Remember when Litchfield Law School was considered “the best” law school to attend and Harvard Law School was floundering, almost to the point of closing before Story was hired?

In 1827, the struggling young law school was down to only one faculty member and one student. In this year, an enterprising alumnus stepped in to save the school by establishing the Dane Professorship of Law, and insisting that the chair be given to Joseph Story, the nation’s youngest Supreme Court justice. Story believed in the concept of an elite American law school, based on merit and dedicated to public service: a tradition that continues today.

Quoting from Harvard Law School’s Our History.

One can make the case that the turning point in the creation of the today’s hierarchical structure of the legal academy was the hiring of Story to teach at HLS. Of course it took the Story-Langdell-Ames trifecta to establish the “Harvard Model” as the standard by which all law schools were evaluated.  By the 1920s, the norm was becoming “schools with a ‘scholarly law school dean’ who would make them into a ‘nursery for judges’ that will make American law what American law ought to be through law reform and legal research activities.”

The progeny of the “Harvard Model” is the enduring pecking order of law school status inside and outside the legal academy. In Enduring Hierarchies in American Legal Education [SSRN](Indiana Law Journal, Forthcoming), Arewa, Morriss & Henderson make the case for the importance of understanding today’s law school hierarchies.

Understanding enduring law school hierarchies is important for four key reasons.

1. Defining of Educational Goals. The legal academy places considerable––and, we believe, overly great––weight on institutional prestige in everything from article placement decisions (by both editors and authors) to hiring, promotion, and tenure Yet, as Russell Korobkin argues, prestige competition can channel behavior in productive directions. A clearer understanding of the hierarchy’s nature can play a role in shifting competition toward more productive avenues.

2. Effective Reform Efforts. Understanding the enduring nature of the positional competition among law schools is essential to the ongoing law school reform efforts. Current debates over the role of U.S. News’s rankings largely ignore the pre-existing competition and divisions among law schools. As a result, measures such as calls for schools to decline to participate in U.S. News’s annual surveys are based on the false premise that doing away with or changing a particular ranking will end the “arms race” of competition among schools for status. For better or worse, the quest for status is endemic to lawyers and law professors.

3. Labor Market Outcomes. The law school hierarchy maps onto a parallel hierarchy on employment opportunities for law school graduates. As the U.S. legal academy wrestles with changes in the legal job market in the aftermath of the credit crisis and as the legal job market goes through structural changes, understanding this hierarchy provides an essential realism on the job prospects of law school graduates.

4. Better Understanding of Long-Term Trends. If an enduring hierarchy is shaping the careers of lawyers and law professors, an accurate system of categorization is essential for tracking long-term trends in legal academia and the legal profession. Our analysis provides the basis for variables that capture law school status across time, facilitating future research.

(Citations omitted.)

This article is highly recommended. Law librarians will be very familiar with some of the categories the authors identify as relevant for defining the hierarchical structure of the legal academy (e.g., size of library collections, citation metrics for scholarly and judicial impact). Here’s the abstract for Arewa, Morriss & Henderson’s Enduring Hierarchies in American Legal Education:

Although much attention has been paid to U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of U.S. law schools, the hierarchy it describes is a long-standing one rather than a recent innovation. In this Article, we show the presence of a consistent hierarchy of U.S. law schools from the 1930s to the present, provide a categorization of law schools for use in research on trends in legal education, and examine the impact of U.S. News’s introduction of a national, ordinal ranking on this established hierarchy. The Article examines the impact of such hierarchies for a range of decision-making in law school contexts, including the role of hierarchies in promotion, tenure, publication, and admissions, for employers in hiring, and for prospective law students in choosing a law school. This Article concludes with suggestions for ways the legal academy can move beyond existing hierarchies and at the same time address issues of pressing concern in the legal education sector. Finally, the Article provides a categorization of law schools across time that can serve as a basis for future empirical work on trends in legal education and scholarship.

Joe

Casey Berman (University of California, Hastings ’99) is the founder of the Leave Law Behind blog. Recently he contributed a post to ATL. See From the Career Files: How You Can Manage Your Time Well Enough In Order To Leave The Law.

Also on ATL, David Lat, Elie Mystal, and Joe Patrice discuss whether going to business school is a better financial decision than going to law school. Here’s the link to the post and their podcast.

Joe

It’s nice to be back after what I will call a “vacation” from the blog.  As a way of getting back in the swing of things, let’s see what developments have taken place in the down time.  These are the kinds of things I covered at our former blog.

The Apple e-book trial ended in early summer with a finding of liability for attempting to fix e-book prices.  Apple continues to deny the finding by Judge Denise Cote and plans to appeal.  The Court issued an injunction specifying remedies on September 6th.  These include forbidding Apple from entering into publisher contracts containing MFN clauses for five years; retailers having the right to discount e-books for two years; staggered windows for negotiations with the settling publishers, in settlement order; and requiring an external compliance monitor who would make sure Apple complies with the terms of the Court’s order.  The one remedy denied to the Justice Department was its request to allow in-app purchases on iDevices without having vendors pay the standard 30% commission to Apple.  The Justice Department would further expand that requirement to other media besides books.  The Judge declined the request stating essentially that she did not want to regulate Apple’s overall business model.  More details, including a copy of the Court’s order, are at paidContent.

The ABA Taskforce on the Future of Legal Education issued its latest draft report on September 20th.  The key conclusions include the fact that a student with lower LSAT scores and GPA will not get a greater return on investment as they are less likely eligible for student aid.  The better students will get aid regardless of need.  “These practices are in need of serious re-engineering.”  I can hear a dean somewhere asking “but what about the rankings?”

The twin components of accreditation and innovation are addressed by noting how current accreditation standards are worthy of the profession up to now.  The problem is that they standardize much of legal education in a way that stifles innovation.  Regulation should allow for flexibility and experimentation in constructing a law program that prepares a student to deliver legal services.  “The Task Force thus recommends that a number of the Standards be repealed or dramatically liberalized.”  Here’s another conclusion that will not be popular with the faculty:  “The balance between doctrinal instruction and focused preparation for the delivery of legal services needs to shift still further toward developing the competencies required by people who will deliver services to clients.”  Legal Writing programs just became a little more important.

The Report additionally calls for expanding the number of people who can deliver common legal services through training and certification that is short of the full J.D. program.  The cost of legal services to the general public is skyrocketing because of the cost of training lawyers.  Something along these lines would make legal services more affordable.  The ABA Journal has additional details.

Regular readers of our old site know that I covered Supreme Court cases for the last several years.  I intend to continue that practice as the new term begins next Monday.  I’ll continue to add significant cases from the lower courts.  You may remember a case out of Virginia last year where a federal judge found that a Facebook “like” was not protected speech.  The Fourth Circuit recently decided otherwise.  I’ll also be covering significant technology developments.  The public update to Windows 8/8.1 is just a few short weeks away, and there’s the Surface 2 as well.  Yahoo has a new logo, and Google is still in trouble with the European Union and member states.  There will be commentary on educational technology as always. There will also be book reviews of new Oxford University Press items and other publishers.  Everyone take note that I am a slow reader when it comes to long form.  Law school (reading too many doctrinal cases lo those many years ago) lowered my desire to pick up a book, and if that desire ever re-awakened, well the pace of the Internet turned it into consumption of zombie short form.  Lots of it.

And I just may review the occasional media item.  I just picked up Simon Schama’s History of Britain (BBC Special Edition DVD set).  I highly recommend it.  If you’re interested in Scooby-Doo, well I’ve got something to say.  Beyond that, welcome to the new Law Librarian blog.  Thank you for reading.

Mark