Saturday, January 26, 2008

Mission: Impossible?

Tom Cruise in M:i/III
Cinematic experience notwithstanding, Bill Henderson is far, far hotter than Tom Cruise. In a thoughtful and persuasive blog post, Benchmarking Law School Performance: Why Law Professors and Deans Should Care, Bill makes a compelling case that law schools should use the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) as a key tool in educational administration.

He rests his case on two distinct grounds. The first is a variation on one of the ELS Blog's leading themes, that the world can almost always be understood in terms of quantifiable data, and that smart people are well advised to pay attention to those data:
[In] a typical for-profit business, a CEO with standard MBA training would be ecstatic if over 50 percent of her customers — all college educated with relatively high analytical aptitudes — had taken 15 minutes of their time to evaluate their experience with the school/company during the last year. Even more potent is the availability of aggregate-level data for key industry rivals. This information enables the school/company to identify ways to be better/faster/stronger than rivals with comparable inputs.
As Bill says, this is straightforward managerial wisdom: "this is all just Six Sigma, or TQM 101 — i.e., an iterative data- and theory-driven focus on quality outputs."

This particular post draws most of its persuasive power from a qualitative rather than quantitative source: Bill's statement of the basic mission of legal education — including his identification of the mental and temperamental barriers that keep many (if not most) law professors from grasping that mission:
Bill HendersonLaw professors are the most skeptical and argumentative lot imaginable. When empirical data is presented that challenges a well entrenched view, law professors query whether the sample or methodology can really be trusted — lack of statistical knowledge is rarely an impediment to this line of objection. This is a great mindset if we are engaged in a winner-take-all adversarial contest. But it not the right approach for building a great institution. . . .

For those law faculty who would dismiss . . . detailed market intel in favor of their own vision of a great law school, typically without any empirical data to assess actual progress, that path is fraught with problems. As the price of legal education rises faster than the earning power of most law school graduates, law school applicants are declining. Further, we can expect those students who do apply to be more discriminating consumers. . . .

Legal education is not about turning a profit or maximizing prestige . . . . [I]t is about educating highly competent, ethical lawyers who carry forward the highest ideals of the profession.
Do it now: read Bill Henderson's case for using law school benchmarks.


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