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Op-ed by UC Irvine law dean about law school criticisms


I’ll have more to say soon about the broad-scale critique of Professor Brian Tamanaha in his interesting recent book, Failing Law Schools.  For now, I would just note that the core matter goes missing in both the book and Dean Chemerinsky’s typically articulate explanation of the predicament faced by law schools in controlling cost.  This matter is:  What is the mission of the law school in question?  It cannot be that UCI’s mission is merely to be an elite law school (or, as the dean puts it precisely, “top 20”).  This, frankly, is not a credible mission; it is an aspiration tied, sadly, to a rankings game over which law schools have little control.

Explanation of why UCI, Northwestern, or any other law school functions the way it does must be grounded squarely in the larger, more concrete, objectives of the law school.  Like the objectives and strategies themselves, the explanations must be mission-driven.  For all their flaws, contemporary critiques of the educational and financial model of law schools are valuable in pushing all of us toward articulating transparently what we are looking to accomplish and how the present model, albeit with important modifications and with due regard to the shifting terrain of legal practice and economic conditions, supports or impedes these goals.

Insofar as we grapple with these questions, we’ll shed more light than heat on these difficult, important subjects.


U. Illinois Law sanctioned

Sad ending to an unfortunate episode.

Conduct is inexcusable, but I wish our colleages at Illinois the best in turning this corner.  This is an outstanding public law school and will, I am confident, get past these difficulties.


Ambassador David Scheffer — staying at Northwestern

To:      Northwestern Law Community

From:  Dan Rodriguez

 Re:      David Scheffer

Date:    July 19, 2012

I am thrilled beyond measure to report that Ambassador David Scheffer, who serves our community as Director of the Center on International Human Rights and the Mayer Brown/Helman Professor of Law, is remaining at Northwestern Law School.  I know you will join me in congratulating David – and us, of course – for this excellent turn of events.  We will look forward to David’s remarkable continuing service as teacher, scholar, administrator, and public servant.


Another extraordinary exoneration

Innocent man, thirty-two years behind bars.  Thanks to the excellent work of Northwestern Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, Andre Davis is now a free man.


The crystal ball redux: law school admissions trends

Here is a post describing an interesting recent article on the subject of law school admissions and yield rates.  The basic thesis is that the pain in the law school applicant downtown will be unevenly distributed in that schools who typically have a high acceptance rate and a comparatively low yield will be impacted more severely.

In a sense, this is an obvious point.  Also obvious is the further point that dropping admissions numbers can contribute to a drop in rankings and thereby additional challenges in maintaining a competitive position.  Less obvious, and therefore more intriguing, is the suggestion that this predicament will impact several of the top schools in meaningful ways.

There are some statistical assumptions underlying the analysis which are worth interrogating, albeit in a more focused forum, but let me just make a couple observations, none of which are specifically Northwestern-centric (we are not mentioned in the article, which is just fine with me):

(1) yield is a function of a myriad of factors, with rankings certainly at or near the top of the list.  But yield rates are not entirely outside of the control of the particular law school.  Filling spaces at a certain admissions standards target requires being adept at predicting student movement, even well into the summer, and also strategic use of financial aid dollars.  The assumption the author makes that rate and yield are correlated in some mechanical fashion — a sort of deus ex machina — doesn’t capture the nuance of the admissions and recruitment process.  (Here is where the able author, not a dean or an admissions professional, is at a disavantage);

(2) one key factor in all this is class size.  As the author notes, law schools will face pressure to examine carefully the size of the entering class (we certainly are) and sizing strategies will have an impact on the applicant decline.  This is just common sense.  The deft analysis in this article about how law schools must think proactively about the applicant decline raises the more interesting set of issues of just exactly what law schools ought to do and ought not to do about the continuing reshaping of the applicant pool;

(3) recruitment matters.  Efforts to communicate methodically and honestly with potential students reap dividends.  That the rankings are such a key criterion for students is what it is, but much of what other considerations go into this mix (including, say, location, cost, job opportunities, curriculum, faculty strength, programs, and the like) are properly marketed by the law school in order to generate student enthusiasm.

Analyses which rest on rigid assumptions about the student and institutional behavior as though they are simply part of the laws of nature underestimate both the capacities of the market to absorb and refract knowledge (some readers will recall that Hayek wrote lucidly about this in an earlier era); also underestimated is the strategic adjustments made by those of us who hard at work puzzling through these predicaments with an eye toward improving our product — that is, not only the well-being of our respective schools, but the education we provide to the next generation of lawyers.

Comments welcome.


New faculty hire

To:       Law School Community

 From:   Dan Rodriguez  

 Re:       Professor Matt Spitzer

I am very pleased to announce that Professor Matthew Spitzer, presently of the University of Texas School of Law, has accepted a tenured position at Northwestern Law.  Matt will join our faculty next summer.  As many of our faculty colleagues know, Matt began his academic career here in Streeterville and is remembered fondly by a number of distinguished faculty members as a valuable colleague during an earlier era in our history.   He left Northwestern for USC Law School, his alma mater, and continued with a remarkably successful academic career as a formidable scholar and talented teacher of administrative law and telecommunications law.  He also served as USC’s law dean for several years.  Holding a PhD from Caltech, in addition to his law degree, Spitzer was an earlier pioneer in the application of social science to law.  He has authored numerous seminal articles and books in a myriad of legal subjects.  Most recently, he has held the Hayden W. Head Regents Chair for Faculty Excellence at Texas.

We are proud to welcome Matt Spitzer back home to Northwestern.


Guest post (Leslie Oster): Visit to Wimbledon

Centre Court Wimbledon

Dan and I are in London this week doing various Northwestern-related things; also in London is a friend of ours from Austin, Sam.  Just being in London during Wimbledon is exciting for me; there’s a lot of press and buzz, and also lots of live match coverage on BBC.  I love watching tennis, and particularly love watching Roger Federer play tennis, even these days, when all the talk is about his being in the twilight of his career and the timing of his retirement.  Actually, “enjoy” may not be the right word.  Compelled to watch is probably more accurate, because the truth is that sometimes I don’t enjoy it at all, and my husband tells me I am impossible and way too nervous when I am watching a close Federer match.  Be that as it may, I thought it would be neat to get out to Wimbledon and just see the place, and if I could see some tennis, even better.  We didn’t get tickets before coming to London, but I read that there were tickets available online at 9:00 am and noon each day, and so on Sunday and Monday, I sat at my computer at 9:00 and then again at noon, but after numerous tries, I did not pull up any tickets, and I kind of gave up on that route.  Then there was the queue.  At Wimbledon, they allow folks to line up each morning and they let in a lot of people — 500 people get in for each of the show courts (Centre Court, Court #1 & Court #2), and thousands more get a grounds pass that allows them to see play on Courts #3-19 and to watch the big screen television outside Court #1 on “Henman Hill” (officially Aorangi Terrace, aka Rusedski Ridge and Murray Mound).  Also, a grounds pass allows for the possibility of purchasing “resale” tickets for the show courts, but more on that later.  From what I could pick up on the Wimbledon website and various blogs, it sounded like folks line up quite early for the queue and many actually camp out — there are campgrounds right on the Wimbledon site.  My research suggested that to get the show court tickets, you’d probably have to camp overnight, and to get grounds passes, you’d probably need to arrive by about 6 or 7 am.  (Play starts at 11:30.)  For a variety of reasons, that early thing wasn’t in the cards on this trip.  But then I read about the evening queue:  you can line up for entrance to the grounds around 5:00 each evening.  And word on the street was that the evening queue was less frenzied and more civilized than the morning queue, and that lots of people get let in for the evening session.  So we decided to give it a try.  Dan finished work at about 2:30 on Friday, and then me and Dan and our friend Sam took the tube to Wimbledon.  Two tube trains and a double-deck bus ride later, we were in the afternoon queue.  It was about 3:30 or so and the line was already long; we had no idea where the line even started, and pretty soon, we also could not see the end of the line, as so many people had gotten in behind us.  It was a very orderly process — a nice Wimbledon staffer came over and gave us a queue ticket with a number on it, though when we saw our numbers (10,467, 10468, and 10,469), we were not particularly encouraged.  Another Wimbledon worker came by and gave us a brochure on the Rules of Queuing, which taught us things like “Loud music must not be played at any time (use personal headphones),”  “Queue Jumping is not acceptable and will not be tolerated,” and “Overnight queuers should use tents which accommodate a maximum of two persons.  Please do not bring or erect gazebos.”   Good thing we had left our gazebo at home.  At some point a guard walked by and I asked her what the chances were of our getting in the grounds and she said that she thought it likely that we would get in the grounds, but we were unlikely to be able to get tickets to one of the show courts.  That felt like good news. Read more »


Alumni visits in London and Paris

Pleased to meet with group of alumni in these two spectacular cities.  In various visits with expat NU Law alumni, I have enjoyed learning about the complexities of the European legal market.  Given the different configuration of legal education in Europe, young lawyers come to these law firms, well, very young.  The firms put a premium on intra-firm traning — and, indeed, some of the hirees come without even an undergraduate legal degree, instead taking a “conversion” course to give them the bona fides to join these large Euro firms on what is called a two-year training contract.

Legal education in Europe is highly subsidized, with even the very top educational institutions (e.g., Oxford, University College London, Sorbonne, Sciences Po) signfiicantly less expensive than their American counterparts.  The implications for comparative student debt load are obvious.  On the other hand, European lawyers are impressed the breadth and scope of American legal education, particularly skills training and intensive writing instruction.  There is little by way of analogue in the (quite large) British and French universities.

With regard to law firms in particular, Northwestern law alums are found in key positions in the major law firms of Europe, a testament to the global reach of the law school and, of course, the intrepid ambitions of our alumni!