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Law school ranking season is here, and universities across the country are engaged in a glossy marketing blitz to “educate” evaluators who can help boost or bust their reputations. Law deans and other faculty members who review schools for the peer assessment portion of the annual ranking by U.S. News & World Report say their in-boxes are stuffed with brochures, pamphlets, virtual tours and more from other law schools that want favorable reviews. At the same time, they admit that their own schools have mailed the same kinds of materials to peer reviewers at other law schools in hopes of raising their institutions’ profiles to garner good scores. But even if sending these materials- dubbed “law porn” by some academics- is the norm among schools, the practice is raising concerns that the dollars going toward glitzy promotional materials would be better spent on more direct ways to improve the quality of their educational programs. “It becomes the dog chasing its tail,” said Michael Schill, dean of University of California at Los Angeles School of Law. Schill said that he has heaps of brochures from other schools. His own staff this year mailed other law schools a brochure that highlights UCLA’s faculty members. Providing more information to the people filling out the survey is valid, Schill said. But he added, “What you see too often are schools doing things that aren’t increasing the quality of their programs, but instead are just serving the purpose of the U.S. News & World Report.” David Yellen, dean of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, said that this year he has received about 500 pieces of promotional literature from the 191 accredited law schools in the country. He spends “a couple of seconds” looking at most of them, he said. It is not unusual for law schools to spend more than $200,000 annually on promotional materials, in addition to mailing costs. That figure may be a small fraction of budgets for better endowed schools, but it can be a significant burden for schools struggling to improve their reputations. Some law schools have started sending e-mail messages to faculty members to keep the attributes of their institutions fresh in reviewers’ minds as they complete the surveys, Yellen said. Others have telephoned law schools to find out which individuals they should target with printed materials. Results of the annual survey are based, in part, on expert opinions, which include evaluations from other law schools, judges and practicing attorneys. The law schools’ input comes from surveys completed by deans, associate deans of academic affairs, chairpersons of faculty appointment committees and the most recently tenured faculty members. Faculty members are asked to rank each school on a scale from one to five, with one representing “marginal” and five representing “outstanding.” A sixth option is “don’t know.” Flawed review method? The mass mailings of promotional materials represent the enormous importance law schools place on the annual ranking, which affects not only student recruitment but also faculty hiring and fundraising. Paul Caron, a tax professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, described the mailings as “woefully ineffective.” He has evaluated tax programs at other schools as part of the rankings. Despite the information that the materials are supposed to relay, Caron said the peer review method is flawed since professors often know very little about most of the schools that they are evaluating. “I consider myself as wired as anyone in tax, but I have no idea what goes on in the vast majority of [law schools],” he said. But Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News & World Report, said that peer reviewers need to check the “don’t know” response when appropriate. He added that the peer reviewers, as leaders in their field, have an “accumulated awareness” of the schools in their profession. Morse developed the law school ranking for U.S. News & World Report, which was first published in 1990. He said he is “shocked and startled” at the importance law schools now place on the ranking. “I get the feeling they’re mad at themselves,” Morse said.

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