Aspiring law students and professors should have more and better information about the relative quality of law schools. Unfortunately, the people in the best positions to provide that information - the AALS and ABA - have powerful reasons to avoid doing so. The void has been filled in part by the U.S. News rankings. We could go on about their defects and limitations, but we have done that before. U.S. News could improve its product, but why bother? Doing more and better work would be costly, and in the absence of a genuine competitive threat there is no reason to make the investment. Enter the Deadwood Report, in which the Green Bag will provide rough and admittedly partial but transparent measures of law school faculty quality by measuring teaching, scholarship, and (eventually) service. Law schools generally hold themselves out as institutions led by faculties whose members are committed to working in all three areas. Why? Because - according to the law schools and many leaders of the profession - the best teachers tend to be active scholars, and the best scholars tend to be active teachers, and all the best lawyers of every stripe engage in service for the public good. Evidence of the law schools' commitment to this view is reflected in the practically universal requirement of high achievement in all three areas for tenure. And so we should be able to say with some confidence that a good law school will have a faculty consisting of hard-working teacher-scholar-humanitarians. The Deadwood Report will simply test the accuracy of that picture. Our focus will be on the most dully objective of measures: whether the work is being done - whether each law school faculty member is teaching courses, publishing scholarly works, and performing pro bono service.
What exactly will the Deadwood Report measure? Law schools, the editors write, “generally hold themselves out as institutions led by faculties whose members are committed to teaching, scholarship, and service.” They argue that the best teachers tend to be active scholars and vice versa, “and all the best lawyers of every stripe engage in service for the public good.... Evidence of the law schools’ commitment to this view is reflected in the practically universal requirement of high achievement in all three areas for tenure. And so we should be able to say with some confidence that a good law school will have a faculty consisting of hard-working teacher-scholar-humanitarians,” the Green Bag editorial says.
“The Deadwood Report will simply test the accuracy of that picture,” the journal’s editors write. “Our focus will be on the most dully objective of measures: whether the work is being done — whether each law school faculty member is teaching courses, publishing scholarly works, and performing pro bono service.” (The journal plans to start with teaching and research, turning only eventually to service, and notes that it does not plan — “at least not yet” — to answer what it calls the “trickier and more entertaining subjective questions: whether the teaching is effective, whether the scholarship is sound, whether the service is in the public interest.")
The journal’s editors offer some advice to law school deans, which offers additional evidence about their motives in joining the rankings game. Keep your Web sites up to date, since that is where all of the rankings’ information will come from. “This seems reasonable to us because your Web site is surely where most applicants and other inquisitive people go for information about your law school. If a school cannot be bothered to provide accurate information about the teaching, scholarship and service of its own faculty on its own Web site, it deserves to be haunted by any inaccuracies.”
“Puffery is double-edged,” the Green Bag warns. If a law school’s “faculty” page offers a long list of names, the journal’s editors will include and assess them all in the school’s “deadwood” numbers. “Inflated denominators will not be helpful to you,” the journal’s editorial says. “If you have employees who are employed to teach but not to write, or to write but not to teach,” or who once did one or both but no longer do, or who are on leave, “you might be well-served — and people visiting your Web site would certainly be better-informed — if you moved those folks off your list of “Faculty” and onto lists labeled, perhaps, “Instructors” and “Researchers” and “Emeriti” and “Administrators” and “On Leave.” (Visiting instructors will be treated differently.)
Robert Morse, who runs U.S. News’s law school and other college rankings operations, said the magazine “welcomes other people into the field to do law school rankings or assessments of any kind.” He questioned the Green Bag’s focus on measuring law schools by the productivity of their faculty, since “it’s not clear that that correlates to being good for law school students.” He added: “We obviously use much broader criteria. We think an institution is more than the sum of its faculty.”
Brian Leiter, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin whose own rankings of law school quality began as an alternative to U.S. News, said he generally agreed with the Green Bag’s criticism of the current sources of information about law school performance and “the value of alternative sources of comparative assessments.” He said he believed the journal’s definition of “service” — doing work in the community or that serves society — is “out of whack” with the type of service typically rewarded by law schools, and suggested that the Green Bag bag service altogether as a criterion.
“I also think the editors are setting themselves up for a world of grief from the faculties deemed to have lots of ‘deadwood’ and the individual faculty so classified,” Leiter added via e-mail. “I would have recommended a more delicate name for the undertaking! On the other hand, assuming the editors are prepared for the backlash — most people do hate to be evaluated, especially in public — the report may perform a real service for deans trying to change institutional cultures.”
Law school now will have an even more powerful incetnive to keep their web sites up-to-date: