Category: Law School

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Who’s Your Daddy?

family.jpgNepotism is at work in the legal academy. The next time you wonder how a professor with an unremarkable resume landed a job, check the family tree. You’re likely to find—sometimes even in the very same school—a professor parent.

Or spouse. Husband and wife professors complain about the burdens of finding work as an academic couple, but being married to a high-profile professor can be a significant career booster. Schools that badly want a professor will lower their standards and hire that professor’s spouse—or work things out so that the spouse can teach at another school in the vicinity. (The practice seems to be a benefit of heterosexual marriage: I’ve never heard of a same-sex couple being treated so favorably.)

Judicial clerkships are a route to teaching but here too nepotism is common. Judges are prohibited from hiring their own family members but the rule doesn’t extend to the family of a current or former law clerk. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sometimes even parent and child, clerk for the same judge or justice—passing around the clerkship like it’s the family silver.

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7

On Becoming a Supreme Court Clerk

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This article about David Bragdon, who was just hired to clerk for Justice Thomas, is worth reading, especially for those who miss their A3G fix. Bragdon is significantly more forthcoming in print than I would have expected. Two choice quotes:

“I think conservative justices are more likely to hire conservative clerks,” he said. “I interviewed with Justice Thomas and his clerks, and his clerks really drilled me on my judicial philosophy, both to see how much I knew and to test my ability to argue various issues.”

“There could be some shifts in the way the Supreme Court decides certain issues [based on the new justices coming to the court],” he said. “I don’t think Roe vs. Wade will be overturned, there aren’t enough votes to change that decision, but other key issues could be affected.”

Too bad the interviewer didn’t ask the obvious follow-up question: which “key issues” does this rising Supreme Court clerk think will be affected by the confirmation of Justice Roberts and the possible confirmation of Judge Alito?

(Hat Tip: Howard B.)

7

Clearly I’m teaching the wrong classes. . .

The CNN headline pretty much says it all: “Girl with peanut allergy dies after kiss.” It is proof of my through law-geekiness that my first thought was “that would make a great question for a torts exam!”

Torts finals always seem to involve strange hypotheticals. I still remember my own torts final as a law student — it involved a man who opened his umbrella in the rain, and was struck by lightning.

It’s pretty hard to work a peanut-kiss-death into my Wills final or my Securities Regulation final. (I suppose I could try to work it into some strange hypothetical to test the statutory bar on inheriting from a decedent who is murdered by the devisee, but that would be a stretch. And besides, those exams are already written.).

But if I ever teach torts, I’ll be thinking back to the peanut case — and wondering if I can turn it into a good hypothetical about a “kiss of death.”

2

Private Accrediting: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

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US News’ rankings are exerting powerful influences over law school practices, in areas like admissions (and presumably hiring and promotion of faculty, to enhance reputation scores). They’re beginning to look like an accrediting agency that operates parallel to the ABA. US News arguably sets benchmarks for such areas as admissions, faculty-student ratios, and library size.

(Jeffery Stake’s article “The Interplay Between Law School Rankings, Reputations, and Resource Allocation” and posts like this one by Brian Leiter explore how US News is affecting (or might affect) class size and other admissions decisions. My (admittedly impressionistic) sense is that a great many law schools are bending their behavior to US News factors.)

In the spirit of “If you can’t beat them, join them,” maybe what we should be doing is lobbying US News to change the factors that count in their rankings. Perhaps, for example, we should encourage US News to take diversity of student body into account. If US News gave (even small credit) for diversity, perhaps it would cause (major) shifts in law schools’ admissions decisions. I wonder if US News is already poised to do this? In 2005 they began publishing a diversity index, but it doesn’t yet count towards a school’s overall rank.

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0

Swiftly Shrinking? Toward the Lilliputian Law Review Article

book-tiny1.jpgThis law review article submission season, a bunch of law reviews banded together to create a page limit for law review article submissions. According to the policy as announced by the Harvard Law Review and followed at several other law reviews:

In an effort to address the growing length of law review articles, the Harvard Law Review has adopted a new policy limiting the length of articles we will accept or publish.

The Review will give preference to articles under 25,000 words in length — the equivalent of 50 law review pages — including text and footnotes. The Review will not publish articles exceeding 35,000 words — the equivalent of 70-75 law review pages — except in extraordinary circumstances.

Eugene Volokh of the VC has some data on the effectiveness of the policy:

Here’s an early data point: Jean-Gabriel Bankier of Berkeley Electronic Press’s ExpressO submission service . . . reports that, based on “more than 1,000 unique submissions in both 2004 and 2005,” the averages were:

2003-69.1 pages

2004-73.3 pages

2005-64.0 pages

So that’s about 9 pages shorter on average. Thus, in total, this season saw over 9000 fewer pages of law review article text. Where did those 9000 pages go? That’s roughly 2.7 million words . . . vanished. They are lost forever, gone, never to be read and enjoyed. Oh, the verbosity!

1

Faculty Recruitment Practices

Brian Leiter has this interesting recent post on some high-pressure AALS faculty recruitment practices. Coincidentally, I just received an email from the “AALS Special Committee on Faculty Recruitment Practices,” which states, in relevant part:

The special committee’s specific charge was to determine whether, in light of [certain] complaints, something like a statement of good practices in faculty recruitment was appropriate. Of course, a prerequisite first step in fulfilling that charge is determining what practices are occurring and whether or not they are sufficiently problematic in frequency and type that a statement of good practices is necessary or appropriate. To that end, a survey of current practices seemed appropriate. Hence, this email message, which is being sent to faculty members who participated in the faculty recruitment conference within the past two years and are now full-time faculty members at an ABA approved law school/AALS member law school. We know that you are very busy individuals.

Busy, yes. But not too busy to blog.

My guess, based on anecdotes from the law clerk hiring process and discussions about international norms with colleagues, is to doubt that AALS will succeed at stamping out abuse in the absence of a real enforcement hammer. But you’ve got to give them credit for trying, because the current market is set-up to produce some unhappy marriages between candidates and schools.

1

A whole lot has changed in the last fifty-six years

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I recently had the pleasure of introducing Paul Jones to speak to the Black Law Student Association at the University of Alabama. Dr. Jones is one of our nation’s leading collectors of African American art. He was born in the 1920s in Bessemer (a town near Birmingham) and grew up there. He shared a dream of generations of boys in this state–to play for the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide. But he could not realize that dream. Instead, he played for Alabama State. Then, in 1949, as a student at Howard University, he applied to the University of Alabama’s law school. Again, he was a generation too early. He was told that while the administrators here were aware that the United States Supreme Court might mandate that the University admit students like him, he should not pursue a lawsuit:

While this may be gratuitous, I am adding that we at the University of Alabama are convinced that relationships between the races, in this section of the country at least, are not likely to be improved by pressure on behalf of members of the colored race in an effort to gain admission to institutions maintained by the State for members of the white race. On the contrary, we feel that inter-racial relationships would suffer if there is insistence that the issue be joined at this time. The better elements of both races deplore anything that tends to retard or jeopardize the development of better relationships between the races. For these reasons, therefore, we hope that you can persuade yourself not to press further your application for admission here.

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Does this insight apply to law professors as well?

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Some years ago (I’m guessing sometime around 1997 from internal references, as historians would say), I saw in a newspaper a quote attributred to “Veteran horrormeister and Scream 2 director Wes Craven”:

After you stop moaning about being stereotyped as a horror guy, you can say, “I’m employed doing interesting movies that can be called, in some sense, auteur work. Nobody’s telling me what to do, I have final cut and there’s virtually no limitation except my imagination, and I have to stay within a certain subject matter. But you can put as much comedy as you want in the movie, as much romance or philosophy; anything, as long as you scare the bejesus out of people six or 10 times.”

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3

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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4

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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