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Most law school academics wish there were no such thing as the U.S. News & World Report rankings. But a recent court directive advising New Jersey judges not to take part in the law school survey has local educators worrying that the judges’ lack of input may hurt New Jersey schools’ rankings. In Directive 12-04, published Nov. 15 [178 N.J.L.J. 712], Acting Administrative Director of the Courts Philip Carchman told assignment judges to advise judges it would be “inappropriate” to complete the survey. The U.S. News rankings have a high profile. Even critics acknowledge that a school’s rating can influence students’ choice of school, graduates’ job opportunities and the schools’ ability to hire faculty. Law school officials say the edict puts New Jersey schools at a disadvantage because the state’s judges are in the best position to appreciate local law schools’ strengths. Carchman cited no canon or ethical constraint. New Jersey’s Code of Judicial Conduct does not mention surveys but perhaps comes closest to the issue in Canon 2, which says judges should avoid impropriety and its appearance in all activities. It states, “A judge should not lend the prestige of office to advance the private interests of others.” Carchman’s directive does, however, refer to a 1966 directive, No. 33-65, which barred judges from participating in Martindale-Hubbell’s attorney rating system. The new directive notes that the 38-year old proscription remains in effect. “I agree with the Martindale directive about using the prestige of office,” says Ronald Chen, associate dean at Rutgers Law School-Newark. “But it is so much more attenuated when you participate in an anonymous survey and your responses are merged in with other judges and lawyers.” U.S. News has been ranking law schools for about 15 years, and it is not clear what prompted the AOC to take a stance now. It is likewise unclear why Carchman’s directive went to assignment judges. The questionnaires typically go to the chief justice, one federal district judge and one bankruptcy judge in each state, says Richard Folkers, U.S. News‘ director of media relations. “Judges apparently get requests to participate in surveys all the time and Judge Carchman knows that,” says state Administrative Office of the Courts spokeswoman Tammy Kendig. “Anything that asks judges to express some type of partiality toward attorneys or the law schools they attended, particularly for a commercial purpose, is generally injudicious.” New Jersey appears to be the only jurisdiction to muzzle judges when it comes to the survey. No similar advisory has gone out to federal judges, says Dick Carelli, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Cynthia Gray, director of the American Judicature Society, is unaware of any state court with a comparable proscription. And Chen says participants in a listserv for associate deans had not heard of a similar measure elsewhere. DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD Law schools are torn between their scorn for the rankings and a desire to place well. Rayman Solomon, dean of Rutgers Law School-Camden, sees the directive as “consistent with New Jersey’s heavy emphasis on avoiding conflict in the extreme,” but still finds its issuance “curious.” “There seems to me almost no possibility of this somehow presenting a conflict for the judges.” But “it does have a negative impact on the three law schools in the state.” He describes a “paradigmatic case” under Canon 2 of a judge driving a Ford SUV who has his picture taken and says it is the best car on the market. “This isn’t anything like that,” says Solomon. He hopes to discuss the matter with Carchman after conferring with the deans at the other law schools. Stuart Deutsch, dean at Rutgers Law School-Newark, says he has spoken with Solomon and would be happy to talk to Carchman. Though he doesn’t think judges’ input has much impact on ratings, “I would like the chief justice to say nice words about us,” he says. “Overall, I think that judges should be able to reply to something like this just as they should be able to talk about lots of other things,” he says. At Seton Hall University School of Law, Dean Patrick Hobbs says some state judges have contacted him to ask whether the directive will hurt the school. The questionnaire asks recipients to rate every school in the country, which no one is competent to do, he says. On the other hand, “who better to assess the quality of New Jersey students” than New Jersey judges, he asks. Hobbs calls the survey deeply flawed and sees his own school as disserved by U.S. News‘ reliance on subjective assessments and the failure to take faculty productivity into account. Though Hobbs calls the directive a “a reasoned judgment,” he would prefer a level field where other states did the same. Seton Hall law professor Mark Alexander, who teaches free speech, says whether the directive violates judges’ First Amendment rights depends on whether there’s a significant enough governmental interest at stake. He assumes the “problematic nature” of the rankings is behind the directive. Adds his colleague Edward Hartnett, who teaches constitutional law: “I don’t see how it isn’t a restriction on their speech.” But assessing whether it is constitutional is difficult without an explanation for the directive. “It’s clear the canons would permit a judge to give a speech and write articles praising and decrying trends” in legal education. “Why is it impermissible to participate in a similar survey?” he asks. “It might warrant further explanation as to why they think the Code of Judicial Conduct applies to this situation,” adds Chen. Seton Hall ethics professor Michael Ambrosio has another view. Calling the survey “unscientific, predicated on happenstance and quick assessments,” Ambrosio says the directive serves the “legitimate purpose of preserving the integrity, reputation and impartiality of the judiciary as a whole.” He adds that the questionnaires put judges in “the role of being an advocate for a particular school.” Judges’ views are a minor element of the ratings. Combined with attorney reviews, they comprise only 15 percent of the weighted average for each school. The most heavily weighted factors, at 25 percent each, are reviews by law school deans and professors, who rate schools on a 1-to-5 scale, and a “selectivity” factor that combines LSAT scores, undergraduate grade point average and the proportion of applicants accepted the preceding fall. Rounding out the averages are placement success (20 percent), measured by employment and bar exam pass rates, and faculty resources (15 percent), encompassing factors like student-teacher ratio, financial aid and library size. Yale and Harvard top the current U.S. News survey, which covers 186 accredited law schools. Both Rutgers law schools rank in 72nd place, just below Brooklyn Law School, right above St. John’s University, and tied with Villanova and the universities of Oregon and Richmond. Seton Hall shares the 89th ranking with Georgia State, Hofstra, Louisiana State-Baton Rouge and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. New Jersey schools are strongest on the “diversity index,” with Rutgers-Newark the eighth highest, followed by Seton Hall, No. 66, and Rutgers-Camden, No. 105. The current rankings, released in April, do not include input from state court judges anywhere because U.S. News did not send them questionnaires last year, as it usually does. Legal academics have long been critical of the U.S. News rankings. The Association of American Law Schools commissioned a 1998 statistical analysis that found “many serious problems” with them and called on the magazine to end the practice.

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