November 17, 2011

"Professor's plea: Say no to 'law school porn'"

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece appearing in The National Law Journal. Here are excerpts:

It's that time of year when law school faculties are inundated with so-called "law school porn" — slick mailings extolling the virtues of individual law schools meant to sway voting in the U.S. News & World Report's reputation survey, now underway.

Some legal educators believe the annual barrage of mail has gotten out of control, and proves that rankings are driving administrative decisions.  They say it's time to stop paying for glossy brochures and invest that money in students.

"Some of the stuff I get is gorgeous," said University of New Hampshire law professor Sarah Redfield. "It's almost a book. Some people are spending a bunch of money on this."

A study released in 2009 that was partially funded by the Law School Admission Council, "Fear of Failing: The Effect of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on U.S. Law Schools," reached the same conclusion: that administrators are spending significant amounts of money on brochures and marketing materials in hopes of getting better results on the reputation survey.  The survey is based on voting by legal educators, lawyers and judges, and accounts for 40 percent of a school's ranking score.

In a recent blog post, University of California at Los Angeles School of Law professor Stephen Bainbridge estimated that this material — commonly referred to in legal academic circles as "law school porn" — comprises 67 percent of his work mail. He added that never reads it. He noted that he has started to receive law school promotional materials via e-mail, which he dismissed as spam.

This material does serve a few purposes, according to University of Alabama School of Law professor Paul Horwitz, who defended them on the PrawfsBlawg blog. They can provide useful information about as recent faculty hires, scholarly publications and other innovations, he wrote.

"On the whole, unlike many, I would rather receive these materials than not receive them," Horwitz wrote. "That's true even if, as is generally the case, they're ridiculously fulsome, as long as they're also informative. As long as a school wants to tell me more about who it's hired and what its folks are writing, I'll be happy to read its mailers."...

Redfield brought a thick stack of the material to a law school admissions conference at St. John's University School of Law on Nov. 11.  It represented about one quarter of what she had received this fall, she said. She theatrically dropped the stack into a recycling bin, producing a loud thud, and issued a challenge to the law deans in the audience and to U.S. News Director of Data Research Bob Morse, who sat on a panel with her.  Law schools should do away with law school porn and put the money toward diversity scholarships, Redfield said.

Morse did not sign on to the challenge, nor did his dismiss it out of hand.  Redfield's idea was met with skepticism by St. John's Dean Michael Simons.  He did not specify what the school spends on its mailings, but stipulated that it would not be enough to fund even a half-scholarship. The National Law Journal contacted a number of law schools to ask what they spend; none responded.

November 17, 2011 in Impact on law school decision-making, Rankings, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

August 08, 2009

How do tough times and tuition increases impact law school innovation?

This recent article from the National Law Journal, which headlined "At public law schools, tuition jumps sharply: Students may pay as much as 20% more at some state institutions," has me wondering about the relationship between lean times and law school innovation.  First, here is a excerpt from the start of the article:

Double-digit tuition increases loom for students at some of the country's top public law schools. School administrators say that the unusually large tuition hikes for the coming academic year are largely spurred by cuts in public funding — with endowment losses, initiatives to improve their schools and pressure to keep up with competing institutions also playing a part.

Even with the higher tuition costs next year, public schools will remain generally cheaper than their private counterparts. But the shrinking public/private tuition gap has led administrators and professors to worry about whether public institutions are fulfilling their mission of remaining affordable....

The recession is having a "much more pervasive effect" on law school budgets than did past recessions, said Susan Westerberg Prager, executive director of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). Specifically, it's hitting hardest at law schools dependent on state appropriations or revenue from endowments.

Administrators planning substantial tuition increases note that they are putting some of that additional revenue toward financial aid. Even so, the tuition increases are bound to heighten the financial burdens of public law school students, who already graduate with an average of $71,436 in law school debt, according to the latest available statistics from the American Bar Association.

There is, of course, the old cliche that necessity is the mother of invention.  Thus, one might expect and hope that law schools needing to make less money go farther would develop cost-effective new programming for its students.  And yet, I have an inkling that tough times might lead deans and faculties to be more conservative in their ways based on the (justified?) fear that prospective law students are now more likely to demand more traditional forms of instruction for their law school dollar.

Posted by DAB

August 8, 2009 in Impact on law school decision-making | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 13, 2008

"Law school dean trying to break into Top 10 rankings"

The title of this post might be the title of a mission statement for just about every law school ranked somewhere in the top 50.  But, in fact, it is the headline of this interesting local article discussing the goals and plans of the University of Texas School of Law's dean, Lawrence Sager. The lengthy article is a great read, and here is how it begins and a few especially notable passage:

Lawrence Sager knows he will be measured by his ability to raise the $200 million he has promised to add to the University of Texas School of Law's endowment.

If he can raise the money by the university's 2014 deadline, he will nearly double the current $202 million endowment and exceed by fivefold the most money ever raised in a single drive for the law school. Despite recent economic woes, Sager, the law school's dean, said only one of his potential major donors has backed away....

At his core, Sager considers himself a teacher and a scholar; he's one of the nation's foremost constitutional scholars. "What a good law school does," Sager said, "is it incubates a habit of mind that says when making judgments about the right course of action, you are driven not by passion but by reason."

It does that, he said, by creating an environment where "discourse and exchange" can thrive. "I think in a specific way this is what drew me to law school," he said, "this sense of seriousness about language and ideas."...

Hitting his $200 million target, Sager says, is crucial to attracting top faculty and the best students, essential ingredients in his drive to elevate the school from 16th in annual U.S. News and World Report rankings to the Top 10, alongside law schools such as Yale, Harvard and Stanford. For the past 20 years, UT School of Law has maintained a ranking in the Top 20 but never cracked the Top 10.

Sager said he would like the law school first to be able to compete for the best students with higher-ranked public law schools at the University of Michigan, with its $250 million endowment, and the University of California-Berkeley and its $215 million endowment.

"You find yourself worrying about the rankings much too much, but you can't not care about these rankings," Sager said. "They affect your ability to attract the best students and faculty. One of the key ways to affect those rankings is to spend more money."

November 13, 2008 in Impact on law school decision-making | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 17, 2006

How does innovation impact law school hiring?

The law school faculty hiring season is now in full swing, and that has me thinking about how innovation impacts law school hiring processes and decisions.  As a faculty member who is usually just on the periphery of most hiring decisions, I tend to view a faculty candidate more favorably if he or she has a track record of (or at least an interest in) law school innovation.  But I am probably not representative of most faculty members, and debates over particular candidates typically focus on "scholarly potential" and rarely on "innovation potential."

Moreover, I suspect and fear that faculty candidates who appear a bit too innovative may actually hurt their prospects in the law school hiring market.  Despite the fact that most law faculties tend to be politically liberal, many faculty members can be quite reactionary when new persons champion ways to shake up the prevailing law school universe.

Posted by DAB.

November 17, 2006 in Impact on law school decision-making | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack