Tuesday, October 5, 2010
A prospective law student writes:
I'm a prospective student with interest in pursuing a career in law teaching who will be applying to law schools for this year's admissions cycle. I had a question that I was hoping you could answer. I think it might be general enough to merit a topic on your Law School Reports, if you have the time and inclination. If you've answered this already somewhere, my apologies, but I haven't been able to locate such an answer.
How do you think a student with an interest in pursuing a career in law teaching should weigh a given school's scholarly reputation in an area of interest to the student, versus its general success in producing new law teachers? Do you think that scholarly reputation in an area of interest should just be used as a tiebreaker when the schools are nearly equal in producing law teachers (e.g. choosing Berkeley over Virginia for a student interested in international/comparative law) or should it be given more weight than just as a tiebreaker (e.g. choosing Texas over Chicago for a student interested in a civil procedure field)?
Of course, there are several other factors to consider when choosing a law school, even for a student interested in pursuing a career in law teaching, but I still think information on the comparative weight of those two specific measures would be valuable.
First observation: placement in law teaching is spectacularly pedigree-sensitive, so overall strength as a feeder school into legal academia is the most important consideration. We recently completed a study looking at every post-1995 JD on the tenure-stream faculty of 43 leading law faculties (as measured by reputational surveys and/or scholarly impact). Of the nearly 400 faculty we looked at, 130 earned their JD from Yale, 115 from Harvard, 35 from Chicago, 33 from Stanford, 19 from Columbia, and 18 from Michigan. Far more telling is the so-called "per capita" rate (really the number of graduates in law teaching divided by average class size): Yale comes in with a .65, three times the rate of Harvard, Chicago, and Stanford (which range from .18 to .21); and these last three have more than three times the 'per capita' rate of Berkeley, Columbia, Michigan, and Virginia, and six time the 'per capita' rate of Duke and NYU. (These results were no different when we looked only at tenure-stream faculty at the top 18 faculties as measured by reputation and/or scholarly impact.) So anyone thinking of turning down one of the top feeders into legal academia needs to proceed with caution. (The full results of this study will be on-line at the ranking site later in the fall.)
Second observation: if you are going to give weight to strength in a specialty, make sure you have a reliable measure of strength on which to base your judgment. Is Berkeley really better than Virginia for international and comparative law? Maybe. Is Texas really better than Chicago for civil procedure? Maybe. But it's hardly obvious in either case. U.S. News rankings of specialties are generally unreliable; students should seek advice from law faculty specializing in the areas of interest.