Friday, August 24, 2012
Law Erotica Studied
Larry Cunningham of St. John's Law School has posted an interesting study of the effect on law school rankings of law school marketing materials, aka "law porn," although I prefer to call it "law erotica" given the harsh reactions to the prior term. He is careful to note the difficulties of showing any causation, especially because his results may just show that schools with tons of money, which all things being equal may do well in the rankings, also have tons of money to spend on marketing materials. It's still interesting to read. Here's the abstract:
In the last few years, law schools have inundated each other with glossy brochures, postcards, magazines, and other marketing materials in an attempt to influence their “peer assessment scores” in the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings. This article describes a study that attempted to determine whether law schools’ print marketing efforts to one another have an impact on their U.S. News rankings data. From June to December 2011, the author’s school collected and coded all of the materials it had received from schools, including materials that it itself had sent to others. In total, 427 unique pieces of marketing were received from 125 of the 191 schools that were the subjects of this study. They varied considerably in size, format, content, and audience. A number of statistical tests were conducted to compare a school’s marketing efforts with its overall rank, overall score, peer assessment score, and tier, along with any change in those variables from the 2011 rankings to the 2012 ones. The results showed that there was some correlation between a school’s marketing efforts and its U.S. News data. Schools that sent marketing materials had, on average, higher tier placement and peer assessment scores; however, there was not a significant change in year-to-year rankings variables. The number of pieces a school sent during the study period was, for the most part, not significant. On the other hand, the number of pages in its materials was correlated with a number of U.S. News variables. Schools that sent longer, magazine-type publications geared towards a specific audience had higher U.S. News scores and also showed a slight improvement in their overall score between the two years of rankings data in this study. However, it is possible that a co-variate, such as institutional financial resources, may be causing the results. Additional study is needed to determine whether marketing materials have a longer-term effect on U.S. News ranking variables that cannot be captured in a one year study.
And from the paper:
[T]he results suggest that law schools are not seeing much in the way of impact from their marketing efforts towards one another. Most of the observed correlations were in a school’s current rank, tier, overall score, or peer assessment score—very few aspects of a school’s marketing efforts impacted, to any significant degree, a change in U.S. News data from year to year. The one exception appears to be magazines. Schools that send them have higher U.S. News results than those that do not. However, they come at a significant expense and, from year-to-year, may yield only a small increase in a school’s overall score, if there is a cause-and-effect relationship at all.
As Cunningham notes in the paper, I have written before in (partial) defense of some marketing materials, specifically 1) those (like the annual booklet produced by UVa) that actually tell us something useful about individual professors and their scholarship and 2) a few of the more informative magazines, although I've also opined that it's silly for some schools (Marquette and SMU stand out) to send widely magazines that are really oriented toward alumni. My own idiosyncratic tastes, however, hardly show that the benefits of distributing these materials justify the cost. I should also say that although it's less expensive to send out emails rather than printed materials, I ignore those emails even more thoroughly than the print materials, so even the marginal cost of distributing those materials by email may not be worth it.
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