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Monday, October 19, 2009

Choosing from Among Lower Ranked Schools

Some aspiring prawfs who commented on my Bird in the Hand post asked how to differentiate among lower ranked schools.  A basic question can be largely answered by searching JLR on Westlaw for something like (professor /s "South Podunk" /s (college school) /s law)  and dateafter(1998) which will pick up the first footnote of articles posted by that faculty in the last decade.  This will show what scholarship, if any, comes from the particular faculty.  While much of this information might be on the school's website, looking at names on the results list but not on the website will reveal something about recent lateral moves, which I regard as an important measure of quality, although I may be biased.  Also valuable is Michael Yelnosky's citation study of schools outside the top 50. 

Some commenters were concerned about finances. 

There are further steps, some of which would be regarded as aggressive, particularly on the part of an entry level.  I've not done any of these things myself, for the record, but in this environment perhaps they are sensible.  First, for those not yet in the academy, there is something called a self-study which law schools do on themselves every seven years as part of ABA reaccreditation. (Here's one.)   They contain much information of interest to one considering an investment, as does the ABA's Site Evaluation Report. (Here's one for a summer program, which is much shorter than would be typical for a reaccreditation visit).   

Also, you can register at Moody's or S & P for free, and find out the credit rating of issuers of bonds, including educational institutions, which are many.  There's a lot there that will raise an eyebrow and a few things that will make your hair stand on end (don't ask--it's not my job to make the market efficient). 

Probably also sensible to talk to the administrators responsible for admissions and placement if you are concerned about a school's prospects, again, only once you have an offer, and even then, be discreet.

Posted by Marc Miller on October 19, 2009 at 06:24 AM | Permalink


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Ask them how they compare to this. ;>

Posted by: Michael Froomkin | Oct 19, 2009 10:03:49 AM

These are all sensible things to do, but it leaves out some critical things one might do:
1. Pay attention to how the faculty members treat you. If they treat you poorly now, it is not going to get better later.

2. Pay attention to how the faculty members treat each other. This will tell you how you will be treated, as well as the general environment at the school.

3. Pay close attention to research and travel support, and ask questions. My deans, for example, have given me everything I have ever asked for, which is something that many of my colleagues at much higher ranked schools.

4. Ask junior faculty about what they are doing, both scholarly and travel. You will find that professors at most law schools are really smart and productive, even if that productivity is no longer in scholarly writing. What separates many lower ranked schools from higher ranked schools is the scholarly productivity of its senior professors. However, the _junior_ scholars at ALL schools are productive, and if you have a cohort of junior scholars who are active in scholarship, you may find that your goals are met.

5. I think citations are overrated. If you are going to a law school because its professors get cited, you risk a) picking a bad fit for you, b) being really disappointed, and c) being really unhappy. People who write good work get cited. There is a definite placement advantage to being at certain schools, but in a lot of ways you make your own luck - I know several colleagues from lower ranked schools with top law review placements. That said, I think the point about seeing lateral opportunities is a good one.

6. Ask junior faculty about the pressure they feel. Pressure can be a real drag on happiness.

7. Make sure the location is one that you can live with.

8. Consider whether the school is public, private, large, small, part of a greater university, etc.

9. Consider whether you get the teaching package of your dreams.

There are surely many intangibles that I am missing. My point is more generally that:
a) if you do good work, you can make an impact just about anywhere
b) quality of life should not be discounted
c) faculty collegiality should not be discounted
d) research support should not be discounted
e) teaching package should not be discounted

Happiness in the above will lead to greater scholarly productivity and recognition, no matter where you are.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Oct 19, 2009 8:45:34 AM

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