10 August 2005

I Am Not a Number

Professor Leiter's new blawg on law school issues (as opposed to legal issues) had an interesting article from the former dean at USF that decries some aspects of "law school rankings":

So the other tier in my classification includes the other 140 or 150 odd schools which do not qualify as what I refer to as a "prestige" school. It is these schools for which the USNews evaluations by professors, judges and practitioners are likely to be inaccurate or at least seriously misleading, because it is probably impossible for any small group of professional "evaluators" (law faculty or practitioner) to evaluate with even a pretense of accuracy. Many such evaluators may simply be a look at last years evaluation with a quick look at the LSAT range (which for the "bottom" schools is pretty atrocious) in making a decision. Indeed, as you noted, it is because of the impossibility of evaluating all law schools that you confine yourself to simply analyzing the top fifty or so law schools—and even fewer for specific characteristics.

What Law School Rankings Should and Shouldn't Do: A Former Law Dean's Perspective (09 Aug 2005) (quoting Prof. Paul McKaskie).

One of the other aspects of law school that gets no weight whatsoever in the USNews (or, indeed, any other widely used evaluation system) is the "survivability" of that school. One of the reasons that I chose Illinois over [two unnamed, "more prestigious" schools] is that my survival was more likely: It was affordable1; the school systems near the campus were not unduly hazardous to either staff or students (my then-wife was a DODS-tenured teacher); and, perhaps most importantly, the people connected with the school did not treat questions slightly outside the box as impositions on their time—silly things like "I need to not have an 0800 lecture first semester so I can help with childcare during my wife's pregnancy." This is perhaps as much as anything else a relic of the general institutional disdain for second-career law students at law schools that do not have a night division (and even at some of those that do).

I only felt treated like a number (in my case, Number Six) in three classes in law school. I think it no coincidence that two of those three were the lowest grades I received in law school. The third one… well, that's a very complicated story from first year. What is disturbing to me is how exceptional that seems to be, even among students from elite schools (and most particularly among those who did not go the clerkship route). Maybe one of the factors that should be used is "number of faculty who habitually invite their students to lunch…" Of course, then that's going to result in gaming the system, too.

  1. Here's a big fat raspberry for financial aid systems that determine that the mere fact of employment at the time of the application essentially denies the right to financial aid—particularly when moving from out of state, with all the extra expenses that entails, and particularly when not a single person with no or limited preexisting educational debts.