February 9, 2007
Does (law school) size matter?
A short piece in law student mag "The National Jurist" has me thinking about the importance and impact of the size of a law school. The article, entitled "Shrinking law schools" (and available only in print), details that a "number of law schools are shrinking the size of their incoming classes or have said that they intend to do so." The article discusses both the economic and possible rankings impact of such shrinkage.
Brian Leiter, who is quoted in the piece, has long noted that "[m]ore than one-third of the [US News] criteria that go in to the final score favor small schools and penalize large schools." So one answer is clear: size does matter in the realities of US News ranking. But, as Leiter and so many others stress, US News is a very imperfect (and harmful?) proxy for educational quality.
Notably, many top schools are radically different sizes. I believe Harvard and NYU and Georgetown are among the largest law schools in the nation, while Yale and Stanford and Chicago are among the smallest. I sense the national mean is somewhere around 600-700 students in the standard JD program, but I have no evidence that there is a pedagogically sound reason for that mean.
So, here are my questions: is there an "ideal" law school size for serving a law school's core educational mission? Are there sound student-oriented reasons — other than economic or US News concerns — for a school to aspire to be larger or smaller?
Posted by DAB
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I attended a small law school (under 600 students), teach at a small law school, and am currently visiting at yet another small law school. My own sense -- putting aside the US News issues -- is that the smaller schools might facilitate community and collegiality among the students (and, perhaps, the faculty) and more individualized attention from faculty and administrators. But, a larger school can benefit, I would think, from economies of scale in job-placement, etc., and can also provide a more diverse array (assuming it also has a large faculty, and not just lots of students) of electives. So, is there an "ideal" size? I guess I doubt it.
Posted by: Rick Garnett | Feb 9, 2007 10:15:42 AM
Different people have different preferences, and different sizes will serve different preferences differently. My sense is that those who say there is an "ideal" size mean that the size is "ideal for my set of preferences."
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Feb 9, 2007 12:59:23 PM
I concur with the prior comments, and would add that, at least in my case, my set of preferences was different as a student (I attended a large school) than as a faculty member (I did a teaching fellowship at a small school and am about to join the faculty at another, even smaller school). As a student, I cared most about having a broad variety of course offerings, and very little about the communal/social environment. In contrast, as a faculty member, community/collegiality are more important to me.
Posted by: Eric Fink | Feb 9, 2007 1:47:54 PM
I'm currently deciding which law school to go to, and in terms of size, it seems to me that the larger law schools are capable of offering better job placement due to the networking opportunities. The more people a school graduates, the chances of you being interviewed by someone of your school increase and that seems to me to be an advantage in the job market.
Posted by: Ben | Feb 15, 2007 5:23:01 PM
Maybe there's a sliding scale for size, depending on a student's needs. The smaller the school, the more interactions and the more likely it is that each constituent group (faculty, staff, students) will remember to "play nice" because everyone's a repeat player. Beyond that, the ideal size probably depends on several factors, including location, ability to get to know professors and staff members, ability to get access to key courses and other opportunities, and a person's comfort level with big or small classes.
Posted by: Nancy Rapoport | Feb 18, 2007 5:55:30 PM
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