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August 6, 2010

Should innovators be pleased or worried that grades may matter more than prestige?

The question in the title of this post is inspired bythis report via the ABA Journal, which is headlined "Law School Grades More Important to Career than Elite School, Researchers Say."  Here are the basics:

Law school grades are the important predictor of a lawyer’s career success—in fact they are “decisively more important” than the eliteness of the school attended, according to two law professors who have studied the issue.

University of California, Los Angeles law professor Richard Sander and Brooklyn Law School visiting professor Jane Yakowitz analyzed data from four studies and concluded that the standard advice—go to the best law school that will take you—doesn’t necessarily hold true, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports.

“Since the dominant conventional wisdom says that law school prestige is all‐important, and since students who ‘trade‐up’ in school prestige generally take a hit to their school performance, we think prospective students are getting the wrong message,” they write in a new paper (PDF posted by Law Blog).

Sander told the Wall Street Journal he doesn’t know why grades are so important, but he was willing to speculate. “It could have to do with psychological factors, a level of confidence you gain from doing well that serves you well not only in school but afterward,” he said.

Sander and Yakowitz studied data from more than 40 public law schools across the country, and found that applicants tend to go to the most elite law school that will have them. But is that a good idea? Not according to data collected in the American Bar Foundation’s After the JD study of lawyers who entered the bar in 2000, they write. It indicates that the salary boost for achieving high grades more than makes up for the salary depreciation associated with attending a lower‐ranked school. The study also found that lawyers who left law school with the lowest grades felt the least secure about their jobs.

Two other studies of lawyers practicing in Chicago in the mid-1970s and mid-1990s found that law school eliteness was associated with higher incomes in the 1970s, but that had changed in the 1990s, when class rank more accurately predicted earning power.

Two other findings: In two of the studies, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews all appear to have a salary edge over nonbelievers and the unaffiliated, creating “an interesting issue for further exploration,” according to Sander and Yakowitz. And while law students tend to come from upper-middle and upper class backgrounds, social status now appears to not have a role in shaping grads' careers.

Posted by DAB

August 6, 2010 in Admissions to law school, Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 2, 2010

"The New Realities of the Legal Academy"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new paper by Larry Solum available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This short paper is the Foreword to Brannon P. Denning, Marcia L. McCormick, and Jeffrey M. Lipshaw, Becoming a Law Professor: A Candidate's Guide, American Bar Association, Forthcoming.

One of the great virtues of Denning, McCormick and Lipshaw’s guide is that it reflects the changing nature and new realities of the legal academy.  Not so many years ago, entry into the elite legal academy was mostly a function of two things -- credentials and connections. The ideal candidate graduated near the top of the class at a top-five law school, held an important editorial position on law review, clerked for a Supreme Court Justice, and practiced for a few years at an elite firm or government agency in New York or Washington.  Credentials like these almost guaranteed a job at a very respectable law school, but the very best jobs went to those with connections -- the few who were held in high esteem by the elite network of very successful legal academics and their friends in the bar and on the bench. The not-so-elite legal academy operated by a similar set of rules.  Regional law schools were populated by a mix of graduates from elite schools and the top graduates of local schools, clerks of respected local judges, and alumni of elite law firms in the neighborhood.  In what we now call the "bad old days," it was very difficult indeed for someone to become a law professor without glowing credentials and the right connections.

But times have changed.  When the Association of American Law Schools created the annual Faculty Recruitment Conference (or FRC) and the associated Faculty Appointments Register (or FAR), the landscape of the legal academy was forever changed.  The change was slow in coming.  For many years, candidates were selected for interviews at the FRC on the basis of the same old credentials and connections, but at some point (many would say the early 1980s), the rules of the game began to change.  In baseball, a similar change is associated with Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland Athletics, who defied conventional wisdom and built winning teams despite severe financial constraints by relying on statistically reliable predictors of success.  The corresponding insight in the legal academy (developed by hiring committees at several law schools) was that the best predictor of success as a legal scholar was a record of publication.  It turns out that law school grades, law review offices, and clerkships are at best very rough indicators of scholarly success.  But those who successfully publish high quality legal scholarship are likely to continue to do so.

This foreword explores the implications of the new realities of the legal academy for candidates seeking to become law professors.

Posted by DAB

August 2, 2010 in The mission of law schools, The tenure process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack