Friday, February 23, 2007

The Best Law School

In the immediately preceding, post Al Brophy draws our attention to an issue Bill Henderson rightfully directs at MoneyLaw contributors and others: how does one measure MoneyLaw success. Bill lists a number of possibilities ranging from bar results to the satisfaction of graduates. I have reproduced the list here but you should read his post for the other thoughtful comments it contains.

1.Bar passage (LSSSE adds a whole new layer of variables), including factors that reduce or eliminate any minority passage gap
2. Employment at graduation / Employed at 9 months (regressions published here)
3. Credentials of incoming students (regressions published here)
4. Annual giving (rate, average amount)
5. Career satisfaction of graduates
6. Satisfaction of major employers of graduates
7. Faculty participation in law reform / participation in successful law reform
8. Pro bono commitment of graduates

To me, Bill's list is somewhat weighted in the direction of the "rich get richer." Since there is no World Series to name a winner, we are all fishing around a bit for a measure of success but I worry about middle of the road state law schools with average LSATs of 162 or so, dedicated faculty, modest giving rates, and which struggle to place their students. Are they irrelevant? Here is why they are not.

1. When it comes to state law schools, one has to think in terms of the return to public investment. Items 7 and 8 pick up some of this and it is not clear how to measure it. Still, unless state law schools operate as perverse delivery systems for welfare payments to the middle class students and faculty, somewhere in the equation should be a consideration of how the graduates and faculty pay back those who pay the bills. Placement rates and starting salaries do not capture this factor.

2. A MoneyLaw school is an efficiency school -- getting the most out of what it has. Thus, factors like expenditure per student and credentials of entering students must be compared with what is ultimately produced. A small budget school with students who are unable to get into elite schools and which has a modest placement rate may be out-performing schools others regard as "top" schools. Unlike item 1, this one could be put to an empirical test.

As I have noted earlier, the search for a meaningful test of what a MoneyLaw school does probably has little to do with focusing on output measures alone. This strikes me as revising the USN&WR methodology. Instead it is best assessed by observing what takes place on a day to day basis.

The best law school may be one somewhere in the South, the Midwest or an urban area, spending modest amounts per student; and where faculty simply work hard, help each other, gossip little, and for whom national recognition is a secondary consideration.

(No music link but join me in humming The Band's "The Weight")


Blogger William Henderson said...


Perhaps we need an extended conversation to put some meat on the Moneyball/Moneylaw bone. I agree with the emphasis on efficiency and, for public schools, providing a return on investment.

But I think Moneylaw is--or ought to be about--moving the market. Students attend School X because it (a) improves the probability of passing the bar after controlling for entering credentials, (b) has a superior track record for placement in specific practice areas or geographic location, (c) engenders loyalty from employers because of the value added by law school curriculum, or (d) saddles students with lower debt than comparable schools (because of annual giving inspired by a great educational experience).

Andy Morriss and I have documented that students do trade down in rankings for cost and location. We also hypothesize that (a) students will also trade down in rankings for curriculum that produce better bar results or employment outcomes, (b) employers will discount rankings if shown evidence of better prepared and more mature graduates with better professional judgment.

Maximizing value for students can move the market; it can also, we believe, dramatically affect current and future alumni giving patterns--and possibly the willingness of the public to underwrite the law school enterprise. That is the key to building the franchise.

Sure, it is great to have a faculty that goes to workshops, read drafts, and can be found in the building at 10 am on a Friday. But how is that Moneyball/Moneylaw? To mind, it just sounds like a fully functional faculty under the existing law school paradigm (it is great, and I support it). But how will that change prospective student, employer, or alumni behavior? I am looking at MoneyLaw as an additional level of institution building. bh.

2/23/2007 12:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that what MoneyLaw advocates is the importance of performance, namely faculty (or potential faculty) peformance. I think that if you go back to the early postings by Jim Chen, then you will see that this is the basic claim. This seems simple, but of course, is actually quite complicated. But I believe that if we stay with the baseball analogy, we are looking for faculty who perform in ways that actually advance the school rather than relying factors such as prestigious backgrounds. In other words, "what have you done for me lately?"

Certain factors set forth by Bill H are going to largely be out of the control of faculty - at least out of their direct control. Perhaps one relevant question might be - what can faculty do to improve these factors? Do any of these factors lead the other factors to improve? For example, do higher bar passage rates lead to or influence the likelihood of better student undergraduate gpa/lsat scores? What can faculty do to influence either?

It is likely that steps can be taken to address these matters, but it will not be costless. Pouring money and faculty time into one typically draws attention away from other responsibilities and endeavors. Perhaps the pertinent question here is who is getting "the bang for the buck?" In certain situations it is the student who might benefit, or the taxpayers, or alumni, or lawfirms, etc. etc.

It may be that Moneylaw suggest a variety of world series winners depending on what one wants to accomplish and who one seeks to serve. For instance, USNWR proclaims some undergraduate institutions as "good deals" - this might be an appropriate ranking category for law schools. USNWR typically is geared to potential students, so it would mean "good deal" to students. Other good deal classifications may also be warranted.

To get back to the meaning of MoneyLaw - I think that what we are looking for is who is performing - and for many faculty that means research productivity. It seems to me that a very modest stab at this idea would be to engage in the type of sabermetric analysis that was the root Moneyball. One concern with such analysis is that institutional inertia (the rich get richer) and lateral hiring will obfuscate any gains that a school might make in MoneyLaw research performance. I think that one way to address this problem would be to actually set forth a "World Series" of law school research on a yearly basis. This would mean that, for better or worse, a school could make claims on being a leader/winner/champion when its faculty are prolific over a given time frame (e.g. a year, 3 years, etc.). True, high publishing faculty may be lured away by higher paying schools and there likely exists some institutional endogeneity in law review publishing, but such a yearly "world series of publishing" still seems preferable to some of the anecdotal assessments of schools' relative scholarly performance that we engage in at present.

2/23/2007 8:28 PM  

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