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Sunday, June 08, 2008

What is the Triple Crown of the Legal Academy?

Yesterday, while at Belmont Park counting down to Big Brown’s Big Disappointment, I pondered the significance of the Triple Crown and (of course) it’s relationship to the legal academy. Is there any formulation of accomplishments that amounts to a Triple Crown of the legal academy?

Some analysis of the Triple Crown is useful to help identify relevant selection criteria. The Triple Crown is clearly difficult to attain. According to the “Belmont Stakes Official Past Performance Program,” there have been only eleven Triple Crown winners in the 100-plus years that the three qualifying races have been in existence (or approximately one winner every ten years) and none since 1978.

Another defining element of the Triple Crown is Lady Luck. Winning doesn’t seem to provide a particularly meaningful metric of substantive greatness over time. The Triple Crown criteria are limited to outcome in three races between three-year-old thoroughbred horses. Although the tracks and distances remain the same, times are not compared. Thus, a blazing fast three-year-old who has one off day loses (even if that horse might go on to be otherwise undefeated and set track records around the world); a relatively slow three-year old that lucks into a weak crop of three-year-old competitors can win. A last key aspect of the Triple Crown is that it is focused on performance over an exceedingly narrow time frame – three races that take place in the span of approximately five weeks.

So, to boil down the above, any "Triple Crown of the Legal Academy" should be very hard to get, require a good dose of luck, depend upon notably stellar performance over a short period of time, and (of course) involve a triptych of sorts. Using this as a guide, here are some musings about possible Triple Crown criteria:

(1) Within the same year, publish the lead article in the Harvard or Yale Law Reviews, be cited by or argue before the Supreme Court, and … hmmm. This last criterion is a bit tougher. Have a lecture series named in your honor? Author the most widely used text in a subject?

(2) With an eye to echoing the tenure triptych, another option is to attempt to incorporate teaching and service (difficult). Simultaneously publish the lead article in the Harvard or Yale Law Reviews, serve as dean and be elected teacher of the year?

(3) Each year, ask three “experts” -- U.S. News (I’m sure there’s a public eager for a “Best Law Profs in America” issue), Brian Leiter, and a law dean selected at random -- to nominate a prof and require (blind) concurrence of result in any given year for there to be a winner.

Perhaps, however, it would be easier to work backward by combing through the bios of a few preeminent legal academicians (nominations welcome) to identify three unusual commonalities in their accomplishments. Would that I could claim to have stayed up all night doing the same; sadly, my commitment to this blog post falls short. Kind of like Big Brown.

Posted by Katrina Kuh on June 8, 2008 at 09:39 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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Comments

If there were some reliable method for measuring the annual positive contributions of the legal professionals who were once an active law professor's students and would identify that law professor as THE law professor most responsible for their positive contributions during the previous year, a law professor who would rank in the top 10% might achieve something worthy of 1/3 (maybe 2/3) of a Triple Crown.

Students, while we're students, are probably not well qualified to measure a law professor's likely influence on our future professional contributions. The criteria law students most often use—how informative, entertaining, witty, comedic, eloquent, well-dressed, fair-minded, culturally unobjectionable, politically unobjectionable, or inspiring a law professor was during a recently completed course—are hardly the best criteria for determining which law professors deserve a teaching award, at least not the sort of teaching award all the professors' peers throughout the legal academy should esteem. But former law students, a few years or decades removed from law school, who could reflect on which law professors most influenced their positive contributions during a given year, might be well qualified for the task.

Posted by: E.C. Hopkins | Jun 9, 2008 9:23:10 AM

I would like to think this entire post is in jest, but knowing the absolute obsession with rankings and status in the legal academia, I fear it's not.

Posted by: Realist | Jun 8, 2008 10:28:56 PM

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