The futility of the ranking quest.

The U.S. News law school rankings are a lot like big law firms: the higher you get, the less room you have for advancement.

This is probably the trickiest problem for law school deans, who have to determine how much effort they should put into making improvements that their school needs vs. improvements that might improve the ranking. Much the same way porn sites try to game their way up the Google rankings in the search results pages. (Aside: what do you get if you search for “law school porn”? P.S. don’t get your hopes up)

Google keeps its ranking system a secret to deter gamesmanship. U.S. News describes its ranking system, but not completely. One problem for deans is that U.S. News relies a lot (40%) on external impressions of the school, which can’t be manipulated directly.

Schools often talk about improving rankings like it’s an achievable goal. For schools outside the top 20, it may be—these rankings tend to be more fluid year to year, and there’s more “room” to move in the lower tiers.

That’s not true in the top 20. Since 1990, there has been extremely little movement among the schools. Look at these two charts:

Rankings 1987-99

Rankings 2000-06

As the notes to the second chart point out, the top 14 schools have been the same since 1993. The same!

UCLA has spent those years ranked in the 15-17 range. For us to move up, somebody has to move down—it’s a zero-sum game. Recently, we’ve moved up to #15, sending U.Texas down to #16.

But where do we go from here? While I imagine our dean dreams of a top 14 ranking, in between visions of gumdrops and teddy bears, it’s hard to see how that’s likely, given that there hasn’t been an opening in 14 years.

06 Feb 07


O ye of little faith.

Posted by: at February 11, 2007 09:14 PM

O ye of little faith.

Posted by: at February 11, 2007 09:14 PM

signed, Dean Schill.

Posted by: at February 12, 2007 01:59 PM

emyksq jckwalgi asrkzitc zueqmivf psmhart uxjtywn hkxqndlyw

Posted by: nsuh erbtdkyas at March 9, 2007 07:02 AM

“Split the baby”.

I won’t mention the name of the professor who used this phrase last week to mean “divide an item in half”. Horrors. If anyone should know better, law scholars should. (And law journalists.)

The origin of “split the baby”, as many people know, is the Old Testament story where two women came to King Solomon with a baby, each claiming to be its mother. Solomon proposed to split the baby. When one woman begged him not to and give the baby away instead, he knew she was the mother.

But if you know the story, you should be able to figure out that “split the baby” means the opposite of “divide an item in half”. It refers to a split that cannot be made, a futile attempt to apportion an indivisible object.

06 Feb 07


On groupwork.

I have a professor this semester who really likes groupwork. He frequently devotes 5-8 minutes of class time (it seems much longer) to discuss one issue or another with classmates nearby. Later in the semester, we all have to form groups of 2-3 to give joint oral presentations to the rest of class.

But I don’t like groupwork. I like working alone. For a lot of reasons. Partly because obviously, I’m a megalomaniacal autocrat, but mainly because a) I can control the quality of the output and b) I can work faster.

That’s part of what appealed to me about the law: even in big firms, even if you’re part of a larger project, much of the work you’re doing day-to-day is just you. It’s less about groupwork than a bunch of solo workers flying in formation.

When my prof announces “let’s talk about this in groups”, he might as well be saying “let’s all dissect this sheep’s brain I brought in today”. Dude, that’s not what I came to law school for.

But aside from this personal bias, I blame groupwork for many of America’s problems. And in particular, I blame America’s business schools, which I think have done the most to unleash this destructive trend on our culture.

I haven’t been to business school, but my sources tell me that many classes are built around group projects, on the premise that building consensus and distributing tasks are important skills for future executives. Ugh.

I consider groupwork to be a method of mollifying a generation of grad students who never got anything lower than an A- in their lives. Their self-esteem is fragile and must be preserved. By putting them in groups, everyone can congratulate each other on how smart they are.

But that also gives rise to the main problem with groups, which is that they dilute accountability. When everyone makes a decision together, nobody has to stand behind it. Consequently, any success has many parents (as everyone jockeys to take credit) but any failure is an orphan (and a perfect time to use the passive voice—”Decisions were made that did not translate into timely delivery of strategic objectives...”)

So when I see this technique being imported to law school, I get anxious. Groups are an engine of mediocrity. Low achievers can coast by, letting everyone else do the work. High achievers have no incentive to perform at their peak level—since it’s so far beyond what anyone else is willing to do—so they dumb down their work to match the median skill level.

15 Feb 07


Spot on. I have hated group work since elementary school, and its extension into law school is a distrubing sign.

Posted by: Anon. at February 17, 2007 05:03 PM

I fought the law.

According to our law school website, our dean told the Los Angeles Business Journal:

[Another law dean] and Schill said that their schools are committed to maintaining access by minorities and students without financial means by redirecting one third of every dollar fee increase to financial aid programs.

Question for the day: I’m guessing he knows that state law prohibits him from using financial aid in a race-conscious manner. So why would he say something like that on the record?

17 Feb 07


He’s not using it in a race-conscious manner. He’s using it to the advantage of disadvantaged students, if that makes sense. He didn’t explicitly say “we’re allocating this money into financial aid programs specifically for minority students”. That’s within the limits of the California ban. Even if it were being set allocated to benefit minorities, I take it you’re one of those people who feels that the playing field has been leveled in the 43 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed. Or am I mistaken? :D

Posted by: Jenn at February 17, 2007 06:10 PM

You are mistaken.

Posted by: MB at February 18, 2007 06:29 AM

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Grant Nelson comes out of the closet.

Here’s one that probably won’t make the UCLA law home page: professor Grant Nelson is leaving to take a position at Pepperdine. Not just any position either: he will become the William H. Rehnquist Professor of Law, an appointment “applauded by the late Chief Justice Rehnquist’s family”.

Why go to Pepperdine? According to an item in the LA Daily Journal, Grant claims “it’s very close” to first-tier status. That may be a bit optimistic: Pepperdine is ranked 87th on US News.

But Pepperdine, like George Mason, is one of a few law schools that’s trying to move up the rankings with a Fox News strategy of targeting the conservatives. And that’s probably the real reason for Grant’s departure: yep, he’s a conservative.

UCLA, like most top-tier law schools I’d imagine, has a few conservative professors (and students) but they’re greatly outnumbered by liberal profs. But, I think their conservatism is only tolerated, not taken seriously—a kind of academic “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

Professors like Grant Nelson can’t be open about their position on social & political issues the way liberal professors can. Which is unfortunate, because conservatism is a legitimate and vital part of legal thinking in the US. And if you want to practice law with a liberal viewpoint, it’s important to be able to respond to conservative counterarguments.

Too often, what seems to happen is that the conservative view is dismissed out of hand. It’s conservative; therefore it’s wrong. Case closed. What ends up happening is that law school liberalism is a special kind of soft, unchallenged liberalism, where people get comfortable being surrounded by folks who share their views, and don’t develop the ability to answer hard questions.

When I had Grant Nelson for Property, I remember a number of times where he made a point of refraining from comment on an issue with potential ideological undertones, steering the conversation back to neutral topics (e.g. incorporeal hereditaments). Probably because he’d learned the hard way that outing yourself as a conservative at UCLA is the fast track to trouble. I remember him as an excellent professor. It’s too bad we’re running him out of town.

18 Feb 07


Our best professor by far and a disasterous loss for Dean Schill. Also interesting is that, as a “conservative,” he was elected Professor of the Year by the classes of 2004 and 2005 - maybe the liberal profs that permeate the law school should take some notice. Interesting side note - Professor Nelson agreed to teach Remedies this semester even though he was already teaching Real Estate Finance (with 110 students). After students complained that Remedies (a bar course) was not being offered at all this year he agreed to teach a section in the Spring. How many professors in our school would agree to take on a second large course (which I doubt he is getting paid extra for) when they already have 110 students in another course? Not many. Looking at our schedule of classes we can barely get our professors to teach anything.

Posted by: at February 18, 2007 04:22 PM

Another obvious factor is that these academic Chairs are gilded.

Posted by: at February 18, 2007 10:00 PM

There is no financial advantage, at age 66, for Professor Nelson to stay on at UCLA; the retirement system stops accruing credit for age at 60. However, the advantages of retiring from UCLA and accepting another well-paid position are considerable. I understand he will be returning here to teach RE Finance as an adjunct.

Posted by: at February 23, 2007 08:18 PM

Help me yet again.

A classmate mentioned yesterday that there’s a video clip floating around the internets of our very own Dean Schill (when he was Prof. Schill of NYU) being “interviewed” on the Daily Show by Steve Carell. Oh please, let it be true. Any leads are appreciated. Send to

28 Feb 07

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Help me yet again.

A classmate mentioned yesterday that there’s a video clip floating around the internets of our very own Dean Schill (when he was Prof. Schill of NYU) being “interviewed” on the Daily Show by Steve Carell. Oh please, let it be true. Any leads are appreciated. Send to

28 Feb 07


Dean Schill & the Pussymobile.

Every now and then dreams come true. Michael Schill was indeed interviewed on the Daily Show. Here’s the full video clip at Comedy Central. Schill’s segment starts at the 2:30 mark.

But here’s some “fair use” for those of you currently in class. Schill’s appearance is brief, but those of us familiar with his oeuvre would probably agree that it’s nevertheless quintessentially Schill-o-rific.*

Rob Corddry: ... to learn more, I spoke with real estate law expert Mike “The Shill” Schill.

RC: While we’re here could I get some legal advice?

Michael Schill: Sure.

RC: How many Guatemalans can I have living in my apartment legally?

MS: I don’t know. It would be the same as any other type of person.

RC: It’s a tiny apartment. But Guatemalans are tiny people.

MS: I think people would find that offensive.

RC: What if they’re not sewing as quickly as I want them to. How do I get them out?

MS: I think maybe we should end this.

RC: [voiceover] He was too scared to talk.

* Narrowly chosen over “Schill-tastic” and “Schill-icious”.

(Many thanks to Mr. P for locating the clip.)

28 Feb 07


That was amazing. Makes you feel bad for Dean Schill.

Posted by: Bruce at March 3, 2007 04:22 PM

I feel bad, too, and to top it all off they misspelled his name.

Posted by: Marc at March 4, 2007 11:03 AM

Don’t feel bad for the guy. Given the situation, he did just fine.

Posted by: at March 4, 2007 03:10 PM

matthewb @ ucla
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