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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

And the Winner of the "Best Law Porn" Award is...

UCLA! We can judge "law porn" -- the glossy brochures that arrive in the mailboxes of of law professors, lawyers and judges this time of year -- on any number of dimensions: aesthetics, weight, ability to convey excitement, number of articles in top journals per square inch, etc.

My key metric is relevance, and that' s where UCLA's submission this cycle stands out. After all, these mailings are not just designed to create warm and fuzzy feelings towards the school, though they are that.  They are designed to get the recipients to answer a particular question asked by U.S. News -- rate the "academic quality of their J.D. program" on a scale of 1-5 -- higher than the person would otherwise.

And to answer that question, the cover story of UCLA's law-porn magazine, "How UCLA Law Trains Lawyers", available here (see p. 34 of the pdf), provides highly relevant information on things like curriculum and the use of pedagogic techniques backed by research on learning theory. I read about how UCLA offers skills-oriented courses for transactional practice, which more law schools need and students want, and I'm turning my internal U.S. News dial upward.

In contrast, the glossy lists of articles provided by most schools -- and I'm with Markel on this, I like the glance at who's writing what during the 10-second stroll from my mailbox to my office -- provide next to no information to help answer the question U.S. News asks, and what consumers want to know: the quality of one law school's J.D. program versus its competitors. 

After all, there's no point in comparing Harvard to Baylor: In filling out the survey, you want to speak directly to the U.S. News consumers -- prospective students who have particular LSATs and GPAs and a limited set of choices, and prospective employers who have a particular place in the market, and will choose from a certain set of schools on where to hire.  The role of law professors and lawyers in the U.S. News formula is to assess the quality of one's school's legal education versus another, the "value added" to a particular student who enters law school with certain analytic and other skills, and will emerge with some additional training of relevance to being a lawyer. UCLA or USC?  NYU or Columbia?  Baylor or Texas Tech?

Of course, we can't just listen to the schools' own propaganda: we can look to other indicators like bar passage rates relative to entering credentials; levels of student engagement and satisfaction from the recently released Princeton Review law school rankings and implementation of findings from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement; and highly-rated programs in critical areas like legal writing and clinics.  To get more information relevant to the quality of schools' JD programs, the project I helped start a few months ago, Race to the Top, has a survey out to all law schools, available here, on the degree to which they use "best practices" in legal education -- it's due this Friday, October 17. 

Early next week, we'll deliver some information directly to U.S. News voters in law schools (you can sign-up for the "Voters' Guide" here) about how certain schools do in these categories, and again next month when lawyers and judges receive their survey -- as far as we know, this is the only information they'll get from a source other than the schools themselves to help fill out the survey.  This will just be a first cut, and will simply highlight schools that are strong in at least one of these categories. 

There will be other opportunities to be highlighted in the months ahead, and we don't quite have enough data yet to do a more definitive list of top "value added" law schools that score highly on a range of these indicators.  But this time of year -- US News voting time -- is a critical time in the life of law schools and those that inhabit them. Let's take advantage, and create a race to the top in legal education.

For now, I'm thinking UCLA could be in the "outstanding" ("5") category,  but would welcome thoughts.

Posted by Jason Solomon on October 15, 2008 at 10:19 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Like the Valpo appeal, particularly from a green guy like you. On what it says about us if the mailings work, I think it just says that we haven't gotten our act together to aggregate/analyze any data, which i what I'm trying to get started at least.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Oct 15, 2008 8:30:56 PM

What does it say about us if these mailings work? Even if one thinks that the information to be gleaned from them is possibly of some value, who actually reads them? But, maybe even more scary, what does it say about us if they *don't* work? Either way, I'd like to make a special appeal to Valparaiso University (my parents are actually college alums): please consolidate the many fine and exiciting events and people new to your law school in a single mailing.

Posted by: Christian Turner | Oct 15, 2008 12:44:03 PM

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