November 06, 2005
The Driver of Law School Reputation
Posted by Gordon Smith

The University of Wisconsin Law School is going through the re-accreditation process, and on Saturday, I was one of the discussion leaders at our Faculty Retreat. My session included a discussion of characteristics of "pre-eminent law schools." I made an observation that seems obvious to me, but was not at all obvious to others: if you want a pre-eminent law school, recruit or develop a substantial number of faculty who publish regularly in top law reviews (including both student-edited journals and a handful of peer-reviewed journals).

Is there any other path to reputational success?

No law school that I know of has become pre-eminent on the strength of teaching, clinics, community service, curricular innovation, specialty programs, etc. Each of these aspects of the law school product is important, to one degree or another, but they have very little impact on the wider reputation of a law school among law professors, judges, and practicing lawyers.

What about "non-traditional" scholarship, which may appear in obscure peer-reviewed journals or specialized monographs. This may be very valuable work to people who work in the specialized field, but the key issue when considering its effect on reputation is whether people outside the field notice. Does it connect with a broad range of legal scholars? If not, I suspect that it will have a negligable effect on the law school's reputation, at least as far as prospective students and many prospective faculty are concerned.

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