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Category: Law School

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On Rankings Bias; or, Why Leiter’s rankings make Texas look good — and why that’s not a bad thing

Recent blog posts by Paul Caron and Gordon Smith note that creators of alternate law school rankings often seem to create rankings systems on which their own schools excel. A possible implication — not an implication that Smith or Caron make, but one that various Leiter critics have been making for some time — is that these alternative rankings are merely a form of naked self-promotion by their creators. In its simplest form, this argument would go something like this: “Brian Leiter promotes his rankings because they rank Texas higher than the U.S. News, and this makes Leiter look better.”

In response, Leiter has asserted through blog posts and comments that his rankings do not necessarily make Texas look better. His recent statements focus on the fact that he lists student quality on his new rankings page. He writes:

My institution, Texas, ranks 8th in faculty quality measured by reputation, 9th in faculty quality measured by impact, and 16th or 18th in student quality, depending on the measure used. Texas ranks 15th in US News, as it has for quite some time now. Texas thus ranks both more highly and more lowly in my ranking systems, depending on the measures used.

This is a singularly unconvincing fig leaf. Everyone knows that the 2000 and 2002 Leiter rankings did not weight student quality particularly heavily; they measured mostly faculty reputation, and they clearly gave an edge to Leiter’s school. (This is readily apparent from a look at Leiter’s archives section). Thus, for some time now, the Leiter rankings have placed Texas higher than the U.S. News list.

Is this cause for concern? Does this suggest that the Leiter rankings are simply self-promotion? Actually, there is a much more innocuous explanation.

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Rating Academic Reputation

book17a.jpgThere’s lot of talk recently about how to rate an academic’s reputation. As scholars, we’ve devoted extensive thought and discussion to the issue. Some ingenious techniques we’ve devised:

1. Count citations to a scholar’s work. Of course, for the reasons Brian Leiter documents, citation counts aren’t an indication that a particular article is any good. Jack Balkin and Sanford Levinson have a hilarious discussion of the foibles of citation counts in their article, How to Win Cites and Influence People, 71 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 843 (1996). They write, for example:

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Does Yale Law School Owe Anything to Alito?

yls.bmpA New York Times article queries whether Yale Law School has been institutionally too harsh to its former professors and alumni who are nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Robert Bork was a former Yale Law School faculty member and Justice Thomas was a Yale Law School alumni. Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito is also an alumni.

According to the article:

Faculty members testified on both sides both times. But the school was generally opposed to their nominations, said professors, students and alumni. Justice Thomas was thought to be unqualified, and Judge Bork’s views were considered too extreme.

In his 14 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas, of the Yale class of 1974, has refused to return here, and Judge Bork, who was on the faculty for 15 years, chortles during speeches when he cites “a bit of populist wisdom” he once saw on a bumper sticker: “Save America. Close Yale Law School.” . . . .

The two earlier conservative nominees may never overcome their anger at what they considered the school’s disloyalty, said Steven Brill, a legal journalist, entrepreneur and law school classmate of Judge Alito’s.

“They both think,” Mr. Brill said, “that the law school betrayed them.”

I find the suggestion here rather odd. Is Yale Law School supposted to support every graduate nominated for the Supreme Court or running for political office? Is this a duty that a law school owes its alumni?

I think not. The faculty and students of a law school should decide on the merits of the Alito nomination without putting a special thumb on the scale because he has a connection to the school. This isn’t a betrayal because I don’t believe there’s any duty owed. Each professor and student is an individual who can make up his or her own mind. And just because many professors at a school take a particular position doesn’t mean that this is the institution’s position. In fact, if things were different — if professors and students were to feel any obligation (however slight) to support a nominee because he or she has an institutional connection — then I’d be very worried about the independence of thought at the school.

Hat tip: Althouse

0

Back from the Hiring Conference

I just returned from the AALS hiring conference. Temple saw some wonderful folks, including several confessed readers of this blog.

Because of the swirl of events, I didn’t get to see others who I would have liked to, even though I did mill around the Friday night reception for that very purpose! (For a pre-conference take on whether going to such receptions makes sense, see here.) Despite Al and Mike‘s fashion tips, I admit to not wearing a tie. And that is about as much as I think I can say about the experience, as the deliberative process privilege probably applies to the rest of what went on.

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A Modest Defense of Law Reviews

librarystacks.jpgIt is a pretty common place observation that one of the virtues of markets is that they manage to aggregate a great deal of disaggregated information. Obviously, folks disagree rather vehemently as to how effectively markets do this, but most people, I suspect, would admit that the market is frequently smarter than particular actors within the market. The same is true, I think, of law reviews.

The classical critique of law reviews is that they are staffed by dumb students who don’t know anything. Obviously, there is a lot of truth to this. However, I think that the case for the incompetence of law reviews can be overstated. While obviously no law review is doing a perfect job, citation studies suggest that the article selection process is far from random. All things being equal, articles that appear in top journals get cited more often than articles that don’t appear in top journals. Of course, it may be that law professors are simply dolts who are taking the name of the journal as a signal of quality. However, it seems at least equally probable to suppose that the law reviews — or at least the top law reviews — are identifying important legal scholarship considerably better than the classical critique suggests.

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5

AALS Law Professor Meat Market

meatmarket1a.jpgFor aspiring law professors, the infamous hiring conference, known as the “meat market,” is this week. Best of luck!

Here are some helpful posts from Concurring Opinions:

1. Solove’s advice on job interviews

2. Kaimi’s advice on getting to your job interviews

I’d like to say that my post is more instructive and Kaimi’s is more humorous, but if you can’t get to your interview . . . well, you probably won’t get a callback. As Woody Allen famously said: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

More advice on law teaching can be found at:

1. Solove’s roundup of PrawfsBlawg teaching interview advice

2. Brad Wendel’s advice and roundup of useful links to more advice

3. Brian Leiter’s advice

4. Jack Chin and Denise Morgan’s advice and roundup of useful links to more advice

5. Michael Madison’s advice and useful links

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When the review just isn’t expedited enough

Via a reader comes this query (with details murkified for obvious reasons):

Let us say that Levinson receives an offer from the Basic Law Review (BLR), set to publish in spring 05. BLR tells Levinson that they expect their issue to go out in March 2005. Levinson turns down competing offers to accept the offer from Basic L. Rev.

Levinson waits for the follow-up. And waits. And waits. By late February, Levinson still hasn’t heard any follow-up. An e-mail draws no response. Levinson pokes around on the BLR website. It seems to indicate that they still have not published the first issue for their 2004-05 volume.

Levinson sends another e-mail to BLR, asking when they expect to publish the spring 05 issue. BLR article editor at last responds, indicates that in fact they are at least several issues behind, and that they can’t give any estimate for when the spring 2005 issue will be published. It might be a full year late; perhaps more.

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9

Fantasy Law School League

Folks have joked about the idea of running a “Fantasy Law School” league (a la a fantasy football league) for some time now. But the recently-posted Leiter rankings, combined with USNews and a wealth of statistics (pseudo and otherwise), indicate that we are entering a brave new era in the evaluation of law school quality and talent. No more fuzzy and impressionistic scouting of talent; bring on the new and more scientific “Moneyball” approach. Herewith, some proposed rules (comments and suggestions welcome):

1. Season: 1 year, starting Sep. 1

2. Maximum 10 law schools per league, 15 law professors per school.

3. Required positions: Dean, Contracts, Property, Torts, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Corporations, Evidence, Tax, Junior Faculty Member (less than 5 years), Student Body (pick school). Remaining positions are optional, but must be in different subject matters. Subject matter positions are for teaching, and may be completely disconnected from research.

4. Statistics:

(a) donations: $200k = 1 point.

(b) citations: 1 cite in Westlaw’s JLR or SCT = 1 point.

(c) ssrn downloads: 10 downloads = 1 point. (gaming of downloads will result in forfeit).

(d) law review articles: top-10 journal = 10 points. 10-30 journal = 5 points. remaining = 1 point.

(e) books: top-5 academic press = 20 points. casebook, new = 10 points, new edition = 5 points. all others = 1 point.

(f) entering class median LSAT: 170-180 = 10 points, 165-170 = 5 points, 160-165 = 1 point.

(g) entering class median GPA: 3.8-4.0 = 10 points, 3.6-3.8 = 5 points, 3.4-3.6 – 1 point.

(h) blogging: 20 posts = 0 points. 40 posts or more = -1 point.

5. Multiplier: points will be doubled for junior faculty (under 5 years)

6. Draft: date: August 1. random initial order, S-draft (e.g. first round: 1,2,3 … second round: 10,9,8 …).

7. Trades: no limits on number of trades. trades may be vetoed w/in 2 days by vote of 50% of other players.

8. Waivers: players may pick up unclaimed professors at any time, subject to maximum professor limit.

Now if only we could get someone to write a program to track this …

10

What Next, Google Filmstrips?

I use audio-visual materials pretty extensively in my intellectual property classes, but I never thought to use them for my first-year property class. That is, until this year.

Google Maps and Google Images have made it possible to illustrate property disputes in a way I never could have before. Take, for example, the classic case, Fontainebleau Hotel Corp. v. Forty-Five Twenty-Five, Inc., involving two hotels on Miami Beach. The Fontainebleau starts building a 14-storey addition which will cast a shadow over the neighboring Eden Roc’s pool and beach area.

Here’s a picture from Google Maps, showing the shadow (imagine the shadow slowly moving clockwise as the sun crosses the sky, eventually covering the Eden Roc’s pool area):

fontaine3.jpg

On the continuation page, you can also see a picture from a different perspective.

Every year, it seems I rely more and more on some kind of tool created by Google (whether Search, GMail, Images, Maps, whatever). Yet another sign that Google is taking over the world.

UPDATE: I should note that credit for finding the above picture goes to the very tech-savvy Michelle Kanter, BCLS class of ’08.

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Leiter, Caron and Hodnicki and a Typology of Successful Academics

It has been well-reported that Brian Leiter, Paul Caron and Joe Hodnicki have teamed up to produce the latest non-USNews law school ranking data. One part of their project measures faculty quality using the proxy of the citations of the more productive members of each faculty. The list is here.

I know our legal readers are way (way) beyond rankings, so they might not actually visit the site. That would be a shame, because the trio wrote a fascinating introductory section discussing six ways in which citation studies may be distorted. The basic theme seems to be that although we would normally assume that work that is cited more often is “better” than work that isn’t, some folks’ work will get cited more often than quality alone would dictate. Those distorted writers are (to paraphrase):

1. Drudges.

2. Treatise writers.

3. Flash-in-the pans faddists.

4. The very wrong.

5. “[O]nce-productive dinosaurs.”

6. Public law scholars, constitutionalists and crits.

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