Thursday, December 07, 2006


Arnold SchwarzeneggerDavid PatrickKristanna Loken
This week has witnessed a refreshing turn in the law school rankings game: shunning the summit for the vastly broader base. Bloggers have turned the spotlight on nonelite schools in connection with two distinct but ultimately related issues:
  1. First, Bill Henderson asks, "Where did high-end plaintiffs' lawyers go to law school?" The following graphic illustrates Bill's discovery:

    The striking disparity between the educational backgrounds of elite trial lawyers and those of elite corporate lawyers has spurred lively debate among other observers of legal education. Legal Profession Blog, Concurring Opinions, TaxProf Blog, and MoneyLaw itself have all joined issue. As noted elsewhere on MoneyLaw, Jeff Lipshaw and Alan Childress have turned this issue into a free-for-all at Legal Profession Blog. Do employment and tort lawyers within big firms exhibit some of the same traits vis-à-vis their coworkers as plaintiffs' lawyers exhibit relative to corporate lawyers?

  2. Meanwhile, Alex Long has suggested that fourth-tier law schools might need to take a different approach to the evaluation of professorial talent, given the reality that "the number of students who can be expected to teach themselves the law and the skill of thinking like a lawyer by themselves if necessary is likely to be lower" at what Alex calls a "Generic Fourth-Tier Law School."
In other words, the same schools that generate a disproportionately large number of plaintiffs' lawyers are also looking for arguably distinctive traits in the professors they hire. Let's call this group T4, short for either "tier 4" or "Terminator 4." To the elite layer of American legal academia, the balance of my analysis here says, "Hasta la vista, baby."

TerminatorJust how deep is T4? Brian Leiter may be correct that there are no more than 15 truly "national" and therefore "elite" law schools. And as Joseph Slater observes in commentary to Alex Long's post, every school outside the "top 5-10" understands how "other schools will outrank your school." The boundary between the elite layer of American legal education and "T4" may therefore be thinner than most of us might care to admit. At an extreme, T4 may consist of 180 law schools: all of the 195 schools accredited by the ABA, minus 15 truly elite institutions.

If the legal academy's preference for elite law school graduates is as deep and corrupt as this forum suspects, then the mismatch between the academy and the primary constituents of T4 institutions is extreme. Elite schools funnel their graduates toward large or very large law firms in major cities. Elite schools assume that their students can learn doctrine and pass the bar with no special assistance. Elite school graduates succeed not so much because of their education, but in spite of it. And most of all, elite schools exude a sense of academic nobility, the notion that the law school professoriate is the highest calling, short only of the federal appellate bench, to which a law school graduate can aspire.

Sarah ConnorThe reality for the majority of law school graduates -- perhaps more than 90 percent of them -- is considerably different. Upon graduating, they face formidable barriers to crossing geographic and professional boundaries. Distant markets and prestigious firms often lie beyond these students' reach, unless they are law review officers and graduate near or at the top. Graduates of T4 law schools are more likely to work in small-to-medium sized firms, in government, or in private enterprise. And yes, T4 alumni are likelier than their elite-school counterparts to represent plaintiffs. As Dave Hoffman observes at Concurring Opinions, graduates of less prestigious law schools pay a far steeper price, relative to their elite-school counterparts, for "passivity and laziness."

If elite-school graduates who find themselves teaching at -- much less managing -- T4 schools harbor any hope of doing right by their students, their first order of business lies in shedding the most arrogant aspects of elite-school training. T4 students have come to law school for pragmatic, professional purposes. They put a premium on law school instruction that they can translate immediately upon graduation into on-the-job success. Clinical education and skills training are afterthoughts at Harvard and Yale, or lagniappes at best. These things matter immensely in T4 institutions.

Terminator versus TerminatorMost of all, the two towers of post-graduation life for elite-school alumni -- bicoastal BigLaw practice and academia -- lie far from the grasp of many T4 graduates. In an ideal world, perhaps, they should not. Ours is not an ideal world. It therefore behooves T4 graduates to explore other paths to success. The plaintiffs' bar is one such path; the larger world of entrepreneurship is another. Because the graduates of T4 institutions have needs and face realities that few of their professors have ever confronted over the course of their own careers, proper stewardship of T4 law schools -- from the dean's office to the board of trustees and central university administration -- demands managerial vision and courage to transcend the limits that most legal academics blithely internalized as their own en route to earning a J.D. from an elite school.


Anonymous Alex Long said...

So, I guess we are all T4 now? Jim, for someone at the tony end of T4, you have a pretty good handle on the realities that confront students and faculties at the lower end.

12/07/2006 11:19 AM  

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