January 23, 2008

Misleading or Informing with Data about Graduates in Law Teaching?

We noticed a couple of weeks ago Michigan's surprising claims about alumni in law teaching, and now another reader has pointed out this from Columbia Law School:

Columbia Law School ranks third among law schools in the number of it's [sic] J.D. alumni in teaching positions at American law schools.

This is particularly striking, since after I called attention to Michigan's puffery, they revised the page to read:

Michigan ranks in the top 4 for the number of alumni teaching in U.S. law schools, and in the top 3 for tenure- and tenure-track positions.

Assuming both schools are using the same database (supplied by the AALS), then what it means is that if one looks at all those listed in the AALS directory--meaning clinical professors, legal writing instructors, various deans without academic positions, lecturers of various kinds, as well as emeritus faculty and regular tenure-stream academic faculty--Columbia has the third highest number of alumni listed, and Michigan has the fourth highest.  (Harvard is #1, and Yale is #2.)  When you look only at tenured and tenure-track faculty, then Michigan is #3 in total number of tenured and tenure-track faculty, while Harvard remains #1 and Yale #2.  This, of course, reflects those who graduated law schools from the 1940s onwards.

These results aren't surprising when one remembers that for much of the post-WWII period, Columbia was one of the top three law schools (up until the late 1960s, roughly), while Michigan was one of the top five (up until the 1980s, roughly).  Stanford emerged as a powerhouse in the 1960s (in part through raids on Columbia), while Chicago, long one of the top five or six, moved into the super elite ranks with the rise of law and economics, in which it played the pivotal role, in the 1970s. 

In addition, of course, Columbia and Michigan are nearly twice the size of Chicago and Stanford, meaning that they have graduated nearly twice as many students.  (Harvard is more than twice the size of Yale.)  As soon as you take that into account, you get the more familiar picture noted previously, and confirmed in more recent studies, in which Yale dominates (relative to its size) the market for law teachers, followed by Harvard, Chicago, and Stanford, and then a drop-off before the next cluster of schools, namely, Columbia, Michigan, NYU, Berkeley, and Virginia. 

Given the history, and the size differentials, the stats that Columbia and Michigan emphasize are not at all surprising.  This data is not, in short, wrong, but it is, arguably, a bit misleading to prospective students who have a strong interest in teaching careers.


January 23, 2008 in Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch, Rankings, Student Advice | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

January 11, 2008

Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch: University of Michigan Law School

I haven't run one of these in awhile, but having recently gotten a solicitation for money from my law school alma mater, Michigan, I decided to peruse the Law School homepage, only to find this:

The University of Michigan Law School is the international center for interdisciplinary legal scholarship and teaching.

It's not entirely clear what this means, since most of the world's law schools don't value "interdisciplinary legal scholarship and teaching" as highly as elite U.S. law schools do.  But even with respect to the U.S., the claim seems slightly preposterous.  What does Michigan mean to imply about Yale, Harvard, Chicago, Stanford, NYU, Columbia, and Berkeley, several of which could justifiably make the same claim?  Law and economics, for example, is still the most influential and prestigious area of interdisciplinary legal scholarship, yet Michigan has a very limited presence there (having one excellent senior faculty member, Omri Ben-Shahar, plus promising junior faculty, does not a law and economics powerhouse make!).  Michigan is very strong, indeed, in legal history, law and philosophy, and law and social science (economics excluded), among other areas, but it is not dominant in any of those fields.

Also surprising was this claim:

Whether measured by contribution to the number of law faculty hired in a given year or by the number of graduates who pursue academia, Michigan ranks in the top 5 of law schools.

I can't comment on the second claim:  it may well be that Michigan is in the top five for the number of graduates who try to pursue academia.  And while it used to be true that Michigan was clearly in the top five for both the gross and per capita number of graduates hired into law teaching, the most recent data (including some that I will publish later this year) suggests that this is probably not true any longer (Michigan will still be in the top ten, of course).

Having now called out some website puffery, let me conclude on a more positive note:  under Dean Evan Caminker, Michigan has done excellent hiring the last few years, and has completely rejuvenated a faculty that took a beating in the 1990s.  The recent studies of scholarly impact certainly bear that out (esp. when compared to earlier studies).  So Michigan is in great shape, even without the puffery!


January 11, 2008 in Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

November 08, 2007

Did you vote for the "Best Law Blog" yet?

If not, don't bother, since it's a pretty silly affair.  Even though the Volokh bloggers have been begging their readers (of whom, based on their site counter, there must be 20,000+ per day) to vote almost every day for the last week, they are still trailing David Lat's gossip blog, Above the Law, and have mustered only about 4,000 votes (and bear in mind you can vote once every day!).  But, really, who cares?  For intellectual content, Balkinization is pretty obviously the best of the law blogs listed, and remarkably, some equally substantial blogs with law-related content aren't even in contention as a choice (Becker-Posner most obviously).

UPDATE:  Mr. Lat seems to have the matter in perspective!


November 8, 2007 in Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch | Permalink | TrackBack (1)

October 25, 2007

Against "Law Porn"

Larry Ribstein (Illinois) comments.  Frankly, I'd rather read about faculty hires.


October 25, 2007 in Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch, Rankings | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

February 09, 2007

Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch: Why the University of Chicago Law School is NOT This Week's Winner

MOVING TO FRONT FROM 9/16/05, AS A COUPLE OF FOLKS HAVE NOMINATED THIS ONE LATELY.  I AM ALSO SWAMPED AT THE MOMENT, SO THIS IS EASIER THAN POSTING NEW MATERIAL!

============================================

Several folks have suggesed the University of Chicago Law School based on this:

The faculty is, by a wide margin, the most productive, widely cited, and influential law faculty in the country and perhaps the world.

Strong claims, to be sure, but given that every study of scholarly productivity and impact as measured by citations (over the last decade at least) does show Chicago to be #1 in the U.S., these appear to be true strong claims, and thus not cases of ludicrous hyperbole.  "Perhaps the world" is perhaps overreaching (I know of no relevant data), but at least they put in a "perhaps"!

UPDATE:  Len Cleavlin writes:  "As Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean is supposed to have noted: 'It
ain't bragging if you can do it.'  And that's what gets Chicago off the hook."


February 9, 2007 in Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

July 21, 2006

Sextonism Watch: Wake Forest University

At least this bit of wild hyperbole was internal puffery, but here it is (thanks to an anonymous informant):

Robert K. Walsh, dean of the Wake Forest University School of Law, announced recently that he plans to retire as dean next summer. Walsh, who will complete 18 years as dean in 2007, will remain at the School of Law as a full-time professor of law starting with the 2007-2008 academic year....

He has seen the School of Law through a major transition in faculty, with more than half of the current faculty joining the school during his tenure.

"I've been privileged to participate in developing the best law faculty in America," Walsh said.

This one tops UCLA's ludicrous claim to be "emerging as the strongest law faculty in America"!  Of course, we should allow a retiring Dean some over-the-top hyperbole, and acknowledge that during Dean Walsh's tenure the school's faculty was significantly strengthened, with strong additions like Michael Green (torts, products liability) from the University of Iowa, Mark Hall (health law) from Arizona State University (who was then retained in the face of an offer from Penn), Steve Nickles (commercial law) from the University of Minnesota, and Sidney Shapiro (administrative law) from the University of Kansas.  One of Dean Walsh's biggest coups was the recruitment of Michael Perry (constitutional law) from Northwestern University, though he has since left for a prestigious chair at Emory.  So kudos to Dean Walsh for significantly strenghtening the Wake Forest faculty, even if it is not the "best" in America.


July 21, 2006 in Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch | Permalink | TrackBack (1)

April 14, 2006

The "Over-Hyped Law School Press Release of the Year"?

A colleague elsewhere sent a link to this under the heading, above.  The title of the press release from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School conveys the flavor:  "Cooley’s Astounding Record-Breaking Pace Continues."  Astounding, indeed.


April 14, 2006 in Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

November 04, 2005

Sextonism Watch: The University of Texas School of Law (!?!?)

It was bound to happen!  A student, who asked to remain anonymous, writes:

I nominate the University of Texas as this week's violator.  Check out the hyperbole in the faculty introduction:

The University of Texas School of Law has long had one of the outstandingfaculties in the nation, both in terms of the scholarly distinction of the faculty members and their success in the classroom. UT's recent recruitment of leading senior scholars from Stanford, NYU, and Michigan has pushed the school in to the very top ranks of American law faculties.

"Very top ranks?"  According to whom?  Surerly even you would consider this an exaggeration.

To which I replied in relevant part:

Touche!  ...but, "very top ranks" is somewhat ambiguous:  if "very top ranks" means, top ten, then [with respect to faculty quality] it's not even hyperbolic; if it means Yale/Harvard/Stanford/Chicago, then it is.  Thomson ISI most recently ranked the Texas law faculty #2 in scholarly impact (which strikes me as suspiciously high, but that's a different matter), partly because of some of these new appointments.  So maybe there's a defense...

And, indeed, the full text from the faculty introduction does cite some pertinent supporting evidence:

Science Watch (2002), for example, now ranks the law faculty 5th in the nation for scholarly impact based on citations to faculty work. A 1996 Chicago-Kent Law Review study found that articles by Texas faculty were cited more often by the courts than articles by any other law faculty in the nation. More than one-third of the faculty is elected to the American Law Institute (one of the highest percentages of faculty membership in the nation). Texas is one of only nine law schools in the United States with four faculty elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the nation's most prestigious learned society.

In any case, the student generously replied:

Very fair response from someone whom I admire greatly.  Texas is certainly a terrific school, but as with others, seems to have used ambiguity to protect itself.  I didn't really bat an eye when I read the claim, given the quality of the school and the obvious Sextonism that abounds elsewhere, but I thought it made for interesting discussion...

If at one Sextonism extreme is UCLA, and at the other Chicago, then perhaps Texas falls somewhat closer to the Chicago end of the Sextonism spectrum.  Kudos to my correspondent for unearthing the evidence!


November 4, 2005 in Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

September 30, 2005

Sextonish Watch: New York University School of Law (Again!)

The Sextonism Watch goes back to the source, as it were, with this week's nomination from a professor who asked not to be named.  From the NYU Law School's announcement of its new capital campaign, the nominator singled out two remarks:

"The funds will be used to increase the size of the faculty by continuing to recruit and support the leading legal scholars in the nation and the world"

Once again, that old definite article pushes this into the realm of ludicrous hyperbole:  could one not say what is true, namely, that the school tries to hire leading legal scholars, sometimes even succeeding in hiring the leading scholars in certain areas (e.g., the recruitment of Joseph Weiler from Harvard)?  The second quote singled out by the nominator:

"We have offered an unequalled education in U.S. law in conjunction with an unmatched exposure to international legal systems"

An unequalled education in U.S. law?  What exactly does NYU think is going on at every other top law school?  Even putting aside NYU's rather bad reputation for the quality of teaching (such reputations are, of course, always hard to assess), isn't it rather clear that one gets a better education in law and economics, for example, at Chicago, Harvard or Yale?  A better education in constitutional law at Yale or Texas?  A better education in social scientific approaches to law at Berkeley, Michigan, or Cornell?  There are probably just two areas where NYU genuinely offers "unequalled" educational opportunities for students, namely, international law and tax.

To be fair, it should be noted that NYU has been on much better public behavior under Dean Revesz than it ever was under John Sexton, for whom these watches are, of course, named.  And these statements come, of course, from the announcement of a capital campaign, where it is necessary to excite donors through puffery.  If this kind of ludicrous hyperbole started turning up, again, in materials prepared for academics or students, one might worry that the Sextonism bug really was no longer dormant in Greenwich Village.


September 30, 2005 in Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

September 23, 2005

Sextonism Watch: The University of North Carolina School of Law

A student at a New York area law school writes:

Despite my affection for Chapel Hill, I'm nominating the UNC School of Law's website for this week's award.  Consider its claims: "Carolina Law's student body is among the most highly credentialed and intellectually diverse in America" and "Carolina Law's alumni network, as you might imagine, is one of the strongest to be found anywhere."

First, it's entirely unclear how anyone measures the intellectual diversity *of a student body* (as opposed to faculty).  Undergraduate major?  Fair enough, but I question if UNC has access to this data or has taken the time to run the analysis. The "most highly credentialed" claim is, on its face, wrong. Finally, while the alumni network is strong within North Carolina, one has difficulty finding UNC-trained lawyers in the major markets in the Northeast and West.

The Sextonism project is clearly valuable: When I was applying to law schools I would often be taken by this sort of language, assuming that no reputable law school would so wrongly inflate itself. Perhaps by ferreting out misrepresentations some schools will quit it.

Let's hope so!  I'll note that UNC's hyperbole is, of course, phrased in such a way that it admits of interpretations for which there may be support.  To say the student body is "among" some class of student bodies in terms of credentials and diversity is silent on the size of the class it is "among"--perhaps it is meant to include three or four dozen law schools?  To say the alumni network is one of the "strongest...to be found anywhere" might mean not that it is widely dispersed, but that it is unusual in its devotion to the school and its graduates.  (To be sure, the site follows up the claim about "strength" with this:  "Our graduates dominate the legal institutions of this state and occupy positions of leadership around the country and across the globe.") 

Of course, one suspects the ambiguity in the statements was not unwlecome, and that the New York student's reading of them is one of the natural ones.


September 23, 2005 in Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch | Permalink | TrackBack (0)