August 14, 2007
Blogs and Law School Rankings
Posted by Gordon Smith

Jay Brown of TheRacetotheBottom.org has a working paper on blogs and law school rankings. It contains a bit of discussion about blogs and legal scholarship -- ground that was covered quite comprehensively in the Bloggership Conference last year -- but the main thrust of the article is that blogs "represent a cost effective mechanism for improving a law school's reputational rankings and, perforce, its overall rankings in the infamous US News and World Report."

Hmm. Let's look at the evidence presented by Jay:

  • Law school ranking depends importantly on law school reputation, which in turn depends on scholarly reputation, which in turn depends on law review placements. Law reviews have a "modest number" of "prestige slots," and those slots tend to be allocated to professors at top tier law schools, thus creating a self-perpetuating reputational loop. Even if professors from a lower-tier law school manage to generate multiple top placements, law school reputations are notoriously sticky, and marketing campaigns designed to change those reputations are expensive.
  • SSRN is also biased in favor of top-tier law schools. The evidence here is that the most downloaded professors are at top-tier schools. (Downloads are based on reputation ... see above.)

In contrast to law reviews and SSRN, blogs are egalitarian. Anyone can start a blog. As for the connection between blogs and law school reputation, Jay writes:

There is no definitive data on the relationship between an active, popular blog and law faculty reputation. Nonetheless, common sense and conventional wisdom suggests that a high quality blog can result in increased reputational benefits for the blog sponsor which in turn can generate increased awareness of the relevant law school.

And this:

[H]igh quality, substantive specific blogs arguably provide disproportionate benefits to lower tier schools. For these law schools, the dearth of information about academic reputation is the most severe. It is probably fair to say that most of those who respond to the US News Survey have at best spotty understanding of the 180 or so law schools included in the rankings. As a result, a reputation score can arise from incomplete information, anecdotal information, or information unrelated to a school’s academic achievement.

Any widely disseminated positive information can increase awareness of an institution among the small number of people who fill out the survey. This may occur through the introduction of innovative programs, the sponsoring of widely noted and attended conferences, and other similar developments. But dissemination will be slow and the costs high. Blogs require fewer resources and will reach a broad audience more quickly.

None of this strikes me as wildly implausible, though  the argument as a whole contains an astonishing number of causal links, most of which are supported only by "common sense." This is, of course, typical in arguments about reputation. The question that Jay would like to answer but cannot is whether blogging, even good blogging, by a law professor enhances the reputation among academics of that professor's sponsoring law school. Even without answering that question, some law schools have begun to recruit top bloggers in an effort to enhance their reputation. I won't name names, but I suspect that the practice will become clear soon enough.

Even if blogging has some effect on law school reputation, we might wonder whether blogging is the most productive means of obtaining such an effect. As noted above, Brown claims that blogs "represent a cost effective mechanism for increasing reputation," but is that true even when you consider the opportunity cost of blogging? Brown himself notes that a "good blog is an avaricious consumer of time." Perhaps that time would be better spent writing articles? On the other hand, some have observed that bloggers tend to be productive scholars ... which way does the causation run there? Perhaps blogging generates more ideas or germinates ideas more quickly or creates scholarly networks in which co-authoring is more likely. Is blogging a win-win proposition? I hope so.

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Comments (20)

1. Posted by Jenn on August 14, 2007 @ 15:14 | Permalink

My thoughts are that law school rankings matter and they mostly matter because law is not an objective science. Therefore, standards can ebb and flow with the administration.

In my experience, albeit limited, where one does say an electrical engineering degree or computer science degree has less weight than it does in the law.


2. Posted by Steve Bainbridge on August 14, 2007 @ 17:32 | Permalink

Tease. You can't dangle gossip that juicy and not at least hint!


3. Posted by Gordon Smith on August 14, 2007 @ 20:42 | Permalink

Steve,

Ok, I will narrow it down. Not BYU. Not Wisconsin.

If the schools are successful, we should be able to identify them from the movement of bloggers.


4. Posted by BlueOX on August 14, 2007 @ 21:24 | Permalink

Hmmm . . . Brooklyn?

InstaPundit has improved my view of U. Tenn.

Bainbrige has dropped my view of of UCLA.


5. Posted by Anon on August 15, 2007 @ 0:43 | Permalink

Illinois has already been hard at work at this (e.g., Larry Solum, Vic Fleischer, Christine Hurt etc). Whether this strategy has made up for other losses (Lee Fennell, Richard McAdams etc), though, is an open question. It might be viewed as replacing people who are high profile among academics with people who are high profile among people who visit blogs (which includes more prospective students and alums than the former category, to be sure). There is no reason a person couldn't be a member of both groups, of course, nor is it entirely fair to characterize the first group as "replacing" the second group.


6. Posted by Steve Diamond on August 16, 2007 @ 1:00 | Permalink

I blog (I have three, actually) and I am at a lower ranked school, but I make it clear the blog has little to do with the school and there is little evidence - yet - that the school cares! So while the cited paper relies on data for one proposition (that reputation and ranking are linked) it makes pure guesses about the impact of blogging. And then Gordon dangles unsubstantiated rumors to reinforce the claim of the paper! No wonder the rest of social science looks at us cross -eyed! It may be true that some schools have hired scholars with a strong publishing record who also happen to blog - is that what is being suggested here? - if that is the case, so what? All it means is that there is a (weak!) correlation between hiring and blogging. It would be interesting if, for example, Glenn Reynolds got lured to Columbia because of Instapundit, but I don't see it (and I bet Glenn is pretty happy where he is, anyway).


7. Posted by Gordon Smith on August 16, 2007 @ 9:28 | Permalink

Steve: "And then Gordon dangles unsubstantiated rumors to reinforce the claim of the paper! No wonder the rest of social science looks at us cross -eyed!"

I hope you were kidding.

First, I didn't dangle a rumor, I reported what I know from first-hand experience. Apparently, you don't like the fact that I didn't name the schools, so you can discount my report appropriately. In any event, it is not a widespread practice, at least as far as I know.

Second, my report did not substantiate the claims of the paper. It may substantiate the fact that some others believe, as Jay does, that blogging is connected to law school reputation, but that's all.

Third, if "the rest of social science looks at us cross-eyed" -- a claim that, based on my own experience, has some support but is not unassailable -- it surely has nothing to do with blogging.

Fourth, connected to the last point, you assume that the schools that are recruiting bloggers are doing so without regard to other scholarly activity. That would be a mistaken assumption.

Finally, if you think about it for more than a second, I believe you will conclude that the schools recruiting bloggers are probably not ranked as high as Columbia.


8. Posted by Bill Hobbs on August 16, 2007 @ 9:30 | Permalink

I used to work in the marketing/PR office of a small university. We used blogs to raise the profile and reputation of the school's entrepreneurship program.

Here's a blog post on what we did and how it worked:

http://meshmediastrategies.com/?p=46


9. Posted by Matt on August 16, 2007 @ 10:36 | Permalink

I'm about to finish undergrad and begin the application process for law school and blogs have had a great impact on my preferences. Not as much on my view of the individual schools but the legal education system in general. I do look at blogs by professors to try and get a feel for the environment I would be joining if accepted to a particular school.


10. Posted by Steve Diamond on August 16, 2007 @ 11:58 | Permalink

Gordon,

Sorry, I really did not really mind that you did not name names...that was Bainbridge's point. I just doubt that any law school hired anyone because they blog. And I think we should be very cautious about encouraging blogging as a substitute or even a compliment to scholarship.

Best,

Steve

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