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Quantifying the Effect of Good Teaching

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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9 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    I don’t have anything to say about the substance of the post but, man, that sure is an awfully white and male classroom. I can’t say it makes me long for the good old days.

  2. Student says:

    OOH, Danger! In the Tribe/Fried example, you need two students, one for each prof deciding on an identical issue of law, while sitting on the same court at the same time. You need this to avoid geographical and procedural posture disparities, and changes in the state of rapidly changing precedent. This might be possible if you have a panel consting of two former law school peers who had happened to take con law simultaneously from two different profs. Ok, if you get that far, you need all this to happen with sufficient frequency to generate a large enough sample size on which to do statistical analysis. Even then, you have no control groups of any kind to isolate the variable of teaching as THE reason why these two judges come out differently on that issue. Basically, there are too many other reasons possibly causing the disparity in how judges come out on issues besides the identity of their con law profs. The “meme” idea is intriquing, but is contract law a “meme” or just the adhesion contract doctrine? Watch that you don’t compare apples to grapes, find statistically significant differences between them, and claim that teaching is important because red is distinct from green. Apples sure are different from grapes, and red sure isn’t green, but apples are not grapes NOT because red isn’t green. Basically, what you’re missing is the REASON CAUSING THE DIFFERENCE, which you could find, but only if you had parallel universes to study. The causes of differences between apples and grapes are many, and same is true for how judges rule on issues. But, even if you cannot PROVE mathematically that teaching matters (because you cannot prove that it was teaching, rather than something else which caused judges to rule differently) it’s good to know profs think about the quality of what they’re paid by students to do. Otherwise, professors are DEFINITELY wasting our time, and since the sad truth is that nobody reads, professors are better off at least trying to teach, because due to the attendance policy, we have no choice but to be exposed to it.

  3. Paul Gowder says:

    Oooh, well, there’d have to be a Viscusi/Horowitz deathmatch. Uh, I mean, comparison. (I assume Viscusi actually taught a torts class at some point.)

    (But please Dave, don’t start saying “law memes.” “Meme” is such a silly notion. I really resent Dawkins for dreaming up that pointless neologism for “idea.”)

  4. Robert says:

    No Memes! No Memes! No Memes! I sincerely second that. Cultural anthropologists are a bunch of crooks.

  5. Dave Hoffman says:

    Robert and Paul: You are right. Lazy writing.

    Student: Maybe one solution is to use premade databases from other ELS analyses of doctrine that control for various factors.

  6. Al Bophy says:


    Great intellectual history project–and much fun to think about how one might execute this or one like it. I’m wondering if you’d want to expand the scope of the project somewhat and think about comparing judges who came from different schools–literally, schools. How do judges from Harvard compare with ones from Yale? We seem to think that there are different ideas associated with Harvard in the 1910-30s from Yale (and I might add Columbia as well) at the same time. Are some of those differences seen in the attitudes (or reasoning styles) of their students years later on the bench. It’s absurdly hard to show causation; however, one might get a grip on this project by looking at the opinions of judges and asking how the reasoning styles relate to what they learned in school. I’m not real sure I think that young adults at law schools have their minds shaped by what they’re taught, though I think their process of analysis might be influenced by their faculty.

  7. Student says:

    Equidistant Letter Sequences? Interesting… May be you’ll find codes for expletives in obscenity cases, that would be something! You still run into the problem of causation though because the number of factors to control for is unlimited and unknown. Are there differences in how vegetarian judges write v. carnivorous ones? May be these types of people read different non-legal magazines from which they pick up their phraseology which then registers in their writings? Or, do black judges write differently from white judges? Male v. Female? What I’m saying is that if you do ELS and find something, it would be fantastic. If you find something you COULD attribute it to teaching, or to law school, or to diet, or to sex/gender, or to musical preferences, or to weather patterns. But, if you’re content with doing ELS and suggesting that teaching or law school MIGHT be responsible, then I suppose that could work. Still, as I’m writing this, in the back of my head I have an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters. If one of them produces Hamlet, others will produce similar codes which you could detect using ELS. But WHY there are these similarities you would not be able to answer because the answer is it’s a trick question.

  8. Dave Hoffman says:

    ELS: Empirical Legal Studies.

  9. Student says:

    Empirical Legal Studies? Sounds like something law professors do. Sorry. Student Out. Peace.