Friday, 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!

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