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December 2, 2009

Innovation in Tier 4

As John Garvey has recently argued, diversity among law schools is a good thing.  That is, having a variety of law schools which are distinctive from one another allows for a better fit between student and school, and between the school and the communities it serves. 

Innovative missions and programs are found across the spectrum, of course.  Still, I find it odd that so many of the most innovative law schools are found in Tier 4 of the U.S. News rankings.  Of course, this is typical of those flawed rankings, but still merits investigation, since it reflects a specific flaw within those rankings-- the failure to measure the value of an innovative mission.

What do we find in Tier Four?  One school in that range is Northern Kentucky, which I visited a few years ago, and found to be very innovative in both their course offerings and their integration of teaching and scholarship.  South Texas is there as well, and this is a school which has developed a top-notch advocacy program which has consistently been successful in competitions and in rankings in that specialty.  Campbell University just made a huge and innovative step:  Moving the entire law school from a small town to Raleigh, North Carolina, in large part to place the students in the middle of a vibrant legal community.  Appalachian School of Law may be the most unique school in the nation, founded to produce community servants.  Ave Maria School of Law has had very public struggles, but has a strikingly singular religious mission.

Because of these innovations, it is probably true that the best school for some very bright students might be found in the fourth tier.  The fact that innovation is worthless within these rankings obscures this important fact.

-- Mark Osler



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