Saturday, August 4, 2012
As one law-student-admissions and law-faculty-hiring cycle winds down and another one begins to crank up, yet another law-school ranking was released last month, this one focusing on the “scholarly impact of law faculties, ranking the top third of ABA-accredited law schools.” Below, I discuss and analyze some of the seeming surprises in the ranking, and also explore why prospective law school students and law faculty members should care about this kind of ranking. ...
In some respects, the Leiter ranking results were not surprising. Only about 70 of the close-to-200 ABA-approved schools made the rankings list, and those at the top were the usual suspects: Yale, Harvard, Chicago and Stanford were the top four (in that order), and that conforms pretty closely with the consistent placement of these schools in U.S. News yearly rankings. ... Yet other schools fared much better in the recent Leiter survey than they do in U.S. News: these included Brooklyn, Cardozo, Case Western, Chapman, UNLV, Seattle, and the University of St. Thomas. And there were others.
Conversely, some schools did not do as well in this scholarly-impact survey as they tend to do in U.S. News. Prominent among these are: University of Washington and Pepperdine (neither of which made the top 70), Boston College, Georgia and Iowa. Again, others could be added to this list too. ...
(Why) Should Prospective Law Students and Law Faculty Care About Any of This?
At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss the Leiter-style ratings as being of interest to only a small group of ego-driven law professors who need to be cited by other academics in order to feel useful. ... [S]ome may wonder how much it matters, in the real world, if a faculty’s work product is being read and mentioned often by other professors. Let me offer three answers, one idealistic and two practical.
First, I like to think that while teaching and scholarship don’t always go together (insofar as some great scholars are lousy teachers and some non-scholars are great teachers, and insofar as some scholarship is too esoteric or technical for many students), quite often great teaching involves the incorporation of cutting-edge scholarly ideas into the classroom. ...
Second, as universities (public and private) confront resource constraints, the law schools that succeed in getting more of the pie at their home institutions are the ones that tend to be able to demonstrate scholarly influence. So each law school has an incentive to focus more and more on faculty impact, and the ones that succeed will be rewarded financially, which will then enable them to do more for their faculties and for their students in myriad ways.
Third, for better or worse, the single biggest long-run reputational input for a law school bearing on the overall credibility and marketability of its degrees and programs is the perception of its quality by other law faculty across the country. In turn, that perception tends to drive, over time, what lawyers and judges think (even if there is a lag time), because lawyers and judges (rightly?) assume that law professors (as a group) will tend to know more about other law schools than lawyers and judges have the chance to. Moreover, the top law students who go on to lead the top legal institutions tend to come from the law schools whose faculty (mentors) care about scholarship and scholarly influence. So unless and until law professors as a group can be convinced that scholarly impact shouldn’t matter much (and the trend is the opposite), scholarly impact will remain an increasingly important measure, one that everyone—existing faculty as well as prospective faculty and students—cannot ignore.