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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Stanford, Harvard, Yale: A Sample Voters' Guide for This Fall's U.S. News Survey

I think it makes sense to start at the top.

Because we have a relatively well-defined market -- the schools that, for students with a choice to go anywhere, are the ones from which to choose. The schools which have been the top three in the U.S. News rankings for years: Harvard, Yale, Stanford. Let's call it the "super-elite" market.

Because if a school at the top of the rankings can do an inadequate job at their mission to prepare their students for the practice of law, and continue to ride high with their prestige intact, attracting the best students, then what are the schools down below to think? If we can just be like that prestigious school, then we can ride high in the rankings as well.

On the other hand, if something about the incentives facing these institutions were to somehow change, and such a prestigious school were to actually pay a penalty for doing an inadequate job in fulfilling its educational mission, then perhaps things might change for the rest of law schools as well. Those that add more value for their students might be rewarded, those that add less would be penalized, and in the long-run -- perhaps starting in just a few years -- students overall would be better prepared to practice law. We could have a real marketplace where law schools actually competed on price and quality -- like any other service provider -- and we might just see a race to the top in legal education.

As I've been blogging the last few weeks about my proposal to differentiate among schools based on "value added" for students when law professors, lawyers, and judges fill out the U.S. News survey, one common and natural reaction is: "Well, how are you possibly going to do that? I mean, Harvard, Yale, Stanford -- you've got to give all of them a '5', right? They're all great schools." Consistent with this sentiment, last year's scores for the schools in the survey of academics were Harvard (4.8), Yale (4.8), Stanford (4.7), and the scores on the survey of lawyers and judges were 4.8 for all three.

Indeed, if the question was to assess the "reputation" of these schools -- as I think it used to be, but may have changed without anyone noticing -- the "all 5s" solution for the Big Three would make sense. But the question is to assess the "academic quality" of each school's "program." U.S. News says further: "Consider all factors that contribute to or give evidence of the excellence of the school's J.D. program, for example, curriculum, record of scholarship, quality of faculty and graduates." And respondents need to make every effort to differentiate within the relevant market in order to provide any useful information.

Below is a first cut at a Voters' Guide to the annual U.S. News survey for this market. Bear in mind that although it is not comprehensive, I'm not sure that anything like it -- actually comparing the "value added" and particularly the education one receives at competitor schools -- appears anywhere else, and for the purpose of the U.S. News survey, we actually don't need that much information to get us to the relative ordering among these three schools.

The Super-Elite Market: Harvard, Yale, Stanford

We can break down relative academic quality into two main elements: scholarly quality, and educational quality. I'm not going to try distinguishing among Harvard, Yale, and Stanford on scholarly quality. Brian Leiter's analysis of the scholarly impact of faculties puts Yale at #1, Harvard #3, and Stanford #4. If scholarly quality was the only criterion, I would have a hard time giving them all anything other than a "5."

The good news is that assuming (as I do) that the goal of a school's J.D. program is to prepare students to practice law, then it turns out to be fairly easy to differentiate in the super-elite market on educational quality, or relative "value added" for students. As I explain below, Stanford is the best, Yale is the worst, Harvard is in between. So the overall recommended rating for each school is: Stanford 5, Harvard 4, Yale 3.

Educational Quality

Overview: I've proposed that we think of relative educational quality as being about teaching, overall classroom experience, curriculum, and preparation for the bar. To take this last element first, bar prep should not be a major factor at this level of school, except that Yale grads tend to underperform in passing the bar, given their LSAT scores and undergraduate records. So, for example, in the July 2006 bar exam in NY (the data used for current U.S. News rankings), Harvard grads passed at a rate of 97.1%, while Yale was down at 91.2%. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they don't have to take Property, I don't know.

Teaching: The 2008 Princeton Review's Best 170 Law Schools reports the following ratings from students, on a scale between 60 and 99.
Stanford: Professors Interesting: 98. Professors Accessible: 97.
Harvard: Professors Interesting: 82. Professors Accessible: 63.
Yale: Professors Interesting: 69. Professors Accessible: 67.

Perhaps you can discount the difference a bit between Stanford and Yale because students are just happier in Palo Alto than New Haven, but that can't explain all the difference.

Classroom Experience:
The average class size during the first year is: 60 students each for both Yale and Stanford, 80 for Harvard. At Yale, students also have one small section of about 16 students, and at Stanford, one small section of 30 people. No small section besides LRW at Harvard.

Harvard is a big school, Yale and Stanford are relatively small. Harvard has consistently received terrible marks in the "professors accessible" category, no doubt in large part because of the school's size. One thing to note is that of the many visitors Harvard brings in every year, those it has hired recently have received previous accolades for their teaching. This is probably not a coincidence, given Dean Kagan's focus on improving the student experience. In the last few years, Harvard has also expanded its reading groups for 1Ls to allow for more student-faculty contact. Harvard's website says that the school currently offers more than 100 upper-level classes of 25 or fewer students, and over 80 small seminars -- no doubt an attempt to convince prospective students not to be scared away by the school's size.

Required Curriculum: At Yale, students take courses in Constitutional Law, Contracts, Procedure and Torts during the first semester. Yale students are also expected to take a course in Criminal Law and Administration, as well as professional responsibility. Other than that, students are on their own.

Harvard just finished its first year under the revamped curriculum -- would love to hear from students about the new classes. Essentially, Harvard now does the standard first-year curriculum -- a semester each of civil procedure, torts, contracts, criminal law, property, but also a course in legislation and regulation, a course in International Law (Public International Law, Comparative Law, International Economic Law), and a January-term course called "Problems and Theories." Unlike Yale and Stanford, Harvard does not require Constitutional Law, though most students take at least one semester's worth in the second year.

This new "Problems and Theories" course gives students the opportunity to work, alone and in teams, on problem-solving in the context in which disputes arise, not simply analyzing appellate cases after the fact. This approach is much like the case method in other professional schools, particularly business and public policy school -- and in focusing on problem solving, collaborative work, and a different kind of case method, is consistent with the Carnegie report and uses "best practices" of legal education. This gives Harvard a curricular edge over Yale, though of course the implementation will matter a great deal. Stanford seems to be using a similar approach with its new simulation courses in the upper-level, but hard to tell how widespread these courses are yet.

At Stanford, the first semester is fairly standard, with civil procedure, contracts, criminal law and torts, in addition to legal research and writing. In the spring, students take constitutional law and property, and then can take 2-4 electives during the second semester.

Legal Research and Writing: At both Harvard and Stanford, the course is taught by fellows who teach for a few years before going on the law teaching market. The curriculum at Harvard seems fairly standard, but at Stanford, the fall semester is taught as a simulation, using things like mock client interviews, depositions and exhibits -- thereby teaching the interaction between factual investigation and the development of a legal theory for a case. If executed well, this could be an excellent approach, consistent with best practices -- would want to hear more from students on this. At Yale, there is no separate legal research and writing class. There is a legal writing component to the small section of the doctrinal class, and this is now overseen by a legal writing professor and 3L TAs who provide feedback. Will want to hear more from students and employers about whether this way of teaching LRW at Yale is working well. For years, Yale has been at a real disadvantage by making no real attempt to teach standard LRW, and disserved their students who are expected to know how to write such memos.

Upper-level curriculum:

Clinics: Yale and Stanford are the schools traditionally strongest here, and at Yale, students can start in their second semester of first year. Harvard seems to be making efforts to catch up, though -- their website indicate that the number of people taking clinics has doubled in the last five years.

Playing the role of lawyers -- simulations and clinics: The numbers below indicate in which schools students are getting the most experience not just "thinking like lawyers" but actually acting like lawyers either in simulations or clinics. This was something highlighted as particularly important (and not done enough in legal education) for training professionals by the Carnegie report. As you can see from the numbers below, Stanford and Yale clearly do a better job on this score, though more recent data should show Harvard catching up on clinics. Note that the high Stanford number on simulations may well be a result of the fact that the fall semester of their first year legal research and writing course is taught as a simulation; query whether those numbers are counted in Stanford's total.

Positions filled in simulation courses per 100 students:
Stanford 57.2 Harvard 21.9 Yale 12.8

Positions filled in clinics per 100 students:
Stanford 30.3 Harvard 25.7 Yale 83.6

Opportunities to Specialize: Yes at Harvard, no at Yale and Stanford (as far as I can tell). Harvard's specialized "programs of study," developed in the last few years, are: law and government; law and business; international and comparative law; law, science and technology; and law and social change. Not totally clear, though, how much coherence there is in each of these areas other than being a list of relevant courses, and some streamlined and better academic advising (no small thing, to be sure). So Harvard probably doesn't get a huge bump here for this.

Joint degrees: Appears to be particularly encouraged and easy to do at Stanford, relative to Harvard and Yale.


Stanford: Small size, and culture of commitment to teaching and accessibility to students puts Stanford at the top. Jury still out on whether Dean Larry Kramer's vision of a "3-D" curriculum where students work in interdisciplinary teams will have anything more than an isolated effect (interesting class here and there). But if done to sufficient scale, it seems like a promising approach. Unlike Harvard, which revamped its first-year curriculum, Kramer's view has been that the first year is fine; it is the upper-level that is the problem. Though this view certainly has merit, employers now know that when they get a Harvard student, that student will have had some exposure to dealing with statutes and regulations, as well as international legal materials -- not necessarily the case at Stanford, though students can take such courses as electives in the first year.

Last year's rating among academics: 4.7
Last year's rating among lawyers and judges: 4.8
Recommended Rating in Fall '08 Survey: 5

Harvard: Revamped curriculum and aggressive faculty hiring, in part to increase student-faculty contact, raises would probably would have been a "3" five or ten years ago. Still a big school, though, so students need to compete for their professors' attention -- to challenge Stanford, need to continue aggressive hiring, let in fewer students, or both.

Last year's rating among academics: 4.8
Last year's rating among lawyers and judges: 4.8
Recommended Rating in Fall '08 Survey: 4

Yale: Both teaching and curriculum are relatively weak at Yale. Perhaps the relatively recent additions of Christine Jolls and Heather Gerken, both of whom won teaching awards at Harvard, will help change the culture on teaching a bit. Not having a separate legal research and writing class seems odd (but that may just be the failure of my imagination), and the lack of a required course in statutory analysis is a weakness, particularly for a school that justifiably trumpets its contributions to public law over the years, and has perhaps the leading scholar of statutory interpretation (Bill Eskridge) on its faculty.

On the other hand, the ability to participate in a clinic in the second semester of first year allows Yale students to integrate the learning of doctrine, skills and professionalism -- the approach recommended by the Carnegie Foundation -- early in their law school career. Clinical education appears to be the real strength at Yale, and that's obviously quite important. Indeed, it may be that the writing experience and feedback that those who participate get is superior to that in a traditional LRW course.

Last year's rating among academics: 4.8
Last year's rating among lawyers and judges: 4.8
Recommended Rating in Fall '08 Survey: 3

Would welcome thoughts on this sample voters' guide, both on style and substance. If you're interested in getting involved or otherwise supporting the "race to the top" project, let me know ([email protected]). Thanks.

Posted by Jason Solomon on July 17, 2008 at 09:21 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I think bar passage is terrific thing to use, and will do so.

U.S. News voters and those who love (or at least know) them, here are a few schools (just off top of my head) who in recent yrs have done a particularly terrific job here: U of Memphis, NY Law School, NC Central, Campbell (NC).

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 31, 2008 2:20:16 PM

Taking a "value-added" approach, I would be interested to know what schools do a particularly good/bad job preparing students to pass the bar exam. Generally, one would expect schools that have "better" incoming students (higher UGPA and LSAT) to have better bar passage rates. Schools that consistently exceed that expectation are adding more value to the student than schools that are merely meeting the expecation. Conversely, schools that consistently fall below that expectation are adding less value.

I know the bar exam pass rate is not a great measure of the educational quality of a school. It is, however, an objective measure (at least relatively objective). And, this comparison would provide a decent tool to use for purposes of comparing the value added by different law schools.


Posted by: Steve | Jul 31, 2008 11:10:48 AM

I definitely know of three sections of the Intl/comp law that were well-liked by at least some students: my straight IL course (not by me, though), Feldman, and DK. Can't speak for the other four. I'd imagine Goldsmith had a lot of fanboys and girls, though, but I did hear that one of the classes' prof had some absence issues (family type thing, as I heard). So, I'd probably call it more of a mixed bag than an unfettered failure. I think the idea is sound, and it got me to take a course I wouldn't otherwise take that actually shored up some of my Civ Pro knowledge. As for them being a lot of work, I honestly wouldn't know. I stopped doing my intl reading after two weeks. It didn't appear to bite me in the ass, for what it's worth, though I felt wretched after the final.

Posted by: anon again | Jul 21, 2008 1:36:53 PM

Thanks so much, anons, and students, keep it coming! This is exactly the kind of info we need out there for the market to work properly.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 21, 2008 12:04:28 PM

Regarding new HLS 1L curriculum: I felt that LegReg was very solid, but I also had an excellent professor who is renowned for her teaching.

The international class, (or at least 5 out of the 7 international classes, based on friends' impressions) seemed to be a huge flop. People seemed to hate their classes, and the work loads were quite heavy.

As to whether it was just being a 1L or the new curriculum - I heard (though unconfirmed,) that there were a record number of people taking medical leaves, aka dropping out, and apparently participation in journals and other extracurriculars was off from previous years. All of the 2L's and 3L's I talked to seemed to agree what we ended up with more work...

Posted by: anon2 | Jul 21, 2008 12:00:20 PM

Problems and Theories is due to start up either this year or the next. Future 1L classes will have finals before Winter Break, unlike us.

I thought LegReg (as it was generally known) was a solid intro to admin, the intersection of government and the judiciary, and statutory interpretation. Probably very helpful, all in all, and took a lot of the stat-interpretation heat off of Contracts--way less UCC this year, I'm told. However, it was boring as hell. Other people disagreed, though, and said it was their favorite class. Chacun a son gout, I suppose.

The international/comparative law requirement was for one of seven electives (although some were doubles: two sections of [Public] Int'l Law, and two of International Economic Law--I think there was a class about China, Noah Feldman's comparative con law, and Duncan Kennedy doing his Duncan Kennedy thing to round them out). I took plain old Intl Law with a visiting prof. Again, it was a good grounding in the subject, although I wasn't crazy about the class overall, but also again, many in my class adored it.

I'm told that the doctrinal profs really did make an effort to cut out a sixth of their curricula, and I certainly remember almost all of my professors at some point referring to this: "And, if we had more time, we would spend a week on this. But we don't, so don't worry about it." I believe there was only one professor who really just pushed us through the material, but it actually helped my get my job this summer, so I can't really complain. Others did, however.

I certainly did feel overworked, but I'm unsure as to how much of that was a result of profs not streamlining doctrinal courses + new curriculum, and how much was simply, y'know, 1L. Which is also what our professors told us when we bitched about it. Maybe other sections' profs were worse about streamlining, or maybe we just didn't have anything to compare it to, or, quite possibly, some combination thereof.

I think the new curriculum is solid. I didn't enjoy it, especially (Problems and Theories sounds more up my alley), but a lot of people really did. And now I don't have to waste four credits on Admin. Success!

Posted by: anon | Jul 21, 2008 11:41:03 AM

Not sure where this "problems and theories" at HLS class came from... I was a 1L last year, and there was no January term - you're studying for finals over the break, have an (all too brief) week off, then are back in the Spring semester. Is that new this year?

Posted by: Jonathan | Jul 21, 2008 10:27:01 AM

Anon--I think you frame the issue nicely in your last paragraph, and am not sure what research we have bearing on that question. My sense is that you may be right that as to most law schools, no noticeable difference, but first, we're assuming current marketplace with no real competition on and reward for educational quality, and second, at the extremes (positive and negative), lawyers at least perceive a real school-level difference.

So Mercer -- a smallish private school in Macon, GA -- has a reputation among the bar in GA for producing lawyers who are particularly well-prepared to practice law on day one. And Yale has a reputation among many lawyers for producing people who, on balance, are underprepared to practice law, relative to peers and what one would expect given incoming credentials. Yes, Chicagoan's point #3 above is clearly right that you'd want to know actual curriculum followed (and I'm sure more clinical experience at Yale means better prepared than others, both at Yale and at peers)-- but many hiring decisions are made before the second year of law school -- when employers just have to make a bet on how well prepared the student will be when he/she comes out.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 18, 2008 2:55:03 PM

I think this overlooks the broader point is that modern "elite" law schools are more credentialing exercises than they are educational experiences.

Very few people graduate from Harvard, Stanford, or Yale truly "prepared" for whatever practice they find themselves in. First years at large law firms take at least a year to get fully acclimated to the practice of law at a firm. The process continues over the years. I can only imagine it is even worse in a practice with a less generous learning curve, like at a D.A.'s office. This is not just true of these 3 schools, but a variety of national law schools.

Put another way, if you cloned three copies of the same student with a 3.9 GPA and 174 LSAT and sent him through three years of education at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, it strikes me as very unlikely that any one of the clones would come out as a better lawyer or any more prepared to practice law.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 18, 2008 12:41:32 PM

Katie, you raise a good point. The answer on decimals is no you can't, and many people have criticized U.S. News rankings on this score.

The survey doesn't give much guidance on what schools exactly are supposed to be compared. Most people who've thought about this agree it makes no sense to be comparing schools like Harvard to 3rd and 4th tier schools (see, e.g., Gustavo's comments on "Bands" above). Rafael Gely's piece on "segmented markets" explains this in Indiana symposium on rankings, available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=862964.

The question is: can survey respondents go ahead and segment the markets themselves for purpose of survey even if U.S. News doesn't? I say why not -- it's more legitimate and provides much more useful information than actually trying to compare all nearly-200 schools on the same metric. Another possibility is to try to convince U.S. News to do this. Would of course welcome further thoughts on this, as I think you've hit on an important issue.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 18, 2008 11:11:47 AM

What I was thinking is that respondents ought to differentiate within relevant markets -- and we might think of these as "super-elite" (Hvd, Yale, Stanford), national (rest of top 20, let's say), and then 6-8 regional markets.

I'm confused by this - does the survey allow for this? Or can you give decimals?

Posted by: Katie | Jul 18, 2008 10:41:37 AM

Thanks, HLS 3L -- really helpful info and observations. As you can probably tell, part of the point of doing rankings like this is the "information-forcing" aspect of them -- U.S. News rankings has succeeded in forcing some info out there that wasn't previously available, but not yet on relative educational quality. If market can be made to work properly, this should lead to more improvements in ed quality sooner, which I hope students and lawyers will encourage.

If you're interested, Baker, Choi, Gulati have interesting piece on this called "The Rat Race as an Information-Forcing Device" that was part of important 2004 Indiana symposium on rankings, available here http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=649083. They refer to this as a "revelation tournament."

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 18, 2008 10:12:51 AM

A few minor points:

1. Give Harvard's new 1L curriculum a couple of years to settle down before evaluating it. Anecdotally, I've heard that 1Ls felt overwhelmed because the professors for the traditional classes didn't reduce the amount of material covered or time required, so it was as if the 1Ls just had several additional classes. They will probably need a year or two of taking upper-level classes, doing clinicals, or working before they can figure out how the curriculum affected their understanding of the law.

2. I agree with you that Harvard's Programs of Study don't add much. As you said, they are just lists of courses that are backed up by cursory academic advising. (This past year, professors held an open session about each area where students could ask questions. That's the extent of advising.) I'm not sure "opportunity to specialize" is a good measure of a law school, though. If you are talking about breadth and depth of available courses, combined with academic advising, then I agree with you; but just providing programs of study or encouraging students to specialize don't strike me as important.

3. I think there should be a "New England discount" for HLS and YLS. It could be the weather, it could be that those schools just attract more whiners, but as you observed, people are just unhappier out here and more likely to complain.

Posted by: HLS 3L | Jul 18, 2008 9:53:39 AM

There is no super elite, there is only white privilege and money. All law school teach law, none are really any better or any worse than the others. Perpetuating this fallacy is simply irresponsible and contributes to the disrespect of the profession and lawyers in general.

Posted by: angry grad | Jul 18, 2008 9:25:52 AM

Gustavo, thank you for taking the time to add this comment. What I was thinking is that respondents ought to differentiate within relevant markets -- and we might think of these as "super-elite" (Hvd, Yale, Stanford), national (rest of top 20, let's say), and then 6-8 regional markets. Would welcome thoughts on this. Also, forgive my ignorance, but if you have any more info on the "bands" approach, that would be very helpful. Anything you can do to encourage people to assess this way is a big help.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 18, 2008 9:22:42 AM

I just have a brief question about the mechanics of the voting that you're suggesting. I agree completely that the rankings have just become a reflection of the previous year's. If, as you suggest, people give stanford a 5, harvard a 4, and yale a 3, what do voters do as they get to the next group of schools? If they are led to differentiate among NYU, Columbia, and Chicago, do they again assign a 5, 4, 3? Do we really need a separate set of Top 20 rankings to diversify among these somewhat? I would suggest that what might move the rankings forward is the creation of a set of "Bands" such as that used in Chambers and Partners to distinguish among firms. I find your work on this very helpful, and useful to the continued effort to advance legal education. Thanks for taking the time to do it.

Posted by: Gustavo | Jul 18, 2008 9:10:06 AM

One other rationale for Stanford and Harvard over Yale: the first two have really extensive IP programs, and Yale can't compare (especially after losing Benkler). USA Today did a big story on Harvard's Berkman Center, and Stanford has made a lot of great hires. To some extent Yale just forces its students to take whatever strikes the fancy of its profs...while Harvard and Stanford appear to be hiring profs in order to take subjects students want to take.

Posted by: IP Guy | Jul 18, 2008 7:48:10 AM

Agree with the general critique above that the curriculum analysis does not make much of a difference. I agree that most of the courses that teach "real world" and "practical" experience are junk or gimmicky - I only learned to write a brief properly once I did my summer clerkship, and really, I would not have wanted it any differently. I think that American lawyers are far superior to their European counterparts because of our superior analytical capabilities, a skill honed by years of reading and analyzing cases; European lawyers do enter the profession more prepared because they do far more practical learning, but after one or two years of practice, that difference is negligible and instead their inferior curriculum training comes to the fore.

A good example of such a gimmicky course at Columbia is our "Deals" course - looks great to people on the outside who grumble about law school being more practical, but few less useful courses in the curriculum exist.

In the end, the most important difference between the schools is one that is tremendously difficult to measure - professor quality. Professor accessibility is something of a proxy for this because professors who strive to be more accessible are more likely to put effort into their teaching, and there is something to be said for such accessibility as an end in itself. Otherwise, though, I do not know how you can capture that my well published and accessible Con Law and Civ Pro professors were terrible. Still, such experimentation is what blogs are for, so keep at it until something comes up...

Posted by: Vermando | Jul 17, 2008 11:17:11 PM

Jeff V, interesting thoughts, thanks. If you haven't already seen, Northwestern/W and L are doing interesting curr reforms along the practice-oriented lines you discuss."

Yeah, I think it's a good thing. Hopefully more law schools will move in this direction. My suspicion is that change will only come slowly, since a 2-year JD would (1) increase the supply of lawyers, lessening our ability to charge supra-competitive rates and (2) decrease, somewhat, the demand for law profs.

Posted by: Jeff V. | Jul 17, 2008 9:33:49 PM

6:51 and 7:36, I've now updated the post to make more fair and balanced my treatment of Yale's LRW. Thank you for the info. My 1st Am example was perhaps a slight exaggeration, but I'm not sure by how much. A Yale grad reports that one of his two memo assignments consisted of writing a memo to a presidential candidate on the constitutionality or advisability (it didn't have to be a legal argument--could be social, political, etc) of school vouchers. Interesting seminar assignment? Sure. One of two LRW memos for people working at Cravath or the Southern Center for Human Rights that summer? I'm skeptical. So at the moment, I stand by my position that Yale is worse than Hvd and Stanford on this score.

Jeff V, interesting thoughts, thanks. If you haven't already seen, Northwestern/W and L are doing interesting curr reforms along the practice-oriented lines you discuss.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 17, 2008 8:52:09 PM

I just graduated this year from Columbia, and have a very different perspective. My opinion, basically, is that most of the stuff that you're talking about is unimportant. LRW, for me, was not a very helpful class; indeed, I think it actually made me a worse writer overall. It was nice to learn the general format for brief/memo writing, but this was something that I probably could have picked up on my own in an hour or two. Similarly, I don't think novelty classes like the "problem solving" class at Harvard are worth much. These just seem faddish, we've been doing group projects for years, and I'm not sure why we're copying business school when b-school has a reputation for being a non-intellectual schmooze fest. Finally, I don't think any amount of curriculum reform makes a difference; who cares if I take legislation as opposed to criminal procedure first year? I don't.

I will admit, though, that small class size has some utility. It's nice to be able to get to know your professors a little bit. On the other hand, I'm not sure that professor-student interaction makes you a better lawyer. Professors, after all, don't really know very much about being a lawyer in the real world. Of course professor interaction is good for those who want to be professors, who want recommendations for the clerkship process, or who just want to get to know professors in order to enjoy law school more.

I think the bottom line is that there's not much that could or should be done to improve the law school experience. The important thing about law school is that it forces you to sit down and read case law for three years (and, also, that this caselaw is the same stuff that your predecessors read when they went to law school, meaning they expect you to know it). Beyond that, law school doesn't really give you much in the way of practical skills helpful in the real world of lawyer-dom, and no amount of fancy curriculuming will change this. If law schools really wanted to make law school students better lawyers, they'd make them get some real world experience in the third year. Of course, they could do this by improving clinical opportunities. But why should we have to pay law schools to allow us to work for free? Wouldn't it be better to just get rid of the third year of law school, let us all work a year earlier, and reduce the cost of the legal education?

Posted by: Jeff v. | Jul 17, 2008 8:07:53 PM

Anon--I certainly combed the schools' websites, and talked to a few people. But it was explicitly and intentionally framed as a "first cut" designed to find out more info.

When you search YLS's website, you find (link below) a story of memo-writing from a 1L this fall that includes: "At YLS, we don’t have a separate legal writing course for 1L students." The anecdote does mention a legal writing prof coming to this 1L's Con Law class to give a "crash course in legal memos."


I assume that's what you're referring to; readers and others can judge for themselves, but it doesn't seem so adequate to me -- or at least inferior to Harvard's and Stanford's programs. I'll make this more clear in future iterations, though, and appreciate your pointing it out. If you have any more info about this, I'd be grateful for it -- it's certainly not described on YLS's website. Thanks.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 17, 2008 7:57:14 PM

In a somewhat more restrained tone, I'll point out that 6:51 is correct. All first-semester students at YLS have to write a closed universe legal research memo, write an open universe brief, and defend the brief in oral argument. In doing so, they have the assistance of a legal research and writing professor and two 3L teaching assistants (who can give a lot of time to them since the TA to student ratio is roughly 1:8). I have never heard of an assignment like "What is the purpose of the First Amendment?" as part of the first-year small group class; that's a fabrication based on outside impressions of YLS rather than actual practice. Instead, the assignments are based on actual cases. (The memo is usually a bench memo; the brief is frequently based on a pending SCOTUS case.)

And I disagree with Jason's disagreement re: clinics. Students in clinics do far more writing over a semester than is done in an advanced LRW class, and they get a lot of feedback from fantastic lawyers. My friends who did five semesters of clinic while at YLS have WAY more skills than your average recent law school graduate.

Posted by: Anonymous | Jul 17, 2008 7:36:30 PM

Did you actually do any research or fact-finding before posting this hack job? FYI, for example, YLS does have a legal research and writing program run by a professor and third-year teaching assistants. They write standard legal memos and briefs.

Posted by: Anonymous | Jul 17, 2008 6:51:13 PM


Just FYI, I teach in the Stanford LRW program, and our second semester problem is a simulation with a large component of statutory and regulatory interpretation.

Much thanks for this thoughtful analysis.

John Greenman

Posted by: John Greenman | Jul 17, 2008 3:41:56 PM

Chicagoan, I agree with just about everything -- great comments, thanks. On #1, differences in ed quality much larger than scholarly quality from students/prospective employers' perspective (US News audience). And yes, my idea is that we do this on relative basis within particular markets. Only thing I disagree with is #4, clinics no substitute for LRW -- my recc to you is to take the Adv Research and Writing courses they offer there as early as you can, assuming they're decently regarded.

I'm sure you'll like Yale, really! Thanks again. JS

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 17, 2008 2:53:38 PM

Dear Jason,

I find this all very interesting. A few comments:

1. You state that if your vote were solely on Scholarly Quality, Yale, Harvard, and Stanford would be so difficult to differentiate that you would be hard-pressed not to give each of them a 5. This, despite Brian Leiter’s well-supported differentiation—he has Yale at #1, Harvard at #3, and Stanford at #4, backed up by reasonable measures. Your “all 5s” Scholarly Quality ranking seems to be based on the overall picture of scholarly quality at the institutions, whereas Prof. Leiter’s is based on more granular detail. But then you seem to adopt his approach when determining your Educational Quality rankings. In this case, you are differentiating based on very small differences in the same way that Prof. Leiter’s Scholarly Quality rankings do. How can votes of 3, 4, and 5 be justified by such small differences? Or is the idea to give relative votes across various tranches of schools (super-elite, elite, top regional, etc.)? I think I'm perhaps misunderstanding the mechanics of your initiative.

2. I think that your definition of educational quality—that it’s about “teaching, overall classroom experience, curriculum, and preparation for the bar”—is missing something. Namely, this definition overlooks key components of educational quality including the quality of fellow students; the grading systems (which can have big impact on collaboration vs. competition, exploration vs. grade-chasing); and the relative availability of and access to various extracurricular activities like law review, advocacy groups, political organizations, etc.

3. I think that your focus on the required curricula is missing the point. Instead, the focus should be on what curricula the students actually follow over their three years of law school. Unfortunately for this project, that information is not as readily accessible as is the website description of the required curricula at the schools.

4. Correct this greenhorn if he’s wrong, but it seems that the emphasis you put on Legal Research and Writing discounts the opportunities YLS students have for similar (if not identical) experiences in clinics.

5. It is far from clear that the educational goals of these three institutions are in line with your early assumption—that “the purpose of a legal education is to prepare students to practice law.” This is obviously a basic purpose of legal education, but at least at these three schools (and many others, to be sure!) the purpose of the education is broader than that. The wide variety of careers actually held by J.D.s suggests that many people (your correspondent included) go to law school not just to be prepared to practice law, but for other preparation and enrichment, as well. I don’t have a proposal about how to work this into your educational quality measure, but perhaps the revealed preferences of entering law students are not so far off the trail of educational quality as your analysis suggests. (Please don’t get me wrong though: there are many factors not related to educational quality that factor into this decision process, so your effort is certainly a valuable one…and one I wish would have taken place before I applied to law school! This is probably why I'm so engaged with this series of posts.)

Now that I’ve made my comments, I should say: caveat lector. I’ve chosen to enroll in YLS in the future, so I suppose that makes me a partisan…even if I’ve only spent four days on the campus in my life.



Posted by: Chicagoan | Jul 17, 2008 1:50:38 PM

Sorry for the multiple comments, Christian, but what I meant to make clear in above comment, by pointing to Carnegie and LSSSE research, is that when you say:

"Do LR&W programs (of various stripes) in fact produce "results"? Do smaller class sizes produce "results"? Does simulation-based training produce "results"? Perhaps you've linked to other studies - I confess that I'm only in the beginning stages of looking around at this sort of research - but I would not assume the answer is yes to any of these questions."

That the answer does actually appear to be "yes" to these questions, that's why I used that data, and it's actually not as hard to measure relative educational quality as we might think.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 17, 2008 1:13:45 PM

Christian--I think these are great and helpful thoughts, thanks for posting them. Definitely agree that what we're after is output measures, and the idea is that in the absence of the necessary large-scale datset (as far as I know), we use educational input proxies for good outcomes. Which certainly is imperfect, but by no means an uncommon approach.

I'm certainly no expert on the research on learning theory and legal education, but I have dug into it a good bit. Carnegie Foundation's Eedcuating Lawyers is a great place to start, and I think even poking around the website for the Law School Survey of Student Engagement(LSSSE), particularly their annual reports and description of research design, is quite useful.

The point about "what is practice" is an interesting one, but I'm not convinced -- given that students will always go into a range of practice areas throughout their careers after graduating from Yale and other schools -- that the answer is going to (or should) have that much to say about curricular differences within the super-elite market: either in what ought be required as foundational, and what options ought to be available after that. But I certainly see counterarguments. Anyway, worth talking a lot more -- thanks again.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 17, 2008 1:07:10 PM

Jason - Very interesting series of posts that I've been following with great interest. But, at bottom, I'm just not sure what to make of it all. So my comment goes to your series of posts, not just this one.

One way of assessing educational quality is to measure inputs - meaning a school's inputs, what it does. Harvard does X; Stanford does Y; we think Y is better than X; therefore Stanford wins on this measure - that sort of thing. The problem, of course, then reduces to whether Y in fact is "better" than X. In other words, I think we agree that we ultimately care only about measuring outputs - or the value-added as you've been calling it.

Do LR&W programs (of various stripes) in fact produce "results"? Do smaller class sizes produce "results"? Does simulation-based training produce "results"? Perhaps you've linked to other studies - I confess that I'm only in the beginning stages of looking around at this sort of research - but I would not assume the answer is yes to any of these questions. What you do cite here are Professor Interesting / Available assessments - which are important data. However, it's at least conceivable that, as with teaching evaluations generally, the students' assessments may well not comport with a particular "value-added" measure.

But, even if we can (and there may well be plenty of data on this of which I'm not yet aware) connect various practices with certain results - pay, employment rate, happiness measures, retrospective and subjective student assessments of educational quality, drafting quality, litigation win-rate, rate at which alums become judges / legislators / academics / lawyers - it is pretty apparent that deciding which connections are relevant and important is not at all easy or even determinate. Exactly what "results" are we looking for? You summarize your position as being that "relative educational quality [is] about teaching, overall classroom experience, curriculum, and preparation for the bar." Of these, the first two are input measures, and the third is and output measure - and means, I assume, preparation for practice as a private or government attorney, not just for the bar exam. I'm just not sure that, even if we can measure such a thing, this is precisely where we want to aim. And I'm even less sure that this makes sense for the super-elite three under discussion in this post.

Do we want to maximize student quality as litigators in typical adversary systems? Do we want to give students skills to serve as legislators? Do we want students to have the skills they need to change the nature of practice, if they so choose, skills which could be (though I have no idea if this is so) quite different than the ones the bar wants them to have? Should students be prepared as academic-oriented lawyers (or lawmakers), whatever that might mean? If students are given a full menu of courses and opportunities, how likely are they to choose in a way they will not later regret? To what extent should different schools answer these questions differently (would we like to see schools that are generally regarded as "best" for x, y, or z)? The essential problem is that different visions of what "practice" is or should be will drive very different notions of what the appropriate preparation for practice is.

Once we've decided what we're trying to do, then I suppose we could ask whether various techniques work - and whether they make much difference. Hopefully, we'll find that many techniques are non-specific, and various techniques will serve a number of aims well. Failing getting to this point, I suppose we should try to give our students options. And your posts have enlarged my sense of what these options could be. We should also remember that law school is three years of their actual lives and not *only* preparation for something else - law school should be an enjoyable three years.

Posted by: Christian Turner | Jul 17, 2008 10:51:23 AM

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