March 24, 2010

So You Want A Law School: Merger vs. Startup

If there's one thing that's clear, it's that lots of colleges and universities covet a law school. The reasons vary. For research universities, a law school serves to complete a portfolio.  For smaller schools, it can place them on the map.  And finally, there are a few schools that are simply built to make money.  At the moment an institution decides to start down the law school path, it has to face a crucial choice: start-up or merger.  For-profits and smaller non-profit schools usually have little choice but to start fresh; few existing law school see a benefit from linking up with these smaller fish.   I want to focus a bit on bigger institutions: private research universities and state universities.  They can choose to build or merge.

Consider four schools in this category which have recently made the big move.  Drexel and UC Irvine decided to start new schools; UMass and UNH have started down the path of merger (with Southern New England and Franklin Pierce, respectively.)  What are the pros of each path?

The biggest advantage to a start-up is faculty quality.  You can build a great law school when you start from scratch in this market (particularly when you're located in an attractive place).  UCI has gone with a senior, and highly productive, startup crew.  The reputational payoff has been immediate: based on their prior work, Brian Leiter slates their faculty number 9 in his recent scholarly impact ranking.  Drexel has tilted strongly toward junior faculty - but (in all immodesty) it's a superb group in terms of both paper credentials and intellectual and scholarly chops.  (While I'm clearly biased, I encourage readers to test my claim.)  It would have been near impossible for either UCI or Drexel to have acquired an existing faculty of comparable quality.

Another big plus for a start-up is the ability to create both an agenda and a culture.  Consistent with current critiques of legal education, both Drexel and UCI have strongly emphasized the value of skills training.  At the same time, both are deeply interdisciplinary in approach and dog-on-the-bone about producing high-end scholarship.

Why might a school choose to merge?  The first obvious answer is lower front-end transaction costs.  You already have an administration.  Starting a new law school is incredibly time consuming for both faculty and administrators, and inevitably involves driving through a lot of potholes.  You also already have a faculty, which means you don't need to spend five years in endless job talks.  And a merger might even obviate the need for costly real estate development...although UMass and UNH have presunably planned for some significant building costs.  

You also acquire an alumni base which could potentially help with both fundraising and job placement.  You carry forward your existing reputation with employers.  (This could be a plus or minus, of course, depending on the school.)  If you merge with an ABA accredited school you may score an additional benefit: avoiding any period  where you lack the ABA imprimatur.  Even if you have a one year accreditation gap, students are likely to be less anxious knowing that the school once was, and thus likely will be, accredited. 

Mergers make sense for schools that want to add a fully grown law school quickly.  Start-ups make sense for universities who want greater control over the nature and quality of their law school. 

To be sure, there are many, many more considerations.  For example, as in the case of UMass Dartmouth, a merger was the only realistic way in which that campus would gain a law school.  If UMass were to have considered a start-up, it almost certainly would have been placed at either the Boston or Amherst campus.   New Hampshire has a limited capacity to absorb another law school.  If UNH had chosen a start-up, it would have been forced into a (costly) battle with Pierce for the best students - which could have produced two losers.

-- Dan Filler (cross-posted at The Faculty Lounge)

March 24, 2010 in Navel-Gazing, Of Academic Interest | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

January 06, 2010

ABA Blawg Voting Ends...

...and Blog Emperor Caron, who seems to care about these things, has the results.  The most striking thing about the results to my mind is this:  although Blog Emperor Caron repeatedly harangued his readers to please, please, please vote for his blog, he garnered just 80 votes, while the proprietor of this blog, who never once mentioned this poll, got 35 votes without even trying (thanks to loyal readers who went to the trouble).  Draw your own conclusions!

January 6, 2010 in Law in Cyberspace, Navel-Gazing, Rankings | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

October 23, 2009

Sorry for the dearth of postings...

...but I've been on the road much of the last week.  More soon!

October 23, 2009 in Navel-Gazing | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

October 02, 2009

"Rethinking the Genealogy of Morals"

I'll be busy with this conference today and tomorrow, so don't expect much new before Monday.

October 2, 2009 in Navel-Gazing | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

July 28, 2009

"Naturalizing Jurisprudence"

Now everyone will surely want their own copy!

July 28, 2009 in Jurisprudence, Navel-Gazing | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

July 15, 2009

Since you really wanted to know which blogs by law professors had the most traffic,

Blog Emperor Caron will tell you.  But he omits the key statistic:  average visit length!  Could it be because mine is generally one minute thirty seconds, and his is only thirty seconds?   Eat your heart out, Paul!

July 15, 2009 in Navel-Gazing, Rankings | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

June 23, 2009

A new look for the blog

There are still some kinks to be worked out, including the fact that a very old post about Illinois admissions has showed up at the top.   Patience please!  Thanks.

June 23, 2009 in Navel-Gazing | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

June 04, 2009

This blog wordled...

Wordle: Leiter Law School

June 4, 2009 in Navel-Gazing | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

May 15, 2009

"Why Tolerate Religion?" Finally Appears in...

...Constitutional Commentary (the Spring 2008 issue just came out a month or so ago)Given the substantial interest in the SSRN version, I thought I'd note it's finally out, citable etc.  I may yet turn the article into a short book, so more feedback is also welcome.

May 15, 2009 in Navel-Gazing | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

January 20, 2009

"Why Blogs Are Bad for Legal Scholarship"

It turns out that this little throwaway piece I wrote for a Yale Law Journal Pocket Part symposium several years ago remains "the most popular item" on the Pocket Part site.  I guess it is being viewed by lots of angry bloggers or non-blogging skeptics or both!

January 20, 2009 in Navel-Gazing | Permalink | TrackBack (0)