stop. Until then, let’s all think of new ways to swiftly identify sex offenders in our midst. Can I propose that they all wear hats that say I ♥ The Axis of Evil? That way even the most car-tag-ignorant citizens will be able to pick out the bad guys.


Talking Urinal Cakes Issue DUI Warnings

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has installed talking urinal mints in about 100 bars (including several in St. Paul). The hygiene cakes, apparently activated by a motion sensor, warn fellows not to drink and drive. The message, delivered by an alluring woman’s voice, starts out with “Hey there, big guy.” I’m not sure I care what effect this has on DUI’s. I’m just glad this excellent new product has gotten off the ground!

This is news that makes my whole day cheerier. The story (and audio) is here. Registration, sadly, is required.


Judge Pregerson’s Graphic Response To The Death Penalty

Ninth Circuit Photo 3.jpgDoug Berman, Rick Garnett, and Kent Scheidegger have all been blogging a bit about yesterday’s 14-1 en banc Ninth Circuit decision upholding a competent defendant’s right to waive further death penalty appeals. Kent calls it a welcome correction of a “jaw dropping” panel decision. Rick asks hard questions about whether an capital punishment opponent’s commitment to human dignity also demands that such a person support a death row volunteer’s autonomous choice to use state death machinery to kill himself. I share Rick’s anxiety over these issues, although we may differ in fundamental ways since my concerns about the death penalty relate more to it’s fairness in application, rather than its morality as a sanction, and because I believe competent individuals generally should have the right to terminate their own lives. (I’m not sure where Rick stands on that issue.) There can be no doubt, though, that lawyers representing death row volunteers face deeply complicated ethical choices.

But what of the particular case at issue, Comer v. Schriro? By the wide margin of the Ninth Circuit vote, you might think that this matter wasn’t a close call. A competent man doesn’t want to pursue his habeas action. Why should a court intervene? Yet there was something about this matter that gave several judges pause.

The one dissenter, Judge Pregerson, adopted and republished Judge Ferguson’s panel majority opinion as his own. He added two interesting and important details at the end of his dissent, however. Thus far, they have eluded comment. First, he made clear (in powerful language) that the only remedy at issue was whether the Comer would receive a new sentencing hearing:

Nothing in this opinion requires the Arizona court to conduct a new penalty phase. The due process violation occurred after the guilt phase of the trial. The due process violation occurred after the penalty phase of the trial. The due process violation occurred at the sentencing hearing held by the Arizona trial judge who imposed the penalty of death on a man who was naked, bleeding, shackled, exhausted and semiconscious. Comer wants to die. Arizona wants to execute him. There is little question that this will happen. Judge Ferguson’s opinion only requires that the sentence of death be pronounced to an understanding human, not to a discarded piece of flesh.

Second, to make his point, Judge Ferguson appended this photo of Comer at his sentencing hearing – scraggly and naked but for a towel – an image powerfully reminiscent of the proofs we use to condemn other nations (and, at times, our own) for their inhumanity. It raises the question fourteen judges applying objective law could not reach: is this sentencing hearing a moment Americans can be proud of? Or perhaps more cynically, is this any way to convince the world of America’s exceptional justice system?