Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What Constitutes Law School "Success"?

In our Moneyball essay, Rafael Gely and I wrote about the difficulty of defining "success" in the law school context:

In baseball, the measure of organizational success -- wins and losses -- is (and always has been) easily identifiable; in the law school world, there is not (and never has been) consensus on the appropriate measure of organizational success....

[T]he absence of market measures of organizational success led to a lack of accountability and transparency in legal education, thus creating a safe, comfortable environment for law schools (and particularly for law professors). In the current rankings-centric environment, in contrast, the introduction of market measures of organizational success, however imperfect they may be, has rattled the comfortable world of legal education and led to the first attempts at injecting objective measures of individual contributions to organizational success into the law school mix.

What Law Schools Can Learn from Billy Beane and the Oakland Atheltics, 82 Tex. L. Rev. 1483 (2004).  My MoneyLaw colleague Jim Chen has an interesting take on the subject (Winning Isn't Everything):

[L]aw schools have no clear criteria for determining who wins and who loses. Hence the obsession with rankings, even if they are flawed and misleading. At least they generate an ordered list. Let me offer a different list. Law schools avoid automatic defeat (a feat that should be distinguished from "winning") to the extent that they follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Your students should be passing the bar. No law school succeeds that puts its students into six-digit debt, unsecured by anything of value and dischargeable solely by work, only to deliver a bar passage rate that lags substantially behind the average passage rate in its state.
  2. A degree from your school should enable the holder to secure a job in the (general) field of her choice and in the (American) city of her choice. No law school, of course, can guarantee a particular job in a particular place. But if Greta Graduate wants to practice bankruptcy law in Charlotte, N.C., pay off her debts, and make enough money to watch the Panthers from time to time, a J.D. from your law school should enable her to snag at least one employer's attention.
  3. Faculty members should understand how teaching, scholarship, and service are strands within a tightly woven professional tapestry and should engage in all three without complaining or needing to be cajoled.

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