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Monday, July 21, 2008

Is Chicago a Super-Elite School...and Better than Yale?

For the last two weeks, I have been blogging about the annual U.S. News survey of law professors, lawyers, and judges, and how we might use that survey to create a real race to the top in legal education. On Thursday, I offered a sample "Voters' Guide" to the U.S. News survey that focused specifically on what I called the "super-elite market" -- the schools from which the very best law students can choose, and which also happen to be the top three in the U.S. News rankings: Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.

Two things have occurred to me since, though, that caused me to rethink the precise definition of this market. One is that I got a lot of interesting reactions to my posts, with one common reaction coming from my terrific colleague and friend, Christian Turner. Before joining us in the great red state of Georgia, Turner was the president of the Stanford Law Review, and then lived in this old, hollowed-out industrial town in Connecticut for a few years where he worked for a firm with lots of Yale grads, and also clerked for a man who is a federal appellate judge by day, and a legendary Torts professor at Yale... also by day, and whose first name, if I'm recalling correctly, rhymes with "Speedo". So Turner has a unique perspective on all this, and made the point that there can be different kinds of schools for different kinds of students with different kinds of goals, and that's probably a good thing. None of which I disagree with.

Implicit in this is the idea that not everyone who goes to a top school wants to go work at Cravath or Skadden right afterwards, and if they're lucky enough to not be in as much debt as some of their colleagues, maybe they won't have to. So let's think about such prospective law students: superstars at elite colleges and universities, theoretical bent, not sure whether they want to practice law but might for a while, might well want to be a law professor someday, gee it would be great to clerk on the Supreme Court. A few college friends who ended up going to Yale come to mind. So I started thinking: if someone like that were to ask my advice on where to go to law school, what would I say?

The other thing is, I started thinking about Brian Leiter again, as I often do (note to wife: time to consult a divorce lawyer), and I thought: what would Leiter think of my super-elite market definition?

I don't think my alma mater, Columbia, or NYU has enough of the intellectual students I'm talking about, and Northwestern seems to increasingly be marketing itself as the elite training ground for business lawyers. I think Northwestern's efforts are terrific, but it doesn''t get them into this super-elite club. It did occur to me, though, that Leiter might think I'm leaving someone out, and that just might be a smallish private school -- like Yale and Stanford -- in the neighborhood of Hyde Park and the city of Chicago.

So how does the University of Chicago compare? It's got the superstar faculty, intense intellectual atmosphere, top students. Are the students engaged and satisfied with the education there? Now I've acknowledged that Stanford's high student satisfaction ratings might be a product of better weather, sunnier outlook in Palo Alto as compared to New Haven. But the weather ain't so great in Chicago either, as I understand it, and the environment is pretty intense there, and yet the Chicago students' feelings about the teaching there are, shall we say, much closer to Stanford, and highly distinguishable from Yale.

Princeton Review survey (scale from 60 to 99) says:
Stanford: Professors Interesting: 98. Professors Accessible: 97.
Chicago: Professors Interesting: 99. Professors Accessible: 90.
Harvard: Professors Interesting: 82. Professors Accessible: 63.
Yale: Professors Interesting: 69. Professors Accessible: 67.

So what would I say to the superstar, theoretically-inclined prospective law student? That Yale is at best the third choice for aspiring Supreme Court clerk/law professors, behind Stanford and Chicago, and unless you take a lot of clinical credits, you are not going to get much "value added" to prepare you to practice law either, relative to the education you'd get at other institutions.

Remind me, fellow law professors, lawyers and judges, why do we keep ranking Yale the No. 1 law school in America? Yes, they have a darn good faculty in terms of scholarly productivity and impact -- is the faculty that much better than Stanford and Chicago such that their education can be worse, and they still get a "5" in the rankings survey?

It's time for a change. Vote "3" (max) for Yale in November's U.S. News survey. Because we're competitive, gosh darn it, even though we're supposed to be more collaborative, and so it's not OK that the Carnegie Foundation studied legal education as part of a comparative study of professional education that has also been looking at the training of doctors, nurses, clergy, and engineers, and concluded that -- well, they put it more nicely than this but -- we kind of suck.

Because it's time to send a message that law schools need to do a better job of educating lawyers. And we can send that message and create a race to the top on educational quality by rewarding those law schools who really add value for students, and punishing those who don't. As one well-known Hyde Park resident says, "Yes we can." And with your help, yes we will.

Posted by Jason Solomon on July 21, 2008 at 12:01 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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Comments

You aren't holding consistently to the things you think a law school should do. You claim that Yale shouldn't be #1 anymore because of its failures to train lawyers, but you claim Chicago should be in consideration because of its ability to do well with the super-elite, the people who don't want to be lawyers. (By the way, I'm one of those who considers "elite" to be a bad thing. Call me a Harrisonite.)

Anyway, if you're interested in being super-elite, don't things like faculty placement matter? Doesn't the fact that Yale places an absurd percentage of its (small) graduating class in academia matter?

Also, you don't *think* NYU has enough of the super-intellectual students that the other schools have? What evidence? Columbia, fine, you spent three years there, so maybe you have some insight; Northwestern, yeah, they're marketing themselves as a law firm feeder school. But NYU is just what you "think"?

And why did you only think about these four schools? What about Berkeley, with its lack of grades, its JSP program, and its admissions emphasis on grades instead of LSAT's? Shouldn't they be in this conversation as well? As long as we're just going on what we think schools might be like?

Posted by: Jason Wojciechowski | Jul 21, 2008 1:20:27 AM

Why on earth does anyone believe there are differences at that level of granularity anyway? Does anyone on earth really believe that their lives will go less well because they went to the #3 school for X purpose rather than the #2 school? Seriously? Anyone even slightly rational?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jul 21, 2008 2:49:50 AM

Why on earth does anyone believe there are differences at that level of granularity anyway? Does anyone on earth really believe that their lives will go less well because they went to the #3 school for X purpose rather than the #2 school? Seriously? Anyone even slightly rational?

I believe there are differences at that level of granularity. I was a student at Harvard and a visiting professor at Chicago a decade later, and I thought the education was very different in substance and style. And if you're a student hoping to do things like teach law, it is significantly easier to do from Yale than at other schools.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure I am "on earth," but whether I am "even slightly rational" is left as an exercise for the reader.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jul 21, 2008 3:04:37 AM

I second some of JW's comments above, only I would go further. What kind of silliness is it to define a "super-elite" category of law schools based on your memory of what students were like at Columbia more than five years ago and that there weren't a sufficient number of "intellectual students I'm talking about," measured against students from schools with which you have no familiarity?

How about let's create a "super-super elite" (after all, that would be more "granular"). Each school will be in its own level of elititude, with Yale (presumptively) king. Then we can subdivide further using the Solomon scale -- the "intellectual students I'm talking about" at Yale will be divided out from the rest of the Yale ignormai, to create a "God's own chosen elite" category. We can call the whole system "Solomon's scholastocracy."

This is a waste of time, and possibly worse -- an exercise in snobbishness and intellectual hauteur for its own sake.

Posted by: anon | Jul 21, 2008 7:23:42 AM

This series of posts is convincing me of only one thing: the futility of its project.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Jul 21, 2008 7:46:24 AM

JW, my mkt definition is based on which service providers compete for the same consumers (students). I understand why you think this post seems a bit inconsistent re: how to assess schools (prep for law teaching v. practice), but I was trying to respond to argument that Yale, for example, was really designed for future law teachers, by evaluating it on that basis.

If I were to do the actual recommended rating I did before, for example, Chicago would have a problem with fact that, according to Princeton Review, limited space in clinics, hard to get credit for practical experience. So maybe they'd get a "4" instead of a "5" based on currently available info. Now, whether Chicago or Berkeley should be in there, or other schools, I don't know -- this is explicitly intended as an "information-forcing device," like other rankings systems. See Baker, Choi, and Gulati, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=649083

James Grimmelmann, quite prepared to listen to alternatives of how to assess relative educational quality, but I think it's fairly pernicious actually to say we can't assess quality at all. Certainly your dean has been an outspoken practitioner of adding value and assessing schools on that basis, see e.g. his introduction to the 2007 LSSSE report, http://lssse.iub.edu/2007_Annual_Report/index.cfm, and I'm guesing NYLS might look pretty good on such a measure against its competitors. Not that you have to agree with either things your dean has said or your school's self-interest, of course.

Generally, on this is all stupid and elitist -- I couldn't care less who's where at the top of the rankings and don't expect you to have read all of my overly long posts -- but this whole exercise is to explore the possibility of using the U.S. News rankings to create a race to the top throughout legal education, where schools actually compete on the quality of the service they provide to students. Nothing elitist about that.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 21, 2008 9:02:49 AM

I agree with anon that this is an exercise in snobbishness. First, the detailed description of your colleague's elite credentials in paragraph #2 (and yours in #4) was unnecessary to make your point. Second, who cares about being "super-super elite" anyway? This whole series of posts makes me think about the students at UGA and other good schools lower in the so-called pecking order. How do law profs with super-elite (or just elite) pedigrees view these folks? I predict that there's a bit of "I'm elite, you're not; so I'm necessarily better/smarter/sharper than you...." Finally, a fair number of students do not choose to attend the highest ranked law school to which they're admitted (or could gain admission). Money, spouse/family, location, and all sorts of factors can play a role.

Posted by: anon#2 | Jul 21, 2008 9:10:51 AM

I'm sorry, Professor Solomon, but your last comment doesn't persaude me. I should say first that, at least in my view, there's nothing wrong with 'elitism' per se in this kind of exercise, provided one's methodology of student selection makes sense. And that, for me, is the problem.

You have argued in this and at least one previous post for a new category of law school -- the "super-elite." Your methodology of selection, in this post, is that super-elite students are "superstars at elite colleges and universities, theoretical bent, not sure whether they want to practice law but might for a while, might well want to be a law professor someday, gee it would be great to clerk on the Supreme Court." And you then go on to say that based on your three years at Columbia and your no years at NYU (or Michigan, or Berkeley, or Boston College, or whatever), there are not a sufficient number of students at these other schools that want these things to qualify them for "super-elite" status.

I agree that the qualities you identify are *some* of the qualities that we might think of (rightly) as elite -- in the sense that a very many people want them, they are highly esteemed, and they are in short supply. But I think your position that students outside of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Chicago don't fit this bill is bogus, and one based on no (or very infirm and unreliable) evidence, at least so far as you have presented it. Don't you think that there are a large number of students at Columbia or NYU (or ...) that have a theoretical orientation, might not want to practice law forever, might want to teach, and ("gee") might like to clerk for the Supreme Court? If not, why not? What are all of these students who aren't at the top four schools missing? Whatever it is, you haven't identified it in these posts. So that what your proposal comes down to is creating hyper-refined categories of students where there are no such categories, based on criteria that you've come up with and have decided, all on your own, that students at most schools -- even most top schools --don't meet. If many students at some of these other schools do already meet your criteria (as I suspect a very many do), then what is this exercise for?

That's why I think you are tinkering around too much, and the reason for my previous post (my apologies for the drippy sarcasm, which shouldn't have been there). Your methodology is out of whack (there may not be a viable methodology), and lends itself to further, castles-in-the-sky type refinements -- a super-duper-elite, a God's chosen elite, and so on, until we are left with a single kid atop the mountain.

Posted by: first anon | Jul 21, 2008 9:49:35 AM

Apologies in advance for the long comment. I think the focus on "eliteness" is misplaced and is driving the focus away from Jason's main point - which ultimately is that educational quality ought to be paramount in at least one set of widely disseminated rankings - and that students would be well-advised to consult such a ranking system when choosing schools.

It's not that I disagree with this in principle, but I'm very skeptical of two claims: (1) that we have objective and reliable measures of educational quality and (2) that we, and more importantly students, know what it means.

This post is really intended, I think, to go to the second point - that different kinds of students will be looking for different kinds of legal education. They will do so because they have different career goals. I objected to Jason's first few posts which seemed to me to suggest, though this is a bit hyperbolic to make my point, that there was an uncontested and uniform notion of "legal practice" such that we could uncontroversially measure a student's "preparation for practice" after law school. Here, Jason acknowledges that not all students want to hone the particular skills needed to hit the ground running at big (or small) law. Many do, but some don't.

Unless it's the case that certain legal educational practices are best for producing a wide range of preparation, it should be clear that we, in the legal academy, should aim to provide different strokes for different folks. But we can offer this diversity within each law school, perhaps with some schools more heavily favoring certain paths over others. Like "first anon," above, I think many, many schools should be prepared to meet the needs of students with an interest in theory. I'm just not convinced (yet) that our current array of content and methods is as bad and in need of reform as some suggest (that is, with the exception of the single, high stakes final exam). That many students are unhappy in law school *is* a source of great concern for me, but my guess is that this problem isn't strongly related to in-class methods or content.

And to anon2: While I certainly can't speak for everyone in law teaching, I do not for one minute ever regard myself as superior to my sudents because of the path I've chosen. I myself went to non-elite state undergrad and grad schools. I didn't see a huge difference even in analytical ability between my colleagues there and in law school. And my own students at Georgia have been excellent. But even if there were substantial differences, you'd have to be pretty narrow-minded to think there's some unidimensional notion of excellence (defined by one's own skill set). From what I've gathered, none of my colleagues at Georgia think the way you predict they might.

The last thing I'll add is a defense of YLS. The Yale grads I met in practice and while clerking were extremely well prepared for the "practical practice" of law.  In fact, they were all real stars - terrific understandings of their obligations to craft and to clients combined with a spirit I'd be tempted to describe as entrepreneurial, but without the pecuniary valence that term often implies.  (Also a great attention to detail and procedure.)  Count me among those who think of YLS as a truly great school that is often, and wrongly, caricatured.

Posted by: Christian Turner | Jul 21, 2008 11:40:11 AM

To Christian: I disagree with your response to my post. The legal academy has adopted a "unidimensional notion of excellence," which is most evident in faculty hiring. Why do most law profs continue to emerge from a small group of elite schools? Bloggers here and elsewhere have shown that grads from USNWR 10-40 schools (and lower!) struggle on the market, even with a solid publication record. For example, one hiring chair admitted in a post that a HYSCC applicant with 1 so-so publication would certainly do better on the market than a T20 applicant with 2-3 well-placed pubs. My point is that if this snobbery exists in hiring, I'm confident that it trickles over into other facets of the academic life (like one's perception of students). And as one great academic once said: "The true test that we're equals is when I can call you my colleague."

Posted by: anon#2 | Jul 21, 2008 12:23:12 PM

anon2 - I can't really disagree with you, as I haven't served on a hiring committee - and I just don't know how other law schools operate. But I can tell you that the quality of an applicant's ideas and presentation of those ideas is pretty much all that's guided me when evaluating job talks. Hiring committees may well feel the practical need to use proxies, and this might be unfair in many cases (as would, also in some cases, using article placement quality). All I can tell you is that I haven't seen among my colleagues the kind of snobbishness you're worried about. But my experience is limited, and so obviously I can't rebut your point.

Posted by: Christian Turner | Jul 21, 2008 12:37:25 PM

Orin, fair enough, you count as on earth and far be it from me to say you're not rational, but it's really surprising to hear you say that you see a difference. I mean, these rankings are derived from not-very-large n estimates of totally subjective qualities -- the confidence intervals on all this stuff must be huge. I credit your personal impression (while noting that the intervening decade is a large confounding factor), but wonder a) whether it's shared by others who go to the same place, and b) whether it translates to a difference in the expected outcomes for people who go to those schools. We'd need a lot more, in other words, to believe that students from Chicago do worse or better than from Harvard.

(As for Yale's faculty proclivity, is that a remark based purely on the data -- in which case I'd *really* wonder about self-selection and socialization issues -- or is it based on some concrete quality that Yale has and Stanford, Harvard, Chicago, etc. don't?)

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jul 21, 2008 2:56:14 PM

I read the previous post by Mr. Solomon and decided not to respond, but with this current follow-up, I decided I needed to speak up. For the sake of full disclosure, I'm currently a YLS student, and very proud to be one. However, my reaction to Mr. Solomon's post goes beyond mere partisanship or school bias.

One thing that disturbs me is the way that Mr. Solomon wants USNWR evaluators to rate schools. It seems that it's a no sum game for him, where only one school can receive a 5 rating, 4 rating, etc. However, the reasons that Harvard, Yale, and Stanford have such similar ratings is because evaluators have the freedom to rate them as they actually are (which is to say almost equally excellent). There are differences between the three schools, but it is undeniable that those three schools are of generally excellent quality. Numerous other schools are generally excellent, and evaluators are free to have that reflected in their ratings.

Mr. Solomon's insistence that evaluators give Yale a 3, and that it is "time for a change" is just dumbfounding. Does Mr. Solomon really think that Yale should rank essentially in the bottom of the first tier? Is he so willing to ignore Yale's disproportionate impact on legal scholarship? Is he also to ignore Yale's profound impact on legal practice? The thought that Yale students are less prepared to practice law is so incredibly untrue that it's ashamed Mr. Solomon relies on it to boost his argument. If Yale students were comparatively unprepared for the practice of law, why would they be so heavily recruited by top firms? Or by the government? Or by non-profits?

Must we also ignore the expansive clinical offerings at Yale, which are available to students starting in their first year, unlike virtually any other law school? Would Yale students be trusted with such responsibility so early on in their law school career if they were unprepared for it?

I implore Mr. Solomon to cease this crusade against Yale, not simply because he's attacking my school, but also because his accusations are baseless. Must he really attack the supposed dubious ratings system of USNWR by relying on the dubious evaluations of the Princeton Review? Is Harvard suddenly less excellent of a law school in relation to Chicago because the Princeton Review scores indicate so? I don't think so, and quite frankly, I doubt any past, current, or prospective student would think so.

Posted by: YLS Anon | Jul 21, 2008 8:42:57 PM

YLS Anon, I certainly understand your concerns. But I hope you're also directing your challenges to Dean Koh with questions like this:

(1) What if this crazy guy Solomon from Georgia keeps going with this "crusade", and actually convinces some people to vote this way? (You don't need many for the #s to move.)

(2) Given that possibility, what are you doing to improve YLS's educational quality between now and the U.S. News survey in November, as well as going into next year?

(3) Is it time for a real LRW class? Why do 1Ls at Stanford get feedback from talented lawyers on their writing, a skill legal employers care a lot about, while we get such feedback from 3Ls who are smart and nice but themselves undereducated in LRW?

(4) Would an introductory class in stautory analysis and other issues relating to the regulatory state make sense? I hear such things are pretty important these days, no matter the area of practice.

(5) I see Harvard and Stanford are doing a lot to update their curricula, consistent with critiques of legal education, to prepare 21st century lawyers for the challenges they'll face. What is Yale doing?

(6) Many students come to Yale expecting this small school where they can really interact with these great professors, and come away disappointed. Is there a way to increase meaningful student-faculty contact?

(7) What research has Yale done about its students' chronic underperformance on the bar exam, and what is Yale doing to improve such performance?

Just a few ideas. Let me know what you hear.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 21, 2008 11:07:01 PM

(1) What if this crazy guy Solomon from Georgia keeps going with this "crusade", and actually convinces some people to vote this way? (You don't need many for the #s to move.)

(2) Given that possibility, what are you doing to improve YLS's educational quality between now and the U.S. News survey in November, as well as going into next year?

But there's two questions I feel like this rather glib response doesn't address (and I didn't go to Yale, so nor is it applicable to my issues with this idea):

(1) Why is Yale singled out for such a disproportionately large effect (a 3 vs. Harvard's 4 makes a big difference when you're talking about 5 points) when everyone seems to agree that the actual quality differential is small and flaws have been noted for other schools as well?

(2) Are we seriously suggesting that Yale is worse than much lower ranked schools that would normally get a 3? It's not as if there are only three law schools in the country.

Posted by: Katie | Jul 21, 2008 11:17:40 PM

(Apologies - I meant to italicize the quote in my previous reply but the HTML tags didn't go through).

Posted by: Katie | Jul 21, 2008 11:18:21 PM

Why rely so heavily on the Princeton Review survey when we have things like clerkship data, faculty placement data, etc.? We have no idea what the response rate is like at each of the schools, how it's distributed, etc. And if the survey is accurate, should we wonder why Yale students aren't transferring en masse to these other schools?

Posted by: MB | Jul 22, 2008 12:01:39 AM

Also, what's the point of this whole enterprise again?

Jason sez: this whole exercise is to explore the possibility of using the U.S. News rankings to create a race to the top throughout legal education, where schools actually compete on the quality of the service they provide to students.

But I confess, I think that's bogus. The main "service[s]" law schools provide are 1) credentialing (all schools), 2) some learning (all schools), 3) contacts (at the top), and 4) costly signaling (at the top). The first is a binary. I still find it highly implausible that the second differs much within broad groups -- indeed, I'd bet dimes to dollars that the legal education offered at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or Chicago is indistinguishable in terms of quality from that offered at Berkeley, Michigan, NYU, etc. The latter two are pure status goods, and so by definition they're provided best at the top.

I'm not even sure what those student ratings are supposed to be measuring. Are they supposed to be measuring something relevant to academia and supreme court clerkships, like the original post claims? How? Let's face it. Most of the value to a "top law school" is in 4. Even if (say) Michigan's faculty were a lot better and more accessible than Yale's, Yale would still be a better place to go for academia/supreme court clerkships because it's a better costly signal of intelligence.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jul 22, 2008 12:15:49 AM

(Also, Dan, did you mean to turn off italics-making in comments?)

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jul 22, 2008 12:16:59 AM

My law school can beat up your law school.

Posted by: Beaver Cleaver | Jul 22, 2008 12:41:36 PM

"Even if (say) Michigan's faculty were a lot better and more accessible than Yale's, Yale would still be a better place to go for academia/supreme court clerkships because it's a better costly signal of intelligence."

That sounds entirely right (as a description of the way things are), but also entirely irrational (as a description of the way things should be). Given that law school admissions are so heavily dependent on LSAT and GPA scores, why don't prospective employers and judges hiring clerks just ask for and look at LSAT and GPA themselves, perhaps take a look at a writing sample as well, and just ignore where someone went to law school?

That way, students with high LSAT scores and GPAs (and any other easy-to-evaluate measures of likely success in law school) would be free to go to whichever school is the best fit for their preferences in pedagogy without worrying about a gap between the best school to learn at vs the best school to launch a career from. (Perhaps academic hiring would be a little different, but could still start with some short-cuts other one's alma mater).

Of course, if I were an employer or judge, I'd hate to reduce people's potential (which will in any case be different for different kinds of legal careers) to LSAT scores and GPAs -- especially given the number of really bright and talented people I know whose talents, for whatever reason, don't get demonstrated by those measuring rods (and in some cases, not by a typical law school exam either).

But it's not clear to me how you get a better, more nuanced picture by taking your starting point from law school admissions choices that are themselves so heavily based on LSATs and grades. Are there details of the law school admissions process that make their choices a substantially better proxy for the employers than the key data they start with? (This is an honest question: I've not yet served on an admissions committee so there's a lot I don't know about how it works). Of course, the best hiring procedure would be one that -- like Christian Turner's description of a careful academic hiring process -- would ignore the short cuts altogether and have the prospective employers, judges, etc. do a careful nuanced analysis that can identify even those top-notch candidates with low LSAT scores, low grades, and/or those coming from outside the elite law schools. But if that's just not practical, what exactly do outsiders gain by looking at where someone went to law school rather than the key data that admissions committees rely on to decide who goes where? I suppose employers naturally would also want to know that someone who had good entering credentials also did well enough on law school exams to show they learned most of what's taught in a typical law school education and showed they can analyze legal problems. So they'd want to look at someone's law school grades in addition to entering credentials. But that doesn't explain why they should put great weight on where a candidate went to school.

One possibility is the educational "value added" that people get at a particular law school (above the talent and knowledge they come in with). But I agree with Jason's earlier posts that the current US News ranking system doesn't come close to measuring value added. In fact, since the value added will probably differ significantly for different students -- depending on what kind of teaching & curricular approach are the best fit for them -- I guess I'm skeptical that any ranking system is very helpful in this regard. (Perhaps it would be nice to have a Web-based ranking system which, like that in Yahoo's Fantasy baseball league, can quickly re-sort law schools as soon as one clicks on the law school-equivalent of RBIs, batting average, stolen bases, or whatever measure one is interested in. But I guess I still doubt, having followed Jason's terrific series of posts, that there are many numeric indicators that measure even those goal or learning style-specific version of law schools' "value added" as accurately as baseball statistics measure batting skills).

So if employers and others have to use proxies, why don't they just look at the proxies law schools themselves use in the admissions process?

Posted by: Marc | Jul 22, 2008 1:43:59 PM

Marc,

I honestly believe that it all boils down to bragging rights in many cases. For example, my old law firm prided itself in bringing in an entering class each year comprised of ~50% Harvard Law and Yale Law grads. If these folks left for greener pastures a year or two in, so be it. Likewise, there's a law school in Newark that's bragging about the three entry-level Ivy Leaguers that are joining the faculty this fall. Even though these new hires will most certainly use that law school as a launching pad, who cares? Maybe their presence will help boost the school's prestige enough to influence a few USNWR voters.

Posted by: anon#2 | Jul 22, 2008 4:00:21 PM

Jason,

You claim: "(3) Is it time for a real LRW class? Why do 1Ls at Stanford get feedback from talented lawyers on their writing, a skill legal employers care a lot about, while we get such feedback from 3Ls who are smart and nice but themselves undereducated in LRW?"

I think that your conclusions about Yale's LRW program are wrong -- and what you write demonstrates that you're not very informed about Yale's program. In fact, the LRW program at Yale was quite good -- at least when I was there. As a 3L, I was a TA for a small group section, and students had numerous writing opportunities, and the professor as well as both TAs read all papers and met individually on numerous occasions with students (for 30 minutes a student) to discuss their assignments. Not all small groups were as thorough or diligent, but there's also variation between LRW sections in schools using adjuncts. Overall, I thought that Yale's writing program was actually quite solid. Maybe it has changed, though you don't seem to have asked anybody about it or done much research into it before condemning it as inferior.

With regard to legal writing, the most important problems I see in student legal writing concerns problems primarily in their writing ability in general rather than with the legal elements. The problems concern difficulties with grammar, organization, etc., which are just basic issues with writing in general. In this respect, the schools most selective in admitting students are likely (though not always) to have students with the greatest underlying skills in writing. It thus becomes much easier to teach students who can already write quite well how to write legal documents.

So what constitutes a good legal writing program? Suppose School A has students who are by and large good writers, and their program is minimal yet at the end, their good writing is improved a little bit. Suppose School B has students who are by and large weak writers, but their program is good, and at the end, they are significantly better, but still not as good as School A's students. School B did a better job training its students, but for employers, they would want to hire School A's students. If you're a student with weak writing ability, then maybe it's better for you to go to School B, but if you have strong writing ability, you'll probably be bored at School B learning basic grammar, organization -- and you'll probably get more out of School A, which will polish your already good writing.

More generally, I admire your attempts to rethink the status quo, but I find that you are often overlooking many things and making hasty judgments about schools based on rather dubious data.

At Yale, I found that although professors weren't as accessible as I had desired, and some classes were terrible, there were some that were absolutely fantastic, and my interactions with my fellow students were of immeasurable value. All in all, I thought it offered a fantastic education. I wasn't a traditional education -- classes didn't do much to help prepare me for the Bar; they were quite theoretical. But I'm a relatively independent learner, as were many of my classmates. I could pick up a lot on my own, and I liked getting interesting new perspectives in class. I considered myself a decent writer. Personally, I wouldn't want a more traditional legal education. The point of all this is that all students are different -- what works for me doesn't work for all students. You're trying to impose a one-size-fits-all approach on how you think law schools are to be evaluated, but it just doesn't work very well. Law schools are different, and they have very different student bodies. Yale's student body has a disproportionate interest in legal teaching; the school's educational program works well for that. Does it prepare students well for practice? The question depends upon the kind of student. If the student has good basic writing skills and is capable of learning independently, then Yale provides an excellent experience. If the student isn't able to learn independently, then Yale might not be his/her cup of tea.

Overall, I think that you're operating under some rather reductive and simplistic assumptions about what it means to be "educating lawyers." This is a complicated task, as educational styles and structures will work differently depending upon the skills/abilities/preferences of individual students as well as the types of careers they want to pursue.

Posted by: Daniel J. Solove | Jul 22, 2008 8:03:09 PM

Dan, I'd love for you to join the effort and help improve the way we measure schools' relative ability to educate lawyers. Even if you can't actually join the effort, I'd love to hear your suggestions on what data/metrics to use other than what I've laid out. I haven't heard any yet.

What I'm not content with -- and don't think others are either -- is the status quo of zero information about relative educational quality, and therefore no positive incentives for improvement, or acountability for law schools, while students have to make decisions about $100k+ investments.

On your school A/B thing, I'm not sure the relevance in the super-elite market, which is what I'm trying to compare here. And my info on Yale's LRW program comes from several Yale grads of relatively recent vintage ("the blind leading the blind" was one comment) and the website -- always happy for more info.

I'm genuinely sorry if I denigrated the work of any current or former 3L LRW TAs at Yale, such as yourself. I bet you and many others did and do a good job. But all things equal, if I were entering law school, I'd rather have, say, a commenter to one of my previous posts, John Greenman, who teaches LRW at Stanford, graduated from Iowa Writers' Workshop and has been an appellate lawyer. http://www.law.stanford.edu/directory/profile/246/John%20Greenman/

Stanford invests in such people to provide critical writing feedback that's needed by everybody -- not just people who make grammar mistakes -- and Yale does not. Advantage: Stanford.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 22, 2008 8:34:57 PM

--
What I'm not content with -- and don't think others are either -- is the status quo of zero information about relative educational quality, and therefore no positive incentives for improvement, or acountability for law schools, while students have to make decisions about $100k+ investments.
--

The answer to this is NOT to go along with U.S. News's system, as you're suggesting. Solove's complaint about your approach being reductive and overly simplistic is true because your entire program is to stuff all the important information ("value added") into a U.S. News 1-5 score. Doesn't that strike you as preposterous?

I'll go back to my original comment on your first post in this series: the ENTIRE system must be torn down. U.S. News does a disservice by putting everything into black and white (#6 > #7 > #8), by reducing everything to one number that can be compared with everyone else's number. __It doesn't have to be this way.__ Look at law firms: rankings exist, but there is no authoritative ranking. Vault, AmLaw, Chambers, and others are all consulted. A holistic picture is developed through a combination of research into objective and subjective factors.

Law schools *must* be treated the same way. The answer is not to fix the ranking. The answer is to *destroy* the authoritative ranking.

Or at least that's part of the answer. The rest of it is, as you allude to, making information available. Studies on educational quality, accurate and big-n studies on student satisfaction, *open* information about salaries and job-hunt success, *open* information about alumni networks. None of these things can be reduced to a single number (not even salary, not with the bimodal distribution in law graduate salaries these days), nor should they be.

The best part about all this? A lot of work is already being done. Every week I see links to new studies, to new information, to new ideas. But remember, that's only one part. The other part is (to put it in over-dramatic terms) to throw off the yoke of U.S. News. Law professors can do this: refusal to respond, reverse-order rankings, all-five rankings -- any of these things contributes to undermining the U.S. News ranking system and thus freeing law schools and law students (and employers) to make informed choices, based on individual needs, about their futures.

Posted by: Jason Wojciechowski | Jul 22, 2008 9:37:54 PM

Mr. Solomon, your response to my post is unconvincing.

Yes, you may convince some evaluators to rethink their ranking of Yale, but I highly doubt it, since no evaluator is going to suddenly think that Yale should rank among the bottom of the first tier simply because of what the Princeton Review has to say, and because Yale does not offer a mandatory LRW course. I wholly agree that Yale students could benefit from a better writing program, but the lack of such a course is hardly enough for me to devalue my law school experience in any way. Besides, as I understand it, most law schools don't hire legal practitioners to staff their LRW courses. Rather, they have recent law school graduates teach legal writing as part of an academic fellowship program. Ironically enough, Yale grads are very successful in securing those fellowships. Curious, no?

Harvard and Stanford are indeed doing a lot to update their curricula, especially their first year curricula. Yale's response is... what first year curriculum? Yale students are allowed unparalleled academic freedom in their first year, and we are allowed to avail ourselves of the law school's course/clinical much sooner than law students at competing schools.

You seem to be relying very heavily on the Princeton Review evaluations of student-faculty contact, etc. I will concede that some professors at Yale are difficult to contact, while others are more generous with their time. However, this is the case at every law school. And quite frankly, I've had no trouble establishing close relationships with the professors who interested me. In addition to that, Dean Koh himself is widely available to students, despite his hectic schedule. In my first year alone I had dinner with Dean Koh no less than three times, including once where he came to an event hosted at my apartment. And I'm not talking about having dinner in the same room, or same building as Dean Koh. I mean having dinner next to him, having a sustained conversation about my life, his life, and life in general.

Again, this crusade against Yale seems misguided and fueled perhaps by some hidden (or not so hidden) bitterness. I again implore you to cease pursuing this futile vendetta. There is simply nothing to be gained by this by anyone.

Posted by: YLS Anon | Jul 22, 2008 9:52:33 PM

Just wanted to echo the points made by YLS Anon and Dan Solove about the YLS experience. Sure, no school is perfect, but I wouldn't trade my experience as a student there ('96) for anything.

I think that Dan S. hits the nail on the head in arguing that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to legal education. Even back in the information stone-age when I started law school (oh, to think of it now ... I had no e-mail address, had never accessed "the internets," and had to apply for law school via snail mail), my classmates and I arrived on campus keenly aware of YLS' relatively unstructured approach to legal education. Indeed, we'd intentionally selected for it. In particular, I remember being very excited that all classes after the 1st semester (with one exception) were elective. That, of course, is the positive flip side of the relative dearth of 1L requirements at YLS.

My experience as an alum. also has been great in terms of keeping in touch with profs. Sure, not everyone is accessible, but the ones with whom I connected have been very conscientious about staying in touch, providing advice when needed, etc. And this was true well before I entered academia as well.

On the subjective experience front, I can also report for myself and the classmates with whom I've discussed this over the years, that we simply had a blast in law school! Sure, we're all tremendous nerds, but then that gets us back to the self-selection factor.

Posted by: Heidi Kitrosser | Jul 22, 2008 10:34:41 PM

Jason,

You write: "I'd love for you to join the effort and help improve the way we measure schools' relative ability to educate lawyers."

With all due respect, I think you're missing my main point. I don't believe that there is an easy way to create a uniform ranking system on school's "ability to educate lawyers." This is due to at least two factors: (1) there are many different kinds of legal careers, and not all involve the same kind of educational styles and programs; (2) there are many different kinds of students, and not all benefit from learning in the same way.

Is overall consistency of teaching better than some weak classes yet some absolutely fantastic life-changing ones? Is consistency in pedagogic methods preferable to a wide variety, some of which are loved by some students yet hated by others? Is the school where all teachers are rated as a B by students better than where some teachers are rated A+ and others C-? A student's experience at a school can be very different depending upon which professors he/she takes and which professors he/she has as a mentor.

I'm also not sure that "ability to educate lawyers" is the right thing to measure. At the most basic level, prospective law students should choose the school that best suits their goals. Certainly, ability to educate lawyers (whatever that may mean) matters, but there are other important factors, such as relationship with classmates, career opportunities, breadth of classes and learning opportunities (some schools might offer a wider range of classes but with varying quality, others might offer fewer but stronger classes), freedom to choose one's educational path (some students may benefit from a more structured curriculum; others may prefer more electives), overall school culture, professor accessibility and mentorship (here, having a few very accessible good mentoring professors might be better for some students than having many semi-accessible and satisfactory but not great mentoring).

One thing that made Yale good for writing is that it had a writing culture -- there were lots of classes that involved writing, a requirement of two major papers to graduate, and tons of opportunities to do even more writing. There was also, I recall, a full-time writing tutor who helped any student who desired assistance with writing projects. There was a lot there if you took advantage of it. And this goes back to what I said in my earlier comment -- if you're not an independent learner and want things structured for you and a more uniform education to be hand-delivered to you, then Yale's not for you. But Yale was ideal if you could learn independently and chart your own course -- it offered tons of opportunities. It's kind of like the difference between Montessori-style education and more traditional-style education. No one kind works for all. I'm a Montessori-style person, but many people aren't. I think that the problem I'm having with your posts is that you're trying to reduce legal education to simple metrics in order to rank US News style. I don't think that this works well.

Posted by: Daniel J. Solove | Jul 23, 2008 1:41:59 AM

OK, fair enough, Dan S and Heidi K, on one size doesn't fit all, Yale is great for some. Of course, as Heidi K points out, students arrive at YLS well aware of how they do things, and generally end up much more dissatisfied than those at peer institutions. And of course, I didn't design U.S. News -- I'm just trying to have conversation about how best to deal with the reality of the pressures/incentives that face our institutions.

So how would you fill out the U.S. News survey that I've been focusing on? It asks to rank 1-5 on "academic quality" of each school's "program." Based mostly/exclusively on scholarship because easier to assess quality on relative basis than education? Or diff measures of educational quality than I've been using? Or you think I'm wrong to try to assess on a relative basis within markets -- so stick with the status quo and give Hvd, Yale, Stanford, Chicago all "5"s? I'm really asking -- people are filling out these surveys, as you know.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 23, 2008 8:45:11 AM

Hi Jason. I really don’t want to get deeply involved in this debate, but one quick note: You say in your response that: “as Heidi K points out, students arrive at YLS well aware of how they do things, and generally end up much more dissatisfied than those at peer institutions.” Of course, I only indicated the first part, that students arrive well aware of Yale’s relatively unstructured curriculum. The point of my post was to suggest that the second part – your conclusion that students “generally end up much more dissatisfied,” apparently based on a Princeton Review survey – doesn’t square at all with my experience or that of many of my classmates.

Posted by: Heidi Kitrosser | Jul 23, 2008 9:25:58 AM

Sorry about that, Heidi. Didn't mean to suggest that, of course, and thanks for correcting. Sure you don't want to get deeply involved in this debate? I've found it's a great way to make friends in the legal academy. :)

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 23, 2008 9:34:49 AM

Well, clearly you know how to start a conversation. :) No problem about the attribution -- just wanted to clarify.

Posted by: Heidi Kitrosser | Jul 23, 2008 9:46:19 AM

Jason,

I don't think there is a way to fill out the US News survey to reflect what you want to reflect. One problem, which I've written about in a post, is that the 1-5 scale doesn't have sufficient granularity to be meaningful. Yale, Harvard, Stanford -- they're all 5's on a 1-5 scale. So are many others. Another problem is that the survey isn't broad enough. So already it's a terribly flawed poll -- not a good representation of the academy and not granular enough to measure the relative merits of schools.

Beyond that, you're trying to transform what is basically a reputation assessment into an assessment of "ability to educate lawyers," a factor that is vague and very hard to measure. Reputation is also vague, but I think that professors are better able to assess overall reputation (probably based largely on scholarship) than educational experience. You point to data about student surveys for educational experience as a metric, but I think that's very flawed. If such info were used in the US News ranking, I'm willing to bet that students will become quite savvy and fill out the forms raving about their law schools -- a higher ranking translates into more job opportunities, so students would be wise to lie. I'd bet that Yale would suddenly become the greatest place on earth to learn law according to the students.

In the end, I think that faculty quality (as measured by scholarship) should be a major factor in a school's reputation. I'm not sure that educational experience can readily be ranked since there's so much variation as to what counts as a good experience. The best thing for prospective students to do is to visit a school and chat with other students about their experiences.

Regarding Yale, I agree with Heidi. Most of my classmates loved it -- though not all. Some were disappointed with many classes, but they loved the overall experience (which is much more than classes). Some may have thought that many classes were weak but that a few were superlative. Some may have been unhappy in law school but later on, after getting a job they wanted, remembered law school much more fondly. In my experience, I had some great classes and some bad classes. I certainly had a number of gripes and wouldn't have raved about it on a survey or given it perfect scores. But from what I know of other schools, I think that Yale was the best fit for me. I recall reading detailed write-ups about each school I applied to in a book called the Insider's Guide. I found the descriptions of the atmosphere largely accurate. I found the Princeton book to be largely useless.

Some things can't readily be reduced to a ranking, such as educational experience.

Posted by: Daniel J. Solove | Jul 23, 2008 10:28:27 AM

Does it matter much that YLS grads are more likely to look back at their time there warmly and fondly, considering it three of the best years of their lives, relative to other schools? Satisfaction with the academic program specifically is one metric, but having spent several summers with and currently working alongside students from other top law schools, most have noticed that the YLS ones generally seem to be happier human beings. I remember sitting around a table with students from five other schools where everyone else was talking about how miserable their 1L year was, and I felt like I had to play along lest I spoil the party by admitting I'd never had a more fun and intellectually engaging experience in my life. The "no grades" factor, which Stanford has chosen to emulate since the incentive structure at YLS doesn't seem to negatively impact the quality of its graduates, does wonders for students who can pursue whatever engages them intellectually without feeling as though they're losing out on long-term opportunities when racking up a few "P"s.

I just don't recall hearing any stories at YLS about emotional breakdowns, adderall usage, or passive-aggressive grade chasing/overcompetitiveness. Those who engaged in the latter were instantly shunned. Yet everyone I know from HLS, Chicago, other top schools seem to suggest these incidents were fairly frequent.

Educational quality speaks well beyond classroom instruction--suggesting that the impact of other students on the experience doesn't matter much is foolish, and YLS has an atmosphere as conducive to this manner of learning as one might find at any law school.

Also, I think the critique of YLS's legal writing curriculum is still misplaced and Solomon is trying to grasp at straws. The integrated intensive writing experience typically included substantive feedback from professors, not just 3L teaching assistants (who, even then, went through a competitive application process since the jobs are highly sought after), and the school has a resident legal writing teacher who's available for appointments provides substantive writing feedback within a day or two of contacting him.

Also don't overlook Yale's writing requirements beyond the 1L fall semester--two long papers (one usually in the 20-40 page range and the other in the 30-80 page range depending on the professor) which require substantial legal analysis. One could dismiss these requirements as academic fluff, but the exercise is in fact substantive legal writing and analysis. Even if proffering silly new theories of how due process should help reshape the world, students get pushed by professors to produce original work and wind up spending just as much time on Westlaw, if not more, than students at other top schools. Solomon could easily retort that this doesn't translate into the ability to produce substantive written memos and other black letter legal analysis, but I think most YLS grads can attest that after writing their longer (SAW) paper, these assignments in the law firm (or other) environment are a piece of cake.

Posted by: Recent YLS Alum | Jul 23, 2008 10:44:16 AM

The answer to the question in the post's title is of course "Yes," and I'm inclined to support your crusade.

That said, I think it's pointless. The exceedingly small number of prospective students confronted with a choice between the "super-elite schools" are pretty bright. They are also aware of the shortcomings of the US News rankings and have access to better information, including campus visits and in-person and email conversations with faculty, students, and alums. They also have great incentives to determine which school best suits them individually. A variety of competing ranking systems with transparent methodology will make this process easier, but the US News ranking, by itself, probably doesn't have a huge impact on your superstar prospective student. The relative rankings for the super-elite schools probably affect the number of applications received, but not much else.

Posted by: Recent Chicago Alum | Jul 23, 2008 1:13:06 PM

You also ask what Yale is planning to do about the "chronic underperformance" of its students on the bar exam. I don't have the data for New York handy, but California's results are readily available:

2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Stanford85 93 85 92 91 88 89 95
Harvard 87 92 83 84 89 84 93 87
Chicago 74 97 88 92 82 83 86 86
Yale 96 98 90 97 88 95 76 94

Posted by: MB | Jul 23, 2008 9:24:45 PM

Oh, I'm not saying that we can't assess quality and give students better educations. I'm just saying that the approach of this series of posts is so ad hoc as to be useless in furthering those goals.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Jul 24, 2008 10:06:26 AM

Allright, let's hear alternatives, proposed improvements, etc. or else you're defending status quo.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 24, 2008 10:12:42 AM

This post (and any related ones that predated it) would be useful if it helped prospective students (who are lucky enough to be in such a position) to choose among these highly elite law schools. As Orin Kerr noted, for example, the educational atmposhere/approach at HLS differs considerably from that at Chicago. Now if someone could actually articulate what those differences are, something productive might come from Solomon's efforts. The issue isn't rankings -- it's a question of pedological approaches -- and depending on the individual those differences might matter. That's a big might because at the end of the day, there's a reason Yale has a better than 75% yield rate -- everyone knows that a diploma from Yale law is just "worth more" than one from any other law school. So even if Yale offered its students an inferior legal education and was simply resting on its laurels, students would continued to select it over haravard, stanford, etc. because -- quite simply -- it's Yale.

Posted by: Alex | Jul 25, 2008 2:55:40 AM

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