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[Andrew Morriss (guest-blogging), August 9, 2005 at 9:56pm] Trackbacks
The winners keep winning:

We found that within each segment of the market (i.e. the top quartile and everyone else), the schools that started out ahead in the 1992 U.S. News ranking (the first year the magazine published rankings) did better in terms of change in median LSAT. The data bears this out.

Variable

1992 U.S. News Rank

Mean

S.E. of Mean

Median

Std Dev.

Valid N

US News Median LSAT 1993

Top 16

166.50

0.57

166.50

2.28

N=16

Rest of 1st Quartile

162.00

0.32

162.00

1.70

N=28

Second Quartile

158.05

0.33

158.50

2.17

N=44

Third Quartile

156.59

0.32

156.00

2.15

N=44

Fourth Quartile

153.13

0.48

154.00

3.02

N=40

Change in Median LSAT 2004-1993

Top 16

1.69

0.42

2.00

1.66

N=16

Rest of 1st Quartile

0.46

0.31

0.50

1.62

N=28

Second Quartile

0.45

0.31

0.00

2.04

N=42

Third Quartile

-1.56

0.32

-2.00

2.12

N=43

Fourth Quartile

-1.34

0.35

-1.00

2.15

N=38

2004 Median LSAT

Top 16

168.19

0.48

168.50

1.91

N=16

Rest of 1st Quartile

162.46

0.36

162.00

1.90

N=28

Second Quartile

158.50

0.41

159.00

2.67

N=42

Third Quartile

155.09

0.45

154.00

2.93

N=43

Fourth Quartile

151.85

0.49

152.00

3.07

N=39

Our small sample size for the top quartile meant that we didn't get a significant coefficient on being in the top 16 within the top quartile in most of our regressions, but we did find a significant and positive coefficient on being in the second quartile compared to being in the rest of the "non-top quartile" schools. Our best guess (and it I s just a guess, since we didn't get conventionally significant results) is that the effect is likely real for the top quartile too and the top schools are likely to be pulling ahead. Testing again in a few years would give us better data that might prove or disprove that hypothesis.

This result is exactly what we would expect if students are sorting themselves according to their LSAT scores and the reported scores in U.S. News. And Russell Korobkin has argued that this sorting effect is the primary benefit of the magazine's rankings. Russell Korobkin, In Praise of Law School Rankings: Solutions to Coordination and Collective Action Problems, 77 TEX. L. REV. 403 (1998) (Abstract here). Starting position isn't everything (geography and strategy matter a lot too, as I'll discuss later this week). And, as Brian Leiter has noted, there is evidence that students are paying attention to components of the U.S. News rankings rather than just to the overall composite ranking. But starting position does matter, at least in the second quartile and below.

We think this has important implications for the schools in Quartiles 2-4. Moving their LSAT scores up is going to be hard and these schools might question whether or not trying to do so is really the best strategy. If they want to compete for higher LSAT students, however, these schools are going to need to innovate, compete vigorously on the dimensions they can affect (such as numbers of employers interviewing on campus and tuition costs).

For several decades, American law schools have pursued a remarkably homogenous approach to legal education. Emory law professor George Shepherd attributes this largely to the ABA accreditation standards and says "[t]he ABA forces one style of law training, at Rolls-Royce prices." (George B. Shepherd, No African-American Lawyers Allowed: The Inefficient Racism of the ABA's Accreditation of Law Schools, 53 J. LEG. EDUC. 103, 105 (2003).) (A summary of a talk he gave on the subject is here.) Law schools in the fourth and even third quartiles may want to consider trying some different strategies. I'll discuss some of Bill and my ideas about this in subsequent posts but one obvious one is to cut tuition prices by cutting faculty costs (more adjuncts, higher teaching loads). The ABA standards are a real constraint in this area (and kept the Massachusetts School of Law, one of the few recent real innovators in delivering legal education, from being accredited).

Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
My pet peeve with the ABA accredidation is that they seriously disfavor adjunct professors. I know this is heresy in this forum, given the makeup of the bloggers, but I find this ABA requirement for full time professors counterproductive to the training of attorneys.

Of all the classes that I took in law school, I by far learned the most from adjunct profs of what is useful in the actual practice of law. I had a relatively famouse criminal atty. for criminal law, a sitting district court judge for crim. pro., a civil litigator for civil pro., etc. And they all brought a lot more to the table than the average full time prof, who mostly seem to have never or minimally actually practiced the law that they teach.

And maybe this all fits into what you are suggesting, which is that the ABA requirements for accredidation have homogonized law schools - in my view, to an unfortunate degree.

The problem is that most of us are not going to go to work as law professors, or in the biggest firms. Most of us end up working in smaller practices, in government, etc. And for those of us that end up taking the more normal route, much of what is taught in law school is really pretty worthless in our practices. In short, law schools as they are today, don't really teach how to practice law, but rather how to theorize about it.
8.10.2005 12:31am
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Our small sample size for the top quartile meant that we didn't get a significant coefficient on being in the top 16 within the top quartile in most of our regressions, but we did find a significant and positive coefficient on being in the second quartile compared to being in the rest of the "non-top quartile" schools. "

Prof. Morris,

Your reliance on using statistical signficance is simply unfounded in this context. If you aren't taking a random sample from some population, or if there isn't some other source of randomness that could possibly generate a probability distribution for these coefficients, it's meaningless to speak of p-values and significance.

Quite frankly, you're shooting yourself in foot to rely on that criterion to judge the meaningfulness of your results. Why go there if you don't have to?
8.10.2005 1:10am
lily:
In Britain and Israel and probably elsewhere, law is an undergraduate degree. Why has that not been considered in America?
8.10.2005 1:38am
Sarah (mail) (www):
I believe Cooley Law in Michigan is near the bottom of most rankings; they offer 100% scholarships to anyone getting 163 or higher on the LSAT. That seems like a fairly straightforward way of getting their average LSAT score up a bit -- especially insofar as the "smart person, good at taking tests, not sure I want to get another $40k in student loans my first year in law school and then find out I can't stand it" population is concerned.
8.10.2005 3:13am
Stephen Lindholm (www):
It used to be that America was the only country in the world with law training as a graduate degree. (I think it may have been India that experimented with graduate training, then went back to undergraduate training.) Japan, unfortunately, has gone after the American model. The law schools just opened this year.

I am certain that the pathologies of the American legal system are due to the use of the JD to limit the number of lawyers. American lawyers earn more, which actually works to their disadvantage -- many overseas firms will not hire American lawyers, because Australians and Englishmen do the job just as well for cheaper, and the firms know that they would not get competent American associates if they paid them less than the American prevailing wage. Then there is rent-seeking in all its ugly forms. And the status of lawyers causes non-lawyers to fashion themselves armchair experts in the law. (I've met engineers who can't change the oil in their car who think they understand contract law or copyright law.) There is little permeability between law jobs and non-law jobs.

I don't think it's an accident that the U.S. has a tightly controlled legal monopoly and that this country wastes so much in the legal sector. I think Japan made a huge mistake in going to a graduate-school system. There were other ways to solve the "0-1 problem."
8.10.2005 5:37am
SamChevre:
On the "law as a graduate degree" subject--one other difference between the American system and other countries systems (which increases the value and the number of lawyers) is attorney-client privilege. Work that is "legal advice" or "attorney work papers" is much better protected from discovery. Thus, in my field (specialized accounting), the number of lawyers and their influeence has grown greatly, as it becomes ever more difficult to protect information if a lawyer isn't involved in its production.
8.10.2005 8:29am
Dale Gribble (mail) (www):
Interesting that comments focused on why american law is a graduate degree, Daniel Boorstin in his 3 volume history "the Americans" mentions that "jurisprudence" was a popular degree in colonial/early american time because it wasnt too hard

also, where is there a chart comparing old lsat (0-50) scale to current scoring?
8.10.2005 1:30pm