Category: Law School (Rankings)

Three Views of Education as an Associative Good

The Posner-Becker blog had a good discussion of education rankings 2 months ago. I was particularly struck by Posner’s observations on the self-fulfilling prophecy aspect of rankings:

The effect of college ranking on the education industry is unclear, but my guess is that it is negative. . . .Given the high costs of actually evaluating colleges, employers and even the admissions committees of professional and graduate schools are likely to give weight to a school’s rank, and this will give applicants an incentive to apply to the highest-ranking school that they have a chance of being admitted to (if they can afford it). The result will be to increase the school’s rank, because SAT scores and other measures of the quality of admitted students are an important factor in a college’s ranking. That increase in turn will attract still better applicants, which may result in a further boost in the school’s rank. The result may be that a school will attract a quality of student, and attain a rank, that is disproportionate to the quality of its teaching program.

Henry Hansmann wrote an interesting piece on this phenomenon, calling education an “associative good,” since, “when choosing which producer to patronize, a consumer is interested not just in the quality and price of the firm’s products, but also in the personal characteristics of the firm’s other customers” (emphasis added). Hansmann concludes by wondering if “the increasing technological sophistication of our society, which is fueling the trend toward stratification among the elite educational institutions, will someday produce technologies that make it less important for elite higher education to be a residential experience, and hence remove much of the associative character of higher education.” Franklin Snyder offers evidence that blogging is one such technology.

But don’t underestimate dominant interests’ passion for rankings, cautions McKenzie Wark (whose bookpage for the source I’m quoting interestingly fails to mention it was published by Harvard University Press). He claims that “Education is organized as a prestige market, in which a few scarce qualifications provide entree to the highest paid work, and everything else arranges itself in a pyramid of prestige and price below. Scarcity infects the subject with desire for education as a thing that confers a magic ability to gain a ‘salary’ with which to acquire still more things.” In other words, the rankings are the purest form of artificial scarcity. . . . a precious commodity in an era when the diminishing scarcity of resources that meet basic needs limits their contribution to economic growth. Wark worries that education will “split[] into a minimal system meant to teach servility to the poorest workers and a competitive system offering the brighter workers a way up the slippery slope to security and consumption.”

I’ll expressly disclaim endorsement of any of these three theories. I just find it interesting how the staid and sober observations of a Posner can resonate with Wark’s radical theory, once we interpose the “associative goods” concept.


Defending Alabama

The University of Alabama, that is, and in particular Dean Ken Randall. Randall has been called to task by Brian Leiter and Gordon Smith for his comments to the Tuscaloosa News about Alabama’s rise in the new US News rankings. Randall said: “It is a proud day for our campus, the legal profession, and the entire state of Alabama. We have proven that our state can offer premier educational opportunities.” Brian places Randall (and others) in the Decanal Hypocrisy Hall of Fame. Gordon called these the “most over the top comments of the season.”

OK, everyone knows I’m biased. Alabama is my academic alma mater, a place where I spent my first eight years in teaching. But there are a couple of reasons why I think this criticism of Randall is harsh. The first, as it relates to the H-word (hypocrisy.) Bucking the dominant “official line”, Ken Randall declined to sign the LSAC letter critiquing US News rankings. (Gordon notes this.) People may disagree with Randall’s decision, as well as his comments, but they can’t quarrel with his consistency.

Second, Randall’s comments are capable of a more generous reading. For example, his second point – that the school has proven that Alabama can offer premier educational opportunities – is not necessarily a claim that this new ranking provides the proof. Indeed, if you listened to Randall travel across the state, you’d have heard him offer that same message for years – well before the new ranking. This is simply a point of pride and a bit of marketing. And it’s something else – something that folks in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and the like will appreciate: it’s an opportunity to respond to both the external critiques, and the internal self-image problems, of a state that hasn’t always excelled in education. In this sense, the comment is both a retort to outsiders and a rallying cry to residents. The US News rankings were an opportunity to get this message into the papers, but it is a message that he has been effectively delivering for many years.

Finally, as to the most apparently problematic comment – that the new rankings are proud day for the campus, profession and state – the critiques I think overstate the case. First, this comment was offered to the local mass media and sounds in the language of sports and competition – something anyone in Alabama would recognize as part of the state’s patois. It is also a way to stir up donors. Like his comment about offering a premier education in the state, these words are designed to convince alumni that the law school is a worthy investment.

I suspect that someone could raise a defense of the other offending deans, so I don’t mean to damn them by my failure to comment. And I also don’t mean to argue that US News offers “accurate” rankings. I now teach at a school that is new and utterly unranked. That fact is surely disconcerting to some potential students. Yet I would also put many aspects of our program head to head with schools in the Top 50 – including, yes, Alabama. So in this sense, these rankings very much hurt Drexel. (And as I’ve shown previously, most newer schools do quite badly in the US News reputation competition.) But these rankings do provide some information to students (and, by the way, potential faculty) who might otherwise know very little about the University of Alabama’s of the world. And they also produce significant benefits for schools that do well – in terms of money, faculty recruiting and student recruiting. Isn’t it just as disingenuous to act like the rankings are no big deal, then quietly reap their rewards? And isn’t that what most of the other schools in the Top 50 do every day?


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.


Studying a Law School

Here are some suggestions for studying a law school you may be thinking of attending. A lot of this information can be gleaned from the school’s website, and you can use the time you have on campus to get your questions answered.

First, study the school’s academic program. With respect to the first year, look for courses that distinguish the school’s curriculum from those of others. Pay particular attention to the first year writing course. An attorney’s success depends a lot on writing ability, so it’s worth it if the school you attend has a rigorous program staffed with experienced instructors. You will likely discover a broad range of approaches, from second or third year law students as instructors, to recent graduates as part-time instructors, to teaching fellows on three year terms, to full-time faculty. In my opinion, writing programs taught by full-time, permanent faculty are likely to be most effective because those teachers gain experience that can be lavished on you. Teachers who are themselves students, or whose time at the school is limited, cannot do likewise.

Beyond the first year, look for the richness of program in areas that interest you. Don’t necessarily assume a school’s offerings in an area are superior because they have a specialized “program.” Look under the hood. Does the school have full-time faculty teaching the courses that matter to you, particularly the core courses in your area? Are they experts in the field? There’s nothing wrong with seeing some adjunct (i.e. part-time) faculty in a program. Very often they’re experienced lawyers with a lot to offer. But, if there are too many, there won’t be anyone around for you to talk to when you need it most because the adjuncts will be at their regular jobs. Take some time to study the skills program as well. Clinics or externships offer great exposure to the profession and practical experience that can serve you well.

Second, take a look at the strength of the student services program. Every school has a Dean for Students, career counseling, financial aid, and placement offices. However, not every school puts enough resources behind them. How many people are available to speak with you if you want advice? How many job listings does the placement office have, and in how broad a range of jobs? Is there specialized counseling for public interest or government employment? Are there vibrant student organizations you’d like to join?

Third, get a sense of the library because you’re going to do a lot of research and studying for 3 years. You may be tempted to think all libraries are the same, but they’re not. Collection size matters. If you’re doing research and can’t get a book, you’re stymied while you wait for it to come in on interlibrary loan. Reference staff also matters. They’ll help you find things, and they’ll also be helping you learn to conduct research. Finally, when you visit, go into the library and see if you’d enjoy studying there. Is it quiet, comfortable, and well-lit? Believe me, some libraries will make you want to stay and read, and others will drive you to Starbucks.

Fourth, study the physical facility. Go to a classroom and check out the sight lines, particularly from the back of the room with people sitting in front of you. You might be surprised how many large classrooms make it very hard to see the professor when the room is full. If you can attend a class, make sure you can hear the professor and the students. Are there places for students to gather and talk? Space for student organizations? Take a look too at information technology. Is the library/campus wireless, and are there adequate terminals and printers for your use? Is there power for laptops in the classrooms? Is there audio-visual capacity in classrooms so instructors can use the latest technology? If you’ll be driving to and from school, is there enough parking?

Fifth, try to meet some students and faculty. You’ll spend three years talking to them, so get a sense of whether you’ll enjoy them and learn from them.

And last, but not least, get a feel for the place. Every school has a unique atmosphere. It’s a bit like hunting for an apartment. Ask yourself if it feels right.


Law School Quality – a comment for potential law students

US News came out with its law school rankings today (the magazine is on newsstands now). Ironically, I found out about it while serving on the ABA site evaluation team for another law school. The juxtaposition of learning about a school through a 3 day visit vs. through US News made me realize anew how problematic US News is.

US News serves two purposes. Applicants use it to help decide which law school to attend, and law school faculty/administrators use it to size up their competition in a rather unseemly show of academic vanity. I’d like to address the former.

If you are an aspiring lawyer and want to know the quality of the schools you’re considering, you really must visit the schools in question. Having just done it for 3 days, there is no substitute for talking to people at a school, meeting students, and studying the components of a law school’s program. US News has not done it for you. Numbers don’t tell you what you really need to know about a school.

Can those numbers tell you who teaches the classes that interest you most? Can they tell you whether the legal writing program is rigorous and staffed by experienced professors? Can they tell you whether the school uses adjunct professors who don’t keep office hours, or full-time faculty that are present in their offices? Can they tell you what kind of clinics, externships, or other skills courses are available? Can they tell you whether the school provides good student services?

I’ve now served on site accreditation teams for two schools that I knew something about before going to the campus. Both times I came away with a much richer and more nuanced understanding of the schools’ strengths and weaknesses.

Yes, reputation matters in choosing an education, and US News is in the business of manufacturing and selling it. But, in the end, people succeed in their careers on the basis of their ability. Please take the time to get the information you need to choose the school that will help you maximize your ability.

p.s. I intend to post in the next day or two with suggestions about how to check a school out when you visit.


2008 US News Rankings

It looks like the 2008 US News law school rankings have leaked, a few days early. I saw them first here, and the claim is that US News allowed (for a brief time) subscribers to see them this morning. I can’t warrant the accuracy of the data, nor do I know who deserves credit for this “scoop.”

1. Yale

2. Harvard

2. Stanford

4. NYU

5. Columbia

6. Chicago

6. Penn

8. Michigan

8. UC Berkeley

10. Duke

10. UVA

12. Northwestern

13. Cornell

14. Georgetown

15. UCLA

16. USC

16. Vandy

18. Texas

19. WUSL

20. BU

20. Minn

22. Emory

22. GWU

24. Iowa

25. Fordham

25. Illinois

25. W&L

28. BC

28. Notre Dame

28. Washington

31. W&M

31. OSU

31. Wisconsin

34. George Mason

34. UC Davis

36. IU-B

36. Alabama

36. Hastings

36. Colorado

36. Georgia

36. Maryland

36. UNC

36. Wake Forest

44. BYU

44. Arizona

46. SMU

47. Tulane

47. UConn

47. Florida

47. American

51. Arizona State University (O’Connor)

52. Yeshiva University (Cardozo) (NY)

53. Baylor University (TX)

53. Case Western Reserve University (OH)

53. Florida State University

53. University of Tennessee–Knoxville

57. University of Cincinnati

57. University of Pittsburgh

57. University of Utah (Quinney)

60. Brooklyn Law School (NY)

60. Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago-Kent)

60. Temple University (Beasley) (PA)

60. University of Houston

60. University of Kentucky

60. Villanova University (PA)

66. Loyola Law School (CA)

66. Pepperdine University (CA)

66. University of Kansas

66. University of Missouri–Columbia

70. Loyola University Chicago

70. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey–Camden

70. Seton Hall University (NJ)

70. St. John’s University (NY)

70. University of Miami (FL)

70. University of New Mexico

70. University of Oklahoma

77. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey–Newark

77. University at Buffalo–SUNY

77. University of Denver (Sturm)

77. University of Nebraska–Lincoln

77. University of Richmond (VA)

82. Georgia State University

82. Lewis and Clark College (Northwestern) (OR)

82. University of Oregon

85. Indiana University–Indianapolis

85. Northeastern University (MA)

85. Seattle University

85. St. Louis University

85. University of San Diego

85. University of Toledo (OH)

91. DePaul University (IL)

91. Louisiana State University–Baton Rouge

91. Pennsylvania State University (Dickinson)

91. Santa Clara University (CA)

91. University of Hawaii (Richardson)

91. University of South Carolina

97. Catholic University of America (Columbus) (DC)

97. Marquette University (WI)

97. University of Louisville (Brandeis) (KY)

100. Mercer University (GA)

100. Stetson University (FL)

100. University of Nevada–Las Vegas (Boyd)

100. University of San Francisco

100. University of the Pacific (McGeorge) (CA)


ExpressO Presents Yet Another Law Review Ranking

At the AALS conference this past weekend, I picked up the new glossy promoting ExpressO, the law review article submission service from Berkeley Electronic Press. ExpressO’s 2007 “Law Review Submission’s Guide” gives up the up-to-date ranking of the top 100 law reviews based on number of manuscripts received via ExpressO. The new data is interesting both as a snapshot of past author behavior, and perhaps as guidance about where the pack may be headed next. The study itself is not new – the 2006 rankings are here.

Here’s the latest top 20:


2. Wisconsin


4. Arizona

5. Virginia

6. Hastings

7. Northwestern

8. Notre Dame

9. Maryland

10. BC

11. Chicago

12. Iowa

13. BU

14. Illinois

15. San Diego

16. Georgetown

17. W&L

18. Southern Cal

19. Wake Forest

20. Texas

Cal was at 23, Michigan at 27, and Columbia at 80. We also learn that this ranking system offers that most precious of commodities: upward and downward mobility. Yale is #74 (down from #60), Harvard is #85 (down from #57), and the Alabama Law Review is a remarkably popular #22 (up from #64).

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Refuting the Absurd

Appellate clerks often find their hardest assignments are not addressing complex legal issues, but dealing with a bizarre and intuitively ridiculous effort to stretch the law to cover some new situation. There’s just no relevant precedent! A conscientious judge may well want every argument in the losing party’s brief addressed–even the real dogs. Of course, things aren’t so bad as the TV show Boston Legal recently suggested (when one partner claimed anyone could get a case against God (for a lightning strike) past summary judgment). But really strange arguments can strain the imagination…and in the end, are probably good for both clerks and for the law, which can finally articulate the exact reasons why any experienced lawyer would laugh a given position out of court.

It strikes me that reviews of truly terrible and ill-conceived books can serve a similar function. Consider, for instance, this review of Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment (Murray’s effort to “rank-order the great achievers in an objective manner”). The method of Murray’s book is as crude as the aim:

[T]he process whereby the great human achievers are located and rank-ordered essentially boils down to this: a series of reference books is located for each of the various divisions into which the variety of human achievement has been broken down (e.g., Western art, Japanese art, Chinese philosophy), and the number of pages of reference to various individuals is then tabulated. And that, as they say, is that.

One might question why such a project should even be addressed in a scholarly journal. But the reviewer (Robin Barrow) makes some very interesting points about ranking overall. As he notes,

The trappings of science do not make for science and . . . a methodology that is in itself “objective,” “scientific,” “quantitative,” or anything else smacking of hard and indisputable proof does not produce proven or demonstrated conclusions concerning anything other than what the methodology actually deals with. In this case, assuming the methodology is as unambiguous as Murray (incorrectly) suggests, it gives us demonstrated conclusions pertaining to the amount of space devoted to various people in reference works, and nothing relating to the quality of their work.

It is obviously possible to be a great but unrecognized artist. Does it make sense to claim that an artist who is not recognized because nobody has ever valued his work is nonetheless great? Of course it does.

In any event, as rankings-mania hits more and more fields, I highly recommend this brief “wake-up call” on its limits.


Xoxohth, Civility, and Prestige: Part I

xoxo.jpgXoxohth claims to be the “most prestigious law school admissions discussion board in the world.” According to its marketing materials, it controls 70% of the online “market” for “higher education and career discussion”, with around 6000 posts a day on various topics. One of its founders reports that the site receives 350,000 to 500,000 unique visitors every month, making it significantly more trafficked than any other law blog, with the exception of Volokh. (By comparison, we get 60-70K unique hits a month.)


Among many legal scholars and administrators, there is a shared impression that discussion at XO is overrun by sexist, racist, anti-semitic, and just plain foolish talk. The well-known Leiter-XO engagement (see here) is just one example, but it isn’t alone. Based on correspondence, I have learned that multiple law school deans and assistant deans have dealt with the Board when trying to mediate online disputes involving their school’s students. XO has been threatened with legal action (at least twice) involving alleged defamation on the board, although the site is not, to my knowledge, involved in pending litigation. Some wish the entire XO discussion board was a hoax (although others think it may be providing a public service) and some, well, some are mad as hell:

If this is what other lawyers are going to be like, I want out. They make us all look like utter a[*******]. People should avoid law school because it sucks, not because of these jerks.

I’ve written a bit about the Board before, in the context of a US News citation dispute, and since then, I’ve been in contact with one of the Board’s administrators, Anthony Ciolli, a 3L at Penn Law. I think the board is pretty fascinating, primarily because its anonymity enables, and its format records, discussions among rising lawyers that are frank and heterodox (in legal culture) with respect to race, gender relations, and professional development. It isn’t the only forum for such discussions, but it may be the largest.

In subsequent posts, I will be exploring three basic questions about XO.

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