Category: Law School


RateMyProfessors and Subverting Hierarchy


Back in May, Kaimi commented on Prawfs about Law students came somewhat late to the site, but my anecdotal sense is that there has been an explosion in ratings in the last six months. For most law schools in the country, multiple professors are now listed and rated. Most law school ranking sites have an anonymous student “moderator,” which would seem to suggest that RMP is trying to defend itself against defamation suits. If that’s the case, it would be fascinating to see what directions the moderators have received. From a brief review of the ratings of lots of law profs., I can’t believe that the directions are particularly restrictive. There is some nasty stuff out there.

Recently, I came across this article analyzing why undergraduates comment on and use RMP. The money paragraph:

[Students] want to provide information to others, and they also feel part of a community of posters. Primarily, students appear motivated to post ratings for teachers who are perceived as being either very good or very bad. This explains why the number of ratings per professor did not show linear correlation with the perceived quality of that person’s teaching. The data show that the only significant relationship with regard to the number of posts was that of the “hotness” rating. Professors with higher hotness ratings received more ratings on average. However, while perceived hotness seems to relate to the propensity to post ratings, this factor did not seem to affect the average quality rating as there was no significant relationship between hotness scores and overall quality scores. This suggests that perceived attractiveness of professors is related to students’ propensity to post about them, but is not sufficient to influence what is posted.

As far I can tell, the lack of correlation in this study between attractiveness and quality rankings is anamolous.

I wonder what would have happened were law students to be asked why they post on RMP. My suspicion is that law students, unlike undergraduates, are more motivated by feelings of powerlessness and a desire to sanction (with online gossip) professors who take particular advantage of the (conservative) hierarchy that the Socratic dialogue offers. As Duncan Kennedy explained in his little red book, “it is meaningful to oppose [hierarchy] by talking, by joking and refusing to laugh at jokes, through the elaboration of fantasies as well as through the elaboration of concrete plans for struggle.” That is, I bet at least some law students use RMP as a way to implicitly whittle their professors down to size.

But maybe that is giving students too much credit. It’s not clear to me whether the student who thinks that I “bounc[e] around the classroom like a leprechaun” was hoping to subvert traditional ideas of law school classroom management. Maybe s/he just didn’t like me much.


Are Exploding Offers So Bad?

Explosion-thumb.jpgJennifer Mnookin, at Law and Culture, has a good post about the use of exploding offers in law faculty recruiting. I agree with her fundamental points, that such offers a) aren’t very nice (though I’d take issue with her term,”outrageous”); and b) are potentially counter-productive, insofar as they may lead a candidate to accept the exploding offer but leave the school prematurely due to bad feelings.

But here’s the thing. Recruiting – professors, law clerks, engineers – is a competitive business. Despite the overall size of a given year’s hiring pool, law schools are competing over a relatively small number of canidates. And it turns out teaching candidates focus on relatively consistent features in developing their job preferences. The first and most obvious is school prestige, and the related benefits of faculty and student quality. Another important recruiting advantage, as I have suggested, is location. So what are the rest of the hoi polloi, those lower ranked or off-the-beaten-track schools, to do?

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Going Digital: The Future of Reprints?

reprints1.jpgOne of the great things about law review articles is that you can order a batch of reprints — separately-bound copies of your article that you can send out to a list of your colleagues. I have a large and growing database of various professors, policymakers, journalists, and others who receive copies of my articles — a fact that is not without some irony, since many of these people are in the information privacy law field, and I have written extensively on the problems posed by databases. Thus, ironically, I maintain a database with one of the most extensive collections of people who criticize databases.

It is common practice among law professors to send out reprints widely, as this is a way to present one’s scholarship to others in a highly-readable format. But reprints come at a considerable cost. Recently, I got the price quote for a reprint order for a soon-to-be-published article. Under the pricing scheme, I get 40 free reprints, but that’s not nearly enough for my database, which includes hundreds of people. For 200 extra reprints, it would cost about $744 and for 400 extra it would cost $1059. Wow! I nearly had a heart attack . . . and I’m not even the one paying the bill — my school picks up the tab. Anyway, if I handed a bill for over $1000 to my dean, the keys to my office might not work the next day. Plus, there’s the cost of postage, envelopes, and stationary.

So here’s my idea. I’m thinking of moving toward a system of electronic reprints. I could send out a PDF version of the final article in an email to everybody in my database. In other words, I’d shift from being a junk mailer to a spammer. . . .

In my email, I’d include the text of the letter I would have sent to accompany the reprint, attach the article in PDF format, and possibly include a link to the final version of the paper on SSRN. I’d still order some reprints — about 50 to 100 — and offer to send hard copies of the reprints to anybody who requested them. My guess is that I’d get a few people requesting the actual reprint, but most people interested in reading the article would just print it out from the attached digital version.

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Three Cheers for Law Reviews

book18a.jpgLaw reviews get little respect both within and outside the legal academy. For those unfamiliar with the system, legal academics publish their articles in law reviews, which are edited and run by law students. Law students select the articles, not professors. In contrast, journals in most other fields are peer reviewed and edited.

The conventional wisdom is that it is immensely silly and problematic to have students selecting and editing our articles. But while I have many gripes about the current system, there are actually many virtues to the law review approach that are not being stated. So I aim to be contrarian and (ironically) defend the status quo.

1. Article Selection. One argument is that a peer-edited system would be better in article selection. On the surface, it does seem quite odd and almost absurd for professors to have students do the article selection. Critics of the law review system say that students often don’t have sufficient knowledge about a field to appropriately assess the quality of articles.

But with student-selected articles, it is not as though peer assessment is vanquished. It just occurs after publication. To the extent that we use law review placement as a proxy for article quality, we’ve got ourselves to blame. I do think that there is a rough correlation in article quality and placement — the system isn’t perfect, and many mistakes are made, but I wonder whether perfection is possible or efficient. To the extent that we doubt law review placement as a proxy for quality, then we can discount it and assess articles on their own merits. In the end, I think that the objection is really about the fact that other professors (not ourselves and our friends, of course) will not appropriately assess the correlation between law review placement and article quality. In a sense, this is an argument that we don’t trust the judgment of our peers. But that shouldn’t mean we blame the law reviews — we should blame ourselves.

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Does Scholarly Writing Have to Be Tedious?

book5a.jpgOver at the new and very engaging blog, LawCulture, Rosa Brooks writes:

As a junior professor, I dutifully churned out law review articles to fill my tenure file. Some of those articles, I think, may even have contained a few good ideas and a few good lines, but all of them suffered, to one degree or another, from the contraints of the genre. Worse yet, I’m fairly sure that practically no one outside my tenure committee and my mother has actually read the damn things (and I have my doubts about my mom). Not that this makes me unusual: the vast majority of law review articles are read by few people, and cited by even fewer. So… what’s it all for?

Now, since I’m devoutly hoping my colleagues won’t actually revoke that tenure vote, I’m awfully tempted to echo Rodell and say goodbye to law reviews. From now on: books, absolutely. Magazine and newspaper articles? Sure. Blogs? We’re trying. Even, perhaps, the occasional law review symposium piece or essay, since those are fairly harmless. But as for those ponderous, still-much-too-long, ludicrously over-footnoted things we call Articles, with that portentously capitalized “A”? No, no, no.

No more going through perfectly good prose and inserting pointless qualifiers and parentheticals; no more searching for vaguely on point articles and cases to fill out footnotes; no more going through the ludicrous and humiliation rituals of submitting pieces to law reviews then playing the expedited review/trading up game.

Over at PrawfsBlawg, Paul Horwitz responds by observing:

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The Best Thing About Being a Law Professor

Certainly there are more than a few great potential responses, most of which we have rehearsed anticipating the meat market question, “So why do you want to teach?” The fantastic schedule, the opportunity to introduce law students to the excitement of law study and the legal profession, and the chance to explore one’s area of scholarly interest in depth and, perhaps, influence public debate are all important factors making this a terrific job.

For me, however, the best aspect of law teaching has been a more general one: Being in legal academia gives me the opportunity to learn simply out of interest in the subject. This occupation gives me the opportunity to develop courses relating to my academic interests, and the freedom to pursue those interests without worrying about billable hours, even if they never materialize into scholarly production or courses. This opportunity to learn means that the intellectually curious professor can avoid the tedium that affects so many others, resulting in low job satisfaction (or so I hope).

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Law School Recruiting: Location, Location, Location

Law school recruiting season is in full swing. This means, not surprisingly, that our faculty is waiting to hear back from a candidate to whom we’ve extended a job offer. What’s the delay? As is often the case, when you’re recruiting to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, geography can be an significant issue. Many lawyers-turned-aspiring-profs make significant compromises – school quality, package, salary, etc – in order to land in a desirable city. This makes sense, but it is my impression – grounded only in anecdotes – that geography drives the hiring process more in law teaching than in other academic disciplines. Compared to law teaching candidates, aspiring liberal arts profs appear to weigh department quality more heavily, and geography less so.

If I’m right – and I’m curious whether others think I am – why is this so? Two reasons come to mind initially. First, those who attend graduate school for the express purpose of finding an academic job spend more time buying into the education hierarchy and coming to grips with the geographic compromises they are likely to face. Law teaching is often an afterthought for law students and, in any case, they certainly don’t spend three years kvetching about how they’ll have to move to Stillwater once they graduate.

Second, because profs in most fields make less than law profs, perhaps they prefer less popular (read: cheaper) locations. A salary of $35,000 a year gets you a good life in Tuscaloosa. In Boston, it buys a load of ramen.


Big Mac Attack on Clinical Legal Education

Heather MacDonald, a conservative writer, has launched an attack on clinical legal education. An abbreviated form of the screed surfaced in the Wall Street Journal last week, but a more complete version just came out in the City Journal. Basically, MacDonald argues that law school clinics are stuck in the 1960’s, training students to be social activists, pursuing a left wing agenda on just about every issue.

MacDonald’s claims surely excited some conservatives – and why not? What is juicier than proof, proof, of a vast left wing conspiracy. MacDonald announces a couple of big non-news stories: law school faculties are generally liberal, and clinicians are even more so. And yes, it turns out that these progressive clinicians tend to direct their clinics to serving poor people and non-profits rather than, say, landlords and state prisons (her suggestions, not mine.) If MacDonald’s point was simply to argue for more clinics doing conservative work, I wouldn’t have a beef with her. (As a hiring chair, I might have trouble finding business lawyers looking to leave their million dollar practices for jobs on the clinical tenure track, but that’s another matter.)

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Just Do It: Sports v.s. Academics


So, another sportswriter has gotten under the skin of University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer. Awhile back, Sports Illustrated shined a national spotlight on the football program’s lavish digs.

Here is ESPN’s account of Phil Knight’s (read: NIKE’s) alleged influence on the track program and the university generally, prompting Frohnmayer to fire back.

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The Future of Law Libraries


Via Brian Leiter, I read this post on a controversy at Tulane’s Law Library. The Law Librarian Blog, after detailing recent staff and policy shifts, wonders whether the University administration is using Katrina as an excuse to do away with an independent academic law library:

So my question is do the actions at Tulane reasonably represent a sub rasa determination by relevant powers to subsume the law library into the operations of the University library, demoting it from an independent entity and transforming it into a subordinated department? The recent spate of firings looks to be designed to preshape the structure of the law library for insertion into the main library’s organization.

If this is true, I wonder whether Tulane would defend itself by arguing that in light of recent developments, there is less of a need for an independent law library than there used to be. Or, more provocatively, “Law Libraries. Huh. What are they good for?”

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