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Monday, April 30, 2012

Critchlow: Models for Law School Success Apart from the U.S. News Rankings

US News (2013)George Critchlow (Gonzaga), Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian: Models for Law School Success (or Not), 45 Conn. L. Rev. ___ (2013):

This article is a partly satirical and partly serious discussion about the obsessive need for law schools to chase rankings and fame. The article suggests that the stated mission of many law schools is trumped by the real mission -- to become famous (highly ranked) and that this disconnect prevents such law schools from creating important and innovative mission-based education programs that serve the larger public interest. The article explicitly raises the question: is it okay to be a lower ranked law school? The text and footnotes develop issues related to diversity, the historical role of the LSAT, the purpose of law schools, emphasis on faculty scholarship rather than teaching, ABA accreditation standards, etc. The article recommends strategies for schools that might wish to escape the rankings game. It concludes by asserting that many law schools will have a difficult time adapting to modern challenges if they are motivated primarily about what U.S. News & World Report considers to be important.

Ten strategies to escape the tyranny of rankings.  Assuming a law school makes a decision to de-emphasize rankings in favor of more authentic, student-centered and public interest minded missions, the following ten strategies should be considered to optimize success:

  1. Draft and embrace a mission statement that is honest and realistic, consistent with the law school’s history, location and purpose, and that appeals to the desired applicant pool.
  2. Use alternative admissions protocols.
  3. Create strong academic and bar exam support programs together with a campus culture that is culturally welcoming and supportive to students from diverse backgrounds.
  4. Establish a mix of faculty: many will have job descriptions that emphasize teaching specialties and mentoring; some will emphasize scholarship; still others will have a conventional mix of teaching and scholarship responsibilities. Whatever the mix, it should be geared towards meeting the educational goals of the school, and student needs, as opposed to some notion of what happens at “national” law schools.
  5. Make budget decisions that prioritize student success.
  6. Hire adjunct and contract professors to adjust teaching resources to changing curriculum and budget needs.
  7. Choose faculty who are committed to teaching and enhancing student success.
  8. Develop strong relationships with undergraduate schools and other organizations that are willing to work on pipeline programs for diverse students.
  9. Foster strong relationships with local and regional alumni, courts, government agencies, law firms, and bar associations (all of which can promote the school and provide work, externship, mentorship, and pro bono opportunities for students).
  10. Focus recruitment and marketing on geographical areas and demographic groups that make sense.

We cannot know what law schools of the future will look like. But we can be sure that experimentation and innovation will not come easily for those schools slavishly tied to USN ranking criteria as a measure of success. Just as Apple changed history by departing from the conventional expectations of the computer hardware and software industries of the 1980s, some law schools will improve on the model of legal education by committing to new missions and paths. The law schools that will lead us into the future are those that have internal confidence in their mission and compass and are not afraid to be proactive and different; those that are most interested in playing to external media for affirmation will likely be hindered by the status quo, complacency, and fear of change.

The legal profession is of such value and importance to society that training people for the profession requires law school to be more than just another competitive business. Law schools should not exist only to provide jobs for law professors who desire job security and do not want to practice law. Law schools should not pursue recognition solely for the sake of recognition and attracting tuition; rather, they should have a purpose, a mission that is realistically designed to make a difference in the world. They should follow that mission so long as it is practicable and worthwhile -- even if the effort escapes the attention of those who keep lists of the “top” law schools. Who knows -- maybe a law school could become famous by doing the right thing?

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