Law School Discussion

Excellent Article from LSAC regarding the U.S. News Rankings.

Re: Excellent Article from LSAC regarding the U.S. News Rankings.
« Reply #10 on: June 20, 2011, 05:18:06 PM »
LSD needs a "like" button  :) ^ on bigs post

Re: Excellent Article from LSAC regarding the U.S. News Rankings.
« Reply #11 on: June 20, 2011, 06:30:22 PM »
I think everything you said is true, but it is exactly what is wrong with legal education.

* * *

It is too bad the MacCrate report did not go any further than it did, but one failure doesn't mean people should stop. Hopefully more people like him stand up and make an attempt to change the system that is in serious need of reform.

Bigs & All -

Would you believe the antitrust route was tried?  Feisty Massachusetts School of Law, which refuses to go through ABA's accreditation ritual because it would mean higher tuition and less well-rounded students [yes, you read that right], plugs away but with no discernable movement on the part of Dean Velvel and MSL's many complaints.  There was--surprise!--a settlement in that case between the Department of Justice and the ABA. 

As to MacCrate, he and his report were akin to the 1983 report A Nation At Risk, which excoriated our educational system.   It would have been hard to have been more critical than MacCrate and his committee were of legal education.  It would have been all but impossible to be more "powerful."  To repeat, he was a voice from the inside, at the top of the profession, commissioned by the ABA.  [!]   Not only has nothing happened, but what has happened has tended to make the situation worse, not better.  A random sampling of grandparents--from all walks of life and whether as to high schools, college, or law school--would be appalled at our system now.

Unfortunately, the incentives in the system are too deeply embedded.  The solution that fails to address those incentives will fail, period.  (Paradoxically, the closest this came was during Bush II, when the Administration spanked the ABA for its rather ham-handed handling of judicial nominations.)

I became interested in this over a decade ago, in response to a reader of Young Lawyer's Jungle Book who later wrote Planet Law School.  If there is "harsher than MacCrate," Atticus Falcon is it.  It took some years for me to come around, and in my second book, on law school (GGG), I address many of the issues we're talking about.

Also, I fully agree with you as to the quality of lawyers within the profession.  This has been and remains a common complaint among practitioners and judges (including Supreme Court justices).   I too agree that, were this medical school, this would be raw malpractice.  (In fact I argue just this in GGG.)  Falcon uses "pedagogical malpractice" enough that even I start rolling my eyes.
One way to think of this is to separate the ideal from the individual.  Idealism is a dangerous thing (even if you happen to have just the right brand of idealism), because it runs up against human nature.  [Worse still is an idealist with power, as then there's little to check that righteous ambition.]  At another end of the scale is a combination of reality and individualism.  So, for an individual, the answers are usually to (1) understand what is going on, (2) avoid the worst dangers, and even (3) take advantage of the system toward one's own ends. 

[Yes, there is an idealism that does work, grounded in realism and focused on rules of the road.  Unfortunately, this now cuts very much against the social and educational grain.]

The problem vis-a-vis law school is that among those incentives are incentives--very strong incentives--to believe in the system.  Those who get great grades from top schools are crowned victors, and everyone else mutters about how rigged this system is.  Well, yes.  But it's rigged for reasons having little to do with U.S. News.  U.S. News is the symptom, not the disease. 

A slightly different take on a point on which I would disagree:  students are not customers, nor should they be treated as such.  This is one among many illnesses that infect our educational system--albeit not, for different reasons, in law school.  Students should be treated courteously, of course, and with respect.  But allegience is owed to the profession first, and then to students.  What happens when the pendulum swings too far from the bad old days of professors as demigods to one in which the entire system is nearly scared of its own shadow for fear of angering any segment of the student population, or of "serving" their "customer"?  Would you like fries with that degree?  It should come as no surprise that learning is likely to be less than it might in such a system, and--here's the key--the ones most harmed are those students who are most at risk:  who could have achieved more with a few truer assessments and prods.  What happens instead is a system of a relatively thin layer of insiders with ample help on the side . . . and, well, everyone else.

I would argue that in fact a focus on the students is part of what causes so much harm, as, by definition, students are not yet aware of what is important.  One need only imagine a senior practitioner in place of a law professor for a few minutes to realize just how pointless most classroom discussions are.  Unfortunately, most students understandably misinterpret feel-good discussion for meaningful learning.  They take armfuls of notes and then wonder just what it is they're supposed to be doing.  They wake up several months later, when exam results are in.

Sorry, didn't mean to go off on such a tangent.  I've heard the "I'm a customer!" line rather too often, and see just how pernicious the effects are.

So, yes, the system is misaligned.  Badly misaligned.  And while I suspect we would agree on nearly everything, the real challenge for any individual student reading this [Say, that's everyone!] is, after the healthful venting, to refocus on what this all means.  For that I would go back to the intial comments:  rankings are important because people believe that they are.  People want to believe.  Hey, it's your species.  How they're important, however, is not how they're commonly used.   Moreover, for anyone already in law school, the real challenge is to do well, which is far harder than it seems.  The forced curve is just one culprit.  The more serious culprit are the many maladaptive behaviors from high school through college.  If you don't believe me, try another professor:  the author of Law School Undercover.  He offers another inside look at something of some importance: exams.

To bigs, thank you.  This is why we go to law school.  = :   )

Re: Excellent Article from LSAC regarding the U.S. News Rankings.
« Reply #12 on: June 24, 2011, 02:47:56 AM »
Schools are literally putting significant amounts of money, resources, and time to boost the opinion of some magazine that has no authority and uses an absurd methodology to make their conclusions. It is so absurd that schools jump 20 spots any given year and they have 11 way ties in the rankings see the 11 way tie for 84th place. .

Bigs & All -

There a recent article in the ABA Journal online that you might find interesting:

Also, for more ammo on your side, there's Thomas Sowell's Inside American Education.  On pages 108-110 especially, he's quite provocative about the ratings scam/urge/business.

See?  Being a lawyer is too fun!   = :   )

Re: Excellent Article from LSAC regarding the U.S. News Rankings.
« Reply #13 on: June 24, 2011, 11:13:38 AM »
In a sense, this makes it even more important to evaluate these data points well . . . as employers WILL.

The "customers" of law schools are not students, but firms; students are the product.  And, for their own reasons, firms like the system as it is.

I came here to say this, and to add additional cynicism.  From the employer side, rankings are useful, and have no downside.  They provide several benefits to us, including: 

- Basic information about the place in the world of an unfamiliar law school.  We don't necessarily care about the quality of the education - that's pretty much the same everywhere.

- Basic information about applicants from unfamiliar law schools.  We can use the ranking as a proxy for selectivity, and use that in turn as a proxy for candidate quality.  Sure, it is a blunt instrument, but it is very helpful for triage.  Helpful for the employers, that is, even if innocent students are harmed in the process.

- Resume-padding.  If we can say that we only hire from "top law schools," that has value to us.

- Corporate shelter.  A hiring partner will take little flak for hiring a recruit from a well-ranked law school, even if it doesn't work out.

These are all true even if we know that the rankings are a bit thin on substance.  The rankings rely heavily on reputation, and reputation has real value in the real world.  Also, because the firms all compete for graduates of the higher-ranked schools, the firms that has the most lawyers from those schools is the "winner," and that has local value as well.  The rankings are, to a large extent, self-fulfilling prophecies, and that works just fine for us.

In fact, I would suggest that the USN rankings may actually near perfect, in a very real sense.  It all depends on what the rankings are trying to achieve.

What is the difference between law school A and law school B?  Not the professors, the curriculum, or the materials - it is well covered that the "quality of education" received from various law schools is essentially identical.  Moreover, we all know that nothing much of value is actually taught or learned in law school.  The real learning comes after - law school is just foundation-laying, and barely even that.  A ranking system based on "quality of education" would be of limited value.

Instead, I propose that there are basically two substantive differences among law schools:  the quality of the students, and the reputation of the school.  For all the reasons I noted above and more, selectivity and reputation are very valuable to graduates and employers alike.  And, as it turns out, those two factors (selectivity and reputation) are at the core of what drives the USN rankings.  Perhaps the rankings actually create or define the reputation value of middle- and lower-ranked schools, but that isn't a weakness.  Instead it is added value.

USN is like the popular kids in junior high who declare which bands are "cool" and which are not.  The quality of music and legitimacy of the designations are irrelevant - the real subjects are coolness and social standing.  The popular kids provide a valuable service by defining the social value of the various bands, as this allows the other kids to help define their own social standing in part by their choice in music.  Without the popular kids' declaration, nobody would know which bands were cool, and chaos would ensue.

Arbitrary and unfair, perhaps?  Sure - but the process still creates social structure, which has real value far beyond the choice of particular bands/schools anointed as cool.

To bigs, thank you.  This is why we go to law school.  = :   )

Indeed.  I always enjoy your posts, whether I agree or disagree.  Perhaps even more when I disagree.  I suspect you will make a fine lawyer - and you may even enjoy it!


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Re: Excellent Article from LSAC regarding the U.S. News Rankings.
« Reply #14 on: June 25, 2011, 12:50:51 PM »
Good responses and thank you for the compliments. It is great the ABA & U.S. News are taking steps in the right direction by objectively listing employment statistics. The extremely "vague" placement criteria was literally a joke. My school does provide us with real stats and always has so I respect them for that. They have a very good measurement for their employment statistics which asks whether bar passage was required to obtain the position. We had 179 graduates and 95 obtained positions that required bar membership. 95 out of 179 is not a great figure, but it is real and believable. Then only 41 have real salaries and 41 out of 179 is again not good, but it is real and believable. So hopefully, U.S. News & LSAC will move in the right direction by requiring schools to give real info and letting students know the realities.

Students as Customers:
I do strongly believe students are customers, but you may have misinterpreted what I meant by that. I do not think students should be coddled in any way in fact I am astonished at how soft law schools are on students. I work with people from Hastings, USF, Santa Clara, and GGU and the things they do skipping class, not doing assignments, complaining about professors, blah blah endlessly blaming others for not doing as well as they wanted drives me nuts and I wish law school would be harder on students. As a customer what I expect for my money is to be able to know how to handle basic things I need to know to be a competenlawyer. I don't need respect or people to tell me how great I am I want to learn how to be an effective lawyer and I think my money entitles me to that. However, it is widely accepted that law school doesn't teach you the first thing about being a lawyer. I can't think of any other educational system where that woudl be ok. Obviously, education can only teach you so much, but I imagine a computer programmer learns how to write code etc in their computer science classes, an architect student  learns how to make blueprints, a police cadet in the academy learns to write police reports, etc, but law schools seem ok with the fact that law school doesn't teach you the first thing about being a lawyer. This is a disservice to the profession and to the students who are customers and deserve to know the basics of what they need to do to succeed in the profession they spend 3 years of their life and 100k plus to enter into. Another poster on another thread described law school as paying 100k to get a ticket to take the bar and that seems unacceptable.

I agree that rankings can help firms and again I think the rankings are fine within the top 25 maybe 50 schools. As you mentioned there is an in-crowd and certainly Stanford, Harvard, Yale are the in-crowd and it is a widely accepted fact that they are the cool kids as you put it. However, who was the 78th coolest kid in Jr. high  and was he that much cooler than the 114th coolest kid? Probably not. This is my main concern and what I think happens to most students considering  there are 200 ABA schools and only 50 tier 1 schools. Students including myself when I was a 0L think going to a tier 3 school will open more doors than a tier 4.) In my limited experience it doesn't. Every internship I have had up to this point has been full of GGU, Hastings, and USF students. We are all in the same spot and I know so MANY people that transferred from GGU to Santa Clara, USF, and Hastings thinking infinitely more doors would be opened by attending the 84th best school so they paid 80,000+ more dollars and lost all their first year connections. The reality is those schools basically open the same doors nobody is at GGU, Santa Clara, USF, or Hastings graduation with 100k contracts in hand saying please please work for us instead students from all those schools have to hustle to find work. It is very likely employers are with the cool kids in the Bay Area Stanford and Berkeley begging people to work for them, but nobody says Hastings, or Santa Clara wow what a great school. I can definitely see a firm wanting to only hire people from top schools that has marketability, but despite Hastings being 42nd so low tier 1 I don't think it has international acclaim as a GREAT school and neither does USF, Santa Clara, or GGU.

I think the perfect analogy for this is the NCAA. They do not rank past the top 25 because outside of that it really doesn't matter. Does Wyoming have a better football team than Idaho? Maybe, but realistically on any given day Wyoming could probably beat Idaho or vice versa and nobody would be shocked even if although Wyoming was ranked 42nd and Idaho was ranked 78th nobody would call it an upset. They are both mid-level programs just like the non-elite schools their really isn't a significant difference.

Well hopefully some of my rant was coherent, but I think I said my piece and I am glad to know some steps are being taken in the right direction.