Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Guest Blogger: Law School Almanac

I'm Michael Shaffer, the author of Law School Almanac. Jim Chen seems to think that my fetish for strange new law school rankings will make fun reading for the regulars at MoneyLaw, so I'll be posting a few things and taking questions here for the next couple of weeks. Jim has also kindly offered to host some files with all of the raw data behind my site, for anyone who wants to download and use it. Soon you should find links here to Excel workbooks with most of the data you see in less accessible form over there.

To be honest, I had no idea that anyone was even aware of LSA, other than the handful who have commented on posts from time to time. So I'm a bit in the dark about what, if anything, anyone besides Jim thinks of it. For my first few posts here, I'll try to address some questions that I imagine people might have about the site, including:

- Are you nuts?
- Why did you do this?
- So what does all this data tell us?
- What does it not tell us?
- Seriously though -- are you nuts?

Please add any questions you have as comments on this post, and I'll do my best to respond. I also welcome any criticisms, concerns, and ideas provoked by the data or by my attempts to make some sense of it.


Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/08/2008 11:31 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/08/2008 11:32 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Wow, George Mason and Washington & Lee took real hits in the rankings.

As did Yale.

Guess it makes me have more questions than answers.

7/12/2008 9:10 PM  
Blogger Michael Shaffer said...

Thanks for the comment, Stephen. I certainly understand and agree with that impression.

I should also point out that the "overall" rankings were the last thing I did with the data I collected. In most ways I think they're also the least useful and enlightening. In fact as I worked on new things, I composed several versions of overall rankings over the past couple of years. And each time I did, I wound up feeling that they were not really worth the trouble.

I was also, to be honest, a little embarassed by Michigan's placement in the overall rankings. I almost decided not to bother with them for that reason alone, since I felt that might almost wholly negate any credibility they may have. In the end I decided to throw them out there, only because I thought some people might have the desire to see how schools compare on all the factors combined.

I think that's the main lesson of them really, and it's the reason for one of the rules I tried to follow in putting all the data together -- Disclose Detail. The main value of the overall rankings may be simply getting all the numbers together on one page, to make it easier to browse them.

What really matters in my view is looking at what the factors altogether say about where a school may be strong or weak. They might be useful as a point of departure, but I'm not sure they're anything more than that. I have much more to say about particular holes in the data, and reasons to question all of the results, including these. But I'll go into all that in future posts.

7/12/2008 10:04 PM  
Blogger Michael Shaffer said...

Guess it makes me have more questions than answers.

And when I think about it, I'm actually happy to read that you felt that way. I believe that the true purpose of any system of ranking or scoring, particularly of institutions as important as law schools, should be to leave the reader of them asking, "Why?"

If any of the rankings on my site do nothing more than give readers valid reasons to ask "why," then I would say that they have done as much as they should, and maybe as much as they could even hope to do well. And if they did not do that, then I would think that they had failed.

Why does this school land in this spot? In what aspects is it weak or strong? Why does it seem strong in all of these aspects -- or strong in none of them? Why these factors at all? Why should I care?

Are the schools in the first quartile of these rankings Schools That I May Want to Check Out? Are those in the last quartile Schools That I May Want to Avoid? Maybe. Or maybe not. It all depends on why.

In the end, I hope that these rankings show, if nothing else, the value of taking the time to form some standard of value in legal education that means something to you, and of using the data available to examine how schools meet that standard.

I looked for data on those aspects of schools that meant something to me. And after I was done, I published them with the idea that maybe others who had similar values would find them of use. Those with other values ought, and I hope will, find ways to view these same schools which will serve their ends rather than mine.

7/13/2008 2:01 AM  

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