After much hard work and preparation, it is great to see many ELS folk begin to gather at Cornell for this year's CELS. A copy of the final program is here. For those who like to plan ahead, USC will host the 2009 CELS on Nov. 20-21, 2009.
My colleague, Ted Eisenberg (Cornell), and Talia Fisher (Tel Aviv University) are calling for papers for an international conference on empirical legal studies scheduled for 26 March 2009, at Tel Aviv University Law School in Israel. The conference will include three sessions. One session will focus on empirical analysis of criminal law and criminal procedure. Another session will dwell on empirical research on civil law and procedure. The final session will be devoted to methodological and conceptual issues regarding quantitative analysis and empirical research. All conference sessions will be in English.
For those interested in submitting papers for consideration, the deadline for paper submissions is 1 December 2008. Papers should be submitted to either:
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Authors of accepted papers will be notified by 10 January 2009. The conference is open to all who wish to attend.
A new BJS report, Civil Rights Complaints in U.S. District Courts, 1990-2006, examines civil rights claims involving employment, housing, welfare, voting, or other civil rights issues litigated in U.S. district courts from 1990 - 2006. The study assesses trends in types of civil rights cases filed in
federal district courts, the basis of federal court jurisdiction, case
processing time, disposition of civil rights cases, and the types of trials that
occur in the federal courts. In addition, the report examines who wins in civil
rights trials and the estimated median monetary amount awarded to litigants. Notable findings include:
Civil rights filings doubled in U.S. district courts from 1990 (18,922
filings) to 1997 (43,278 filings) and subsequently stabilized until 2003. From
2003 through 2006, the number of civil rights cases filed in U.S. district
courts declined by 20%.
During the period from 1990 through 2006, the percentage of civil rights
cases concluded by trial declined from 8% to 3%.
From 2000 to 2006 plaintiffs won just under a third of civil rights trials
on average, and the median damage awards for plaintiffs who won in civil rights
trials ranged from $114,000 to $154,500.
In a provocative post entitled "Is the End Near for Yale's Dominance", Brian Leiter reports one insider's assessment that Yale may lose three or four additional faculty members. If that happens, surely Harvard, with its recent lateral hiring sprees, will be the best law school in the country--right? Brian thinks that predictions of Yale's decline are premature. I agee. But in the process Brian implicitly highlights an interesting problem: what exactly does it mean to be the "best" law school?
Here are the vexing facts: on a per capital basis, Yale places more people in academia and Supreme Court clerkships than any other law school; Yale's acceptance rate is 7.3% versus 11.8% for Harvard; yet, over the last decade, the average U.S. News academic reputation score for the two schools are exactly--yes, exactly--equal: 4.840 for Harvard, 4.840 for Yale.
Is it possible that Yale is #1 because, well, Yale is #1 -- and has been every year since USN began publication? Brian refers to U.S. News "small school bias". He is right. Because of Yale's massive endowment and small student size, it enjoys a per-pupil expenditure that is roughly 1/3 its total tuition price. According to a simulation model of the 2008 U.S. News rankings, which Andy Morriss and I recently constructed, Harvard would not overtake Yale even if:
Harvard's median LSAT climbed to 180 and its median UGPA hit 4.0;
Harvard's academic and lawyer-judge reputation scores were both a perfect 5.0;
Harvard's acceptance rate plunged to less than 5%.
Yet, Yale's dominance keeps things simple. Applicants signal their elite
status by enrolling at Yale. Judges, in turn, derive prestige by hiring
Yale graduates, even though they mockingly complain that Yale clerks know very little law. And faculty favor Yale graduates because it validates
our own sense of eliteness and institutional upward movement. We can rationalize Yale's dominance in terms of scholarship, but the real endgame is the allocation of positional goods. It is so easy to get too caught up on the hamster wheel of envy and prestige without realizing that the energy expended does not necessarily produce anything of lasting social value.
Of course, each of us is free to determine our own merit criteria. I think the "best" law school is the one where faculty are willing to make inordinate personal sacrifices for the benefit of the collective enterprise--and where aspiring lawyers leave the law school skilled, confident, ethical, and ensconced in a powerful professional network that opens doors and values public service. In turn, alumnus are sufficiently grateful for the transformative experience
they received that they
are willing to underwrite the law school's mission and subsidize this opportunity
for future generations. This vision requires a greater focus on internal rather than external metrics. For us human beings, that is no easy trick.