July 11, 2007
Henderson and Morriss Reply Regarding U.S. News
I invited Professors Henderson and Morriss to reply to my criticism of their defense of U.S. News; their comments follow:
As Brian notes, many of the underlying inputs used by U.S. News, including the employment numbers (which are supplied by the schools to the ABA), are remarkably unreliable. This is an embarrassing problem that only the law schools and the ABA can solve. Yet, because of its dominant position, the value that U.S. News provides to applicants does not necessarily hinge on high quality data.
Specifically, in terms of employment prospects, U.S. News helps to coordinate the market for human capital: By enrolling in a highly ranked school, a student signals to employers that he or she has impressive intellectual ability; and employers in the market for that talent know where recruit. See Korobkin (1998); Korobkin (2006). Although we agree that overall U.S. News rankings cannot be defended as a measure of educational quality, the rankings are nonetheless correlated (albeit imperfectly) with future employment options. This information is clearly valuable to prospective students contemplating a 3-year, $100K+ investment.
We believe a lot of vitriol over the U.S. News methodology (which we saw firsthand at the Rankings sessions at the 2007 AALS meeting) is not really about the methodology, but rather the discomfort of being ranked at all. Indeed, U.S. News has ratcheted up the competition for students. Law schools can and should provide all information available to aid students in deciding how to make a major investment of time and money. (And the ABA has recently made a giant step in this direction. See here. [Ed.--see also here.]) With more information in the public domain—and perhaps more alternative rankings—prospective students will have the ability make more informed and targeted enrollment decisions. This dynamic will make U.S. News less influential; we think this would be a very good development.
If the U.S. News rankings went away tomorrow, law faculty would be better off, but not prospective students. Indeed, by placing its methodologically flawed ranking system into the stream of commerce, U.S. News is forcing the legal academy to disclose more information. (Note that in the late 1990s, the ABA-LSAC Official Guide was made more comprehensive and uniform in partial response to the outcry over the false information that was being submitted to U.S. News.) On that criterion, we are happy to defend the U.S. News rankings.
Two further thoughts of my own by way of reply. First, the Korobkin argument about the coordination function served by rankings (even a set of rankings based wholly (or in the case of U.S. News, partially) on nonsense criteria could perform such a function!) works only if those in the market for human capital--the sellers (the students) and the buyers (e.g., the elite firms)--pay attention to the rankings. There seems to be good evidence that the sellers pay attention, but I don't know of any evidence that the buyers do. (Maybe such evidence exists?) My impression--admittedly anecdotal, but accumulated over a long period of time--is that almost all legal employers operate with their own "internal" rankings of schools based on past experience, and that this trumps U.S. News and anything else. U.S. News only appears "imperfectly correlated" with these job market realities because it uses enough measures that track professional opinion among insiders. Second, if U.S. News stopped ranking schools tomorrow, how exactly would students be worse off? The job placement data the magazine reports is not reliable. There are now lots of ways to figure out that Columbia provides better job opportunities than, say, Cardozo (but did students really need U.S. News to figure that out ever?). So what exactly is lost? True enough, U.S. News will send some students to Washington & Lee over Illinois based on ranking differentials, but will they have really performed a service or simply misled students who might have made a better choice in the absence of the U.S. News nonsense number?
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Harvard Faculty Launch New Peer-Edited Journal
The Journal of Legal Analysis it will be called; the Harvard announcement is here. Given the editorial board, it seems vaguely like the Journal of Legal Studies, but the latter is so well-established it's hard to see why authors would prefer the former to the latter. And in an era when faculty edit Legal Theory, Law & Philosophy, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Journal of Law & Economics, American Journal of Legal History, and so on, it's hard to know what niche this will fill. Perhaps the idea is to get faculty to take the piece that might have gone to the Harvard Law Review and give it, instead, to the Journal of Legal Analysis. I certainly hope it succeeds.
July 10, 2007
A Separate Blog on Issues in Legal Philosophy
I have not generally tried to "do philosophy" on my blogs, though I have often linked to jurisprudential work by myself and others. But, as an experiment, I've created a new blog in which I'm going to work through some issues in legal philosophy. The posts will not be aimed at a generalist audience, but at specialists (students or scholars) in jurisprudence. The first substantive post discusses Brian Simpson's well-known paper on "The Common Law and Legal Theory." If writing up my thoughts or the comments on them proves instructive, I'll probably keep this up.
ABA Moves to Tighten Bar Pass Expectations for Law Schools
Story here; an excerpt:
For schools already accredited but undergoing a periodic review, the proposal would require them to meet one of two criteria. Under the first, they would need to show that in at least three of the most recent five years, first-time test takers passed at no more than 10 points below the first-time bar passage rates for graduates of other accredited law schools taking the bar in the same jurisdiction.
Also under the first criterion, schools in which more than 20 percent of their graduates take the bar exam for the first time in other jurisdictions would need to demonstrate that at least 70 percent of their first-time test takers passed during the two most recent bar-exam periods.
As an alternative to the first criterion, schools would need to demonstrate that 80 percent of their graduates who took the exam anywhere in the country passed within three attempts, within three years of graduation.
This would likely spell trouble for perhaps several dozen law schools that are currently accredited.
Is There Really a "Liberal" Wing of the Current Supreme Court?
Cass Sunstein (Chicago) comments. Terms like "liberal" and "conservative" function, in public discourse, like indexical terms: what they pick out depends on who the speaker is and where s/he stands.
July 9, 2007
Longtime DOJ Attorney Protests "Politicization" of the Department
July 6, 2007
Updated Student (Numerical) Quality Ranking
Here. Some readers, I learned, had been looking only at the 75th percentile ranking, and not the 25th. The new aggregate ranking, when compared to the others, should help make clear that some schools with high 75th percentile LSATs have relatively low 25th percentile scores.
July 5, 2007
In Memoriam: Robert Keeton (1919-2007)
Robert Keeton, the retired federal judge, longtime Harvard Law School faculty member, preeminent insurance law expert, and younger brother of torts giant W. Page Keeton, has died. The Harvard memorial notice is here.
July 3, 2007
Henderson and Morriss Rise (Wrongly!) to the Defense of U.S. News
William Henderson (Indiana) and Andrew Morriss (Illinois) have been doing quite interesting scholarly work on law school rankings, that I have had occasion to note before. But their recent "summary" of some of their work in the American Lawyer, cast as a "defense" of U.S. News, strikes me as misleading. They write:
U.S. News is influential among prospective students at least in part because the magazine does what the law schools don’t: give law students easy-to-compare information that sheds light on their long-term employment prospects. Law schools could easily supply that information themselves, but they choose not to.
Professors Henderson and Morriss are surely correct that the law schools ought to make the information available; but they themselves know it is false that U.S. News gives students information that "sheds light on their long-term employment prospects," since the employment data in U.S. News is all self-reported by the schools, and as Professors Henderson and Morriss themselves have shown, of dubious accuracy (I call the employment stats a "work of the imagination," which is the most charitable thing that can be said). In effect, Professors Henderson and Morriss soon acknowledge the point:
We found that rather than work to provide applicants with the kind of information they say they want and need, law schools tend to report information in a manner that undermines the applicants’ ability to engage in meaningful comparative assessments on measures that matter. These practices, which range from puffery to borderline deceit, are all aimed at improving their U.S. News rankings. As a result, even as the rankings have become more important, they have become less reliable.
This implies that the comparative employment data in U.S. News may have been reliable in the past, which I rather doubt, though in the past carelessness in reporting together with massaging of the data by U.S. News was more of a problem than deceit and trickery, which has come to the fore as the rankings have become more influential. But having conceded this point, Professors Henderson and Morriss ought not to cast their message as one in defense of U.S. News: it isn't defensible, and they know it!
I, of course, applaud Professor Henderson and Morriss's suggestion for the ABA to start leaning on law schools to make available meaningful data--though, once again, the accuracy of the reporting will be an issue, though the ABA has more sticks by which to ensure truthfulness than does U.S. News.
July 1, 2007
South Korean Cyber-bullies to be Stripped of Their Anonymity
Story here. In the US, of course, there exist only private remedies against Internet sociopaths and misogynistic freaks who hide behind anonymity. I suppose time will tell which is the better approach.