Author: Jeffrey Harrison


Dancing in the Stacks: Could a Law School Be Like This?

This is adapted from an earlier post on Moneylaw and is my swan song Concurring Opinions post. Thanks for having me. I have enjoyed the discussions. After complaining for a month about law schools, law faculties and administrators, here is my idea of a great law school. You might score your own school to see where it stands.

1. Hiring is designed to create an intellectual and philosophical balance so faculty can debate and hone their ideas about important issues. (At many schools, intellectual diversity is threatening.)

2. In hiring, performance, diversity, and energy are valued over credentials.(Most schools place high value on credentials even though they are as reliable as cubic zirconium as an indicator of value.)

3. Discussion can be had about everything – class, race, sexuality, the Middle East – without the discussion becoming personal, or people pouting, or stomping out of the room. (At most schools these matters are taboo because of faint hearts, fears of being labeled, and wanting to avoid complex issues.)

4. There is real collegiality as opposed to facial collegiality. (At many schools the appearance of being “nice” is sufficient and can be used to mask a great deal of self-dealing, free riding, externality production, and closed-door mischief.)

5. The administration and faculty announce and internalize goals and stress accountability. (At some schools, the administration takes whatever happens and spins it in order to claim success.)

6. There is an on-going effort to match the efforts – courses offered, degrees offered, foreign and domestic programs — of the school with the needs and expectations stakeholders. (At other schools, there is no on-going assessment if someone’s turf would be disturbed.)

7. The faculty abide by the real NYT rule: Don’t do anything you would not want reported on in the NYT. (Many faculty, including some on my faculty, go by the “other” NYT rule: Don’t put anything in writing that you would not want reported in the Times.)

8. The ideal curriculum is planned and professors make sure it is offered even if it means extra effort. (At some schools, teachers are asked what they are “willing” to teach and when and that is what is offered.)

9. The dean has principals and principles. He or she considers the best interests of students and shareholders and does not comprise with self-interested faculty to achieve those ends. (At some law schools, deaning means displeasing the fewest number of faculty.) (Remember the old saying “It’s not a revolution if you ask permission.” How about, “It’s not deaning if you ask permission.”)

10. There is a sense movement, excitement, intellectual ferment, and even some dancing Monday – Friday throughout faculty offices. (Some schools have gone to a Tues – Thurs schedule, faculty are elsewhere, or suffer from the institutional Valium effect.)


Law Porn and Spending the Money of Others

When a public law school distributes law porn, I assume the logic goes like this. Advertising leads to a better ranking that leads to more revenue that leads to a better experience for the students that leads to a higher payoff on the public investment made by the state. Think of how tenuous the connections are. Has any school moved up by virtue of better advertising or lost ground due to its absence? Has the movement of a slot or two increased donations? Have those donations been put to good use in order to increase the return to the public investment in legal education – whatever that is? I challenge any public school dean to prove that he or she has made an effort to track through this in even a semi rigorous way. Of course, in a rational and non shirking world, he or she would have before pissing away the money. The problem is that public law school deans and their faculties get to spend the money of others. Thus, it is doubtful they go through the calculations that they would go through with their own money. And it often means spending the money of others to preserve their own positions and status whether or not the stakeholders in the law school are better off. Of course, the spending the money of others problem extends way beyond the law porn. I wonder how many of these free spenders when it comes to the money of others then turn around and buy a car only after consulting Consumer Reports, make sure no frequent flier mile goes unused, select their credits cards on the basis of the best rebate, and check several places before buying anything that costs over $100.


The New Do Not Mail List

About once a month either my wife or I call the retailers who stuff our mailbox with catalogues and say “Stop.” For some period we do not get the catalogues. It’s not that we will not buy from them. We might, but when we do we will look the same thing up online. Far more offensive than the latest LL Bean, Bullock & Jones or Chiasso, is the decanal glossy or law porn as it is also called. You know, that oversized postcard in the mail from another law school announcing that this year the Benjamin Robinson speaker will be Horst S. Butt from Harvard or Yale. Or the glossy announcing who is visiting that year. You can bet that I was just wondering about that. Or the big juicy glossy listing faculty publications right down to every op-ed piece, one-page introduction, tape-recorded commentary and speech to the Elks Club that every law faculty member insisted was scholarship and worthy of publicity and that every dean could not have been happier to add to list. Most of these come off a negative advertising both for the schools and for many of the faculty — and I do not mean just those with very short lists.

Each day it comes and, like other matter, is shoveled from the mailbox to the trashcan. Yet, no matter how much you throw away, it comes again. It’s like the scene in Sleeper when Woody Allen is still pretending to be a robot and does something in the kitchen – I’ve forgotten what — and it keeps expanding and expanding – and he is left to try to beat it to death with a broom. I do not recall if of prevails because at about this point in the film he discovers the orgasmatron.

Where does this stuff come from? No, I know who mails it: Panic-stricken law school administrators afraid their schools will drop a slot in USN&WR and the faculty, students for alums will be up in arms. I mean the paper, the ink, the labor, the money to pay the salaries of those assigned to prepare and mail it. Also,where does it all end up once it is carried away, largely unread, by the trash person? Could I pleeeeeeeeze get on a do not mail list? Why not do something more useful like, for example, digging holes in the sand and then filling them back up and then using the money to put back together some 19 year old that Bush and Cheney sent to Iraq to be blasted apart.



Did you ever notice that law school hiring seems to aim for not-all-that-diverse diversity? It reminds me of a friend who claims to love Thai food and then orders everything “extra mild.” Does he like Thai food (as in embrace it) or does he simply embrace the idea of liking Thai food? It’s like the question I often ask my classes: Can you have a preference for a preference?

How is this like faculty hiring for diversity? My, admittedly unofficial, view is that when hiring committees look for candidates the pecking order is like this:

White elite eduated male

White elite ed. female

African American ed. elite male

African Americna ed. elite female

White non elite female

White non elite male

African American non elite female

African American non elite female

The ranking is, no surprise, consistent with social comfort and, let’s face it, given that there is no evidence that one group is better at law teaching than another and that law professors can “interpret” resumes to mean anything, social comfort plays a big role.

So, do law professors on average like the idea of embracing diversity or do they really embrace diversity? I think it’s the former and it’s not even close. They have a preference for a preference for diversity but the real preference is just not there.

So how would you recruit for actually diversity? No question in my mind that race is a big factor but how about these questions:

1. What was your father or mother’s occupation?

2. How much school did your father and mother complete?

3. How much student debt have you accumulated?

4. How many people do you know at an Ivy League school?

5. Ever worked at McDonalds, washed cars, or bagged groceries?

6. Anyone in your family on welfare.

7. Has anyone in your family done time?

8. Ever been out of the US?

9. What is the difference between rigatoni and zitti? (oops, sorry this one accidently came over from a completely different list)

When and if law faculties get serious about diversity, let me know.


My Ballot and US Magazine

I think it was Doug Berman who wrote recently asking if it was illegal or unethical to sell his USN&WR ballot ranking the top 15 IP programs. Today my ballot arrived, delayed I suppose, by Columbus Day. My qualifications to rank IP programs are right up there with my qualifications to dunk a basketball. But then I thought, “Maybe I am exactly the right person.” Think about it, as I understand it, when ranking various law school programs, USN&WR uses a methodology that is also known as gossip. The last time I checked, even for LLMs the research did not involve an examination of admission rates, student qualifications, or the scholarship of the professors. Yes, it makes the research by US magazine look like it is conducted by Nobel Prize winners.

It also allows for some mischief as hinted by Professor Berman’s facetious offer to sell. Suppose you have a fairly large specialty program and several members of it get ballots on which they rate themselves. And suppose those professors have some friends. The ballots request that you fill out up to 15. The best strategy? Fill in one name – your own. Think law professors are above such things? If so, I have a great Summer Program In Italy I’d like to discuss with you.


Announcing Deanship Opening

We are seeking applicants for the position of Dean. The applicants should have some administrative experience although a prior deanship is not required. Some but not exceptional scholarly productivity is a requirement. Among the attributes that will be examined is the ability to work well with others. More specifically:

1. The dean should generally say yes to all faculty requests no matter how absurd.

2. The dean should not ask faculty to fill holes in the curriculum on a temporary basis.

3. The dean should make use of liberal summer research grants without expecting immediate – or any – results.

4. The dean should prepare massive glossy publications publicizing the scholarship of the faculty in lieu of actually requiring the production of scholarship.

5. Classes should not be scheduled on Monday or Friday or any day before 10:00 AM.

6. The deans should avoid controversy by shifting difficult issues to faculty committees, ignoring issues in hopes they will go away, or by redefining the issue

7. The dean should listen to no one except those on the faculty who he or she believes could influence the future of his or her deanship.

8. The dean should first and always think about the welfare of the faculty over that of the students.

The Search Committee is aware that there are many highly qualified decanal candidates and ask that interested applicants submit their resumes as soon as possible.


New Summer Program

This is an exceptional new summer law study program open to both law students and interested law professors. Summer Study in Italy, will take place from June 6- July 21 2008. Three weeks in Rome follow by three weeks in Florence. Students will be lectured by Professor Chadsworth Osborne, Jr., and Hugo Valencia, and several esteemed representatives of the Italian legal system — such that it is. Six hours of credit available from a choice of 4 courses. Groups outings will be arranged to important and historic sites. All inclusive tuition is $3000. This includes housing but not airfare and meals. However, the airfare should be highly discounted as you do not actually have to travel to Italy to participate. Video transmissions will include classes, meals, and all outings so you will be able to absorb the beauties of Italy while at home. Why eat at Italian McDonalds when the program permits you to stay at home and eat at your local McDonalds or any other restaurant of your choice. The program fillled quickly last year and was a huge success. Applications are found at Privilegelaw. See you in Roma!!


In Praise of Market Imperfections

You would expect to go out of business if you hired people without knowing if they could do the job. And, the same would be true if you had no reliable way of measuring if they actually were doing the job once they were hired. Law Schools do both of these. They would prefer to hire second tier students from elite law schools rather than top students form non elite schools. Yet, the empirical evidence I know of shows that the scholarly production of the non elites once hired is no lower than that of the elites. In fact, since law reviews use credentials as a basis for article selection, non elites may be actually outperforming elites. Do we have any reliable way to evaluate what the new hires do? Give me a break. We have faculty classroom visits announced ahead of time that result in evaluations that could have been written ahead of time – all positive given the propensity of law professors to shirk from institutional responsibilites. And we have student evaluations that largely reflect expected grades. On scholarship, we send the articles to a list of reviewers influenced by the candidate or just the regular suppliers of positive letters. Be grateful for market imperfections!


Law School Capture

My blogging schitk is grousing about legal education. I do this mainly on moneylaw and classsbias and serve as a technical advisor to privilegelaw – a blog that must be read starting earlier and moving to more recent. In many respects I think legal education has been captured by and run for the convenience of faculty who are far more often than not the children of privilege. (If you are already preparing to comment, I ask that you skip it if the comment is about a law professor who is not a child of privilege.) As I blog along this month these themes will become more developed. First, here is a test to examine your own school for its level of capture.

Before taking the test there are some clarifications. There is good and bad capture. I can imagine a law school captured by the faculty and, with or without help from the administration, run for the benefit of stakeholders. This would be faculty that is constantly asking “What should we be doing”? and matching it against what it is doing. On the other hand, capture can mean that a faculty runs the law school for its convenience with only modest limitations imposed by others and even here observing the limits are part of a pattern of self-interested behavior.

Second, from time to time I get an email that carries with it the assumption that all my grousing is about my own School. Wrong! The examples are not all taken from my School, and if you really called my bluff I would not bet that my school is any different than the average. So how does your school stack up on the capture quiz: (you can give your school partial points)

1. Are classes scheduled mid week and mid day even though it means conflicts that limit student choices? (1 point for a yes.)

2. Has you school seriously reviewed any of its foreign programs, centers, institutes or degree programs in the past two years? (1 point for a no.)

3. Does your school depend on adjuncts to teach mainline courses while offering small enrollment specialized courses taught by full time profs? (1 point for a yes)

4. Does your school have a high curve that is sometimes defended by not wanting to hurt the feelings of the students or other justifications that amount to “I do not want to actually have to evaluate someone?” (1 point for a yes)

5. Do colleagues propose programs that are needed even though they will not actually be teaching, traveling, or receiving a reduced teaching load if the program is adopted? (1 point for a no)

6. Can students graduate and take half or more of their classes on a pass/fail basis. (See question 4) (1 point for a yes)

7. Does your school encourage massive, barely supervised, externships that generate tuition dollars, provide free labor and, by the way, mean less teaching ? (1 point for a yes).

8. Does your administration mass mail glossy reports listing every conceivable thing faculty submit as reportable? (1 point for a yes).

9. Does your dean appear to be afraid to suggest that the School should do better and then hold people accountable? (1 point for a yes)

10. Is the norm that just about everyone is gone by 11 AM on Friday? (1 point for a yes)

If you scored a 10, it’s best to go into receivership and start from scratch.

If you are in the 7-9 range you will probably be a 10 soon.

If you are 4-6, I think you are average and a few hires could move you either way.

If you are 3 or less, congratulations.