Thursday, May 24, 2007

How Do We Know If We're Winning?

In thinking about coming on board here, I talked to a number of my colleagues about this blog. I usually describe the blog as "How would Billy Beane run a law school?" The people who got it really got it. The people who didn't...

So for my first substantive post, I wanted to go back to that foundational idea: If Billy Beane or Jim Chen or Nancy Rapoport or Joe Torre were running a law school, how would we be able to tell if he or she was doing a good job?

Jim wrote the other day about how he hopes one day to read the dullest newspaper paragraph imaginable; one that proclaims that his law school admitted a qualified class, taught them well, prepared them for the bar and sent them out into the legal profession ready for the challenges they would face.

We could agree that that the dean of such a school was the manager of a winning team, couldn't we? Maybe. The newspaper article said nothing about the diversity of the class that this law school graduated; it didn't mention that the students had received ethics training beyond that required for accreditation; it did not describe the law school's commitment to providing lawyers for under-served communities. I mention all of these additional criteria not because I think they are more important than the criteria Jim listed. I mention them because, unlike in baseball, it's harder in our world to tell when a "team" is "winning". The criteria that Jim mentions are certainly good ones, but they're not the only ones.

Furthermore, even if we could agree that this was a winning team, how much credit should the dean get for that success? The dean of a successful law school might be a lot like Yankees' manage Joe Torre: she might simply have much better "players" to manage than do the deans at other schools. Torre is the beneficiary of a team built with the highest payroll in baseball and some portion of his success as a manager is attributable to the fact that he has better raw materials to work with than do his peers. No one attributes the success of Yale Law grads principally or even primarily to the quality of the dean. Most of us assume that the students there came in ready to achieve and that little of their subsequent success can be fairly attributed to the person who happened to be dean during their three years in New Haven.

A school with a low bar pass rate might be doing wonders with a student-body with very low predictors; a school without an impressive record of scholarly achievement by its faculty might be truly dedicated to teaching every student. Couldn't the deans at these schools claim at least as high a level of performance as the dean of the school described in the newspaper? And couldn't they claim a lot of the credit for that performance?

In baseball the goal is to win more games than the other guy. The New York Yankees are 9.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox this morning. This means that the Red Sox are doing better than the Yankees. (Or does it? If the Yankees are turning a tidy profit for their owners, does anyone besides the fans care that the Yankees are underperforming on the field?)

So this raises all sorts of questions: Who decides what a win is in our field? Should the faculty be able to set its own goals? Should the university? Alumni? The practicing bar? Furthermore, how much credit for success fairly goes to the dean when a school achieves these goals? How much of the blame when it doesn't?

2 Comments:

Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

This has been an overriding Moneylaw issue. It is so important that it leads to the question of whether Moneylaw -- except in hiring decisions -- can be part of an overall law school behavioral model.

5/25/2007 9:30 AM  
Blogger sam kamin said...

Jeff --

I'm actually preparing a post on another area where I think Moneylaw can play an important role -- admissions. So near as I can tell this is a relatively under-explored area on the blog so far.

5/25/2007 10:56 AM  

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