Jeff Harrison's most recent post, Law schools and competitive markets, hints that law schools differ in their ability to compete, particularly during times of financial hardship. Jeff also suggests that the extent to which a law school is being operated for its shareholders -- and the magnitude of the success attained in that enterprise -- can be measured. These observations form the basis for a meaningful exercise in MoneyLaw.
As writers in this forum so often do, I turn to baseball. The late Doug Pappas developed a brilliant metric for assessing the efficiency of Major League baseball teams. As Doug explained in 2004:
The easiest way to measure front office efficiency is simply to divide a club's payroll by its wins to come up with "dollars per win." However, neither side of this equation reflects reality. The worst team a club can field won't go 0-162, and despite some owners' best efforts, it's impossible to spend $0 on a major league roster. It's then necessary to look at marginal wins and marginal payroll.All that it takes to translate Doug Pappas's marginal payroll/marginal wins formula for use in legal education is to develop analogous metrics for payroll and wins.
The Marginal Payroll/Marginal Wins (MP/MW) system evaluates the efficiency of a club's front office by comparing its payroll and record to the performance it could expect to attain by fielding a roster of replacement-level players, all of whom are paid the major league minimum salary. The formula is:(club payroll - (28 x major league minimum) / ((winning percentage - .300) x 162)The left side of this formula assumes that a replacement-level club would play .300 ball. That translates to 48.6 wins in a 162-game season, which before the 2003 Tigers was worse than any actual major league club since the institution of the amateur draft. [Editors' note: The 2003 Tigers went 43-119, good for a .265 record.] The previous low was the 52-110 (.321) record of the NL's two 1969 expansion clubs, the Expos and Padres, who began play with no minor league system, no way to sign free agents, and no players any other NL club really wanted to keep. After subtracting the replacement-level .300 winning percentage from the club's actual winning percentage, the resulting number is multiplied by 162 to calculate the number of marginal wins over a full 162-game season. This adjusts the formula for strike-shortened seasons and clubs which fail to make up a postponed game or two.
The next two posts in this series will undertake these tasks. First, I will ask what it would cost to run the most threadbare law school that would manage to secure and retain ABA accreditation. That figure would represent legal education's equivalent of the Major Leagues' minimum payroll.
I will then tackle the more difficult task of defining "wins" in legal education. No matter how many law professors imagine themselves as the primary stakeholders in the existing university rankings game, students and their eventual employers are the true primary consumers of academic rankings. Since any effort to define academic "wins" is tantamount to proposing a different set of rankings, for purposes of this exercise, we might as well have the rankings we want. I propose student metrics mark the threshold of ABA accreditation: true employment rates (preferably at graduation), bar passage rates, and the like. A school performing at that level, and no better, would be legal education's equivalent of the 1969 Expos, the 1969 Padres, or the 2003 Tigers.
Establishing those two baselines will enable us to gauge individual law schools' performance by some sort of marginal budget/marginal performance metric. How much does each school spend, relative to the absolute minimum needed to secure ABA accreditation, to move its outcomes by some measurable margin beyond that threshold?
Ours, after all, is an unfair academic game. Some schools are simply richer than others. It is equally true that some schools make more of their wealth, however limited or extensive it might be, than comparably situated counterparts. In legal education as in baseball, wins count. In a world of scarcity, though, how a school attains those wins, and how much it spends getting there, are pivotal questions.