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April 13, 2010

Law School Rankings and Faculty Diversity

Dean Vikram David AmarKevin Johnson (the first Latino dean in the history of University of California law schools) and Associate Dean Vik Amar (among the few Asian-Americans to have held that position in the University of California) offer a cogent argument for the inclusion of faculty diversity in assessing law school quality.

A diverse faculty, including women and racial minorities, better reflects the demographic shift that our country is experiencing. Imagine how meaningful it is for a young woman right out of college to see a first year professor teaching her contracts or torts. Imagine how heartening it is for a Latino student to see a Latino Dean of her law school.  Johnson and Amar also argue that a diverse faculty will likely to have a more diverse set of scholarly interests--and advance scholarship in new directions.

Anupam Chander

April 13, 2010 in Teaching -- research | Permalink

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The sole valid measure of the law school education is the yearly earnings of its graduates. That is the value placed on the quality of the legal services of the graduates, by the public. If someone wants to compete with the current rankings, publish the average wage of the graduates. That would also allow future applicants to calculate their return on tuition investment.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 14, 2010 6:55:05 AM

Supremacy Clause - while that may be the sole valid measure for you, it is certainly not the sole valid measure for all. Law graduates routinely forego higher wages for quality of life - public interest, small firm, sole practice, academia, etc. I did, and so many do that public interest jobs are incredibly hard to get.

What law schools do is prepare students to pursue whatever career they might choose - usually being a lawyer, but not even that always. Thus, there are many other considerations, including diversity, when considering law school quality.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Apr 17, 2010 8:36:35 AM

Michael: Perhaps, you know the data. I see public interest jobs as equivalent to medical internships and residency, where one takes control of real world problems, but still has some support, mentoring, and supervision. Say, it takes 5 years to really learn a subject, and about 10 years to excel at it, what is the average duration of the public interest job for the new law grad? If the average person, including females, comes face to face with the financial needs to maintain a middle class family, the incentive to go for the money grows with age and family formation.

The salary is the value placed on the work by the public. One may live on $10,000 a year, and quite well, if one has a goal and passion for it. The public in the form of the law student tolerates the self-absorption of the faculty with narrow, useless law subjects because the teacher emerges more learned. Eventually, the lawyer will have to provide value to the public.

There is one exception. Rent seeking. It is the opposite of profit seeking. In profit seeking, one adds value to a product or service, and both sides are happy. In rent seeking, the taxpayer is forced, at the point of a gun, to subsidize an entity, and gets nothing back. It is accepted that this is a form of armed robbery. You are not referring to useless government make work, with inferior performers hired for partisan, political purposes. I assume.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 17, 2010 5:31:45 PM

Rankings are composed of public and private institutions that have different forces affecting their performance, their input and their output variables.

I think the marketplace analogy fails on this point. It is much like comparing the USPS to UPS and FedEx. (although my postal service experiences, particularly when I am not home, are much more satisfactory than the private market competition). You can't put something into the Constitution (as the postal service is) and then complain when it creates inefficiencies. Likewise, you can't legislatively create institutions of higher learning, task them with legal mandate, and then critique or disband them due to poor economic performance. If the USPS were a private business, it wouldn't have post offices in the majority of rural zip codes that fail to generate enough revenue for the customers they serve. The same could be said about law schools, or universities generally. They are not necessarily there to produce high earning graduates. They are there to produce a politically important and socially valuable service, education, and one that, in many cases, does not easily translate into monetary compensation. We don't close the doors on the University of Hawaii's law program because it is inefficiently located and provides too much education for not enough people; we might with a private law school in the same place if it didn't generate enough business in the form of students. So the forces that create demand for law degree holders, and thereby increase the price of the service, simply don't play out: we have state law schools that are part of the political process producing more lawyers than may be needed and thereby artificially decreasing the value of the services rendered, but we do so because we have collectively decided through our representatives that providing such an education is itself valuable, and making sure that we have attorneys outside of big cities and in rural states is worth more than having high earning lawyers in dense population centers.

While I generally agree with an outcomes based approach to law school rankings (USNews places far too much weight on input variables, Undergrad GPA and LSAT scores, and, consequentially, so do law schools) a purely output based analysis completely misses the reason for public institutions of higher education in the first place. Public Schools cannot compete adequately because funding is largely in the hands of legislatures and the political process. Tuition is capped, and many states have mandates or guidelines for providing education for state residence on a priority basis. Schools may only hire when legislatures permit them to do so, and tenure and employment contracts effectively prohibit state employees from being terminated due to underperformance. None of these factors are the case in a private business, and fewer of them happen in private educational environments.

To make it worse, very little in the way of market forces impacts student university seeking. The ease with which students can take on six-figure debt to pay for professional degrees only makes the situation that much worse. People simply do not consider costs when selecting professional programs, so the students with the best GPAs and LSAT scores don't choose the lowly state Law program, (thereby improving the quality of the education at that program) they go to harvard or out of state to a better state program like Berkeley. The current system simply isn't a functional market, so judging the outputs by traditional market forces is simply ideological rather than rational.

Posted by: Fisher | Jul 1, 2010 6:46:53 PM

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