It’s that time of year when law school faculties are inundated with so-called “law school porn” — slick mailings extolling the virtues of individual law schools meant to sway voting in the U.S. News & World Report‘s reputation survey, now underway.
Some legal educators believe the annual barrage of mail has gotten out of control, and proves that rankings are driving administrative decisions. They say it’s time to stop paying for glossy brochures and invest that money in students.
“Some of the stuff I get is gorgeous,” said University of New Hampshire law professor Sarah Redfield. “It’s almost a book. Some people are spending a bunch of money on this.”
A study released in 2009 that was partially funded by the Law School Admission Council, “ Fear of Failing: The Effect of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on U.S. Law Schools,” reached the same conclusion: that administrators are spending significant amounts of money on brochures and marketing materials in hopes of getting better results on the reputation survey.
The survey is based on voting by legal educators, lawyers and judges, and accounts for 40 percent of a school’s ranking score.
In a recent blog post, University of California at Los Angeles School of Law professor Stephen Bainbridge estimated that this material — commonly referred to in legal academic circles as “law school porn” — comprises 67 percent of his work mail. He added that never reads it.
He noted that he has started to receive law school promotional materials via e-mail, which he dismissed as spam.
This material does serve a few purposes, according to University of Alabama School of Law professor Paul Horwitz, who defended them on the PrawfsBlawg blog. They can provide useful information about as recent faculty hires, scholarly publications and other innovations, he wrote.
“On the whole, unlike many, I would rather receive these materials than not receive them,” Horwitz wrote. “That’s true even if, as is generally the case, they’re ridiculously fulsome, as long as they’re also informative. As long as a school wants to tell me more about who it’s hired and what its folks are writing, I’ll be happy to read its mailers.”
For Redfield, however, the proliferation is a disturbing sign of how law school resources are being allocated.
“However much it costs, it seems to me inappropriate,” she said. “It’s like U.S. News & World Report is setting the music and we’re all singing to it.”
Redfield brought a thick stack of the material to a law school admissions conference at St. John’s University School of Law on Nov. 11. It represented about one quarter of what she had received this fall, she said. She theatrically dropped the stack into a recycling bin, producing a loud thud, and issued a challenge to the law deans in the audience and to U.S. News Director of Data Research Bob Morse, who sat on a panel with her. Law schools should do away with law school porn and put the money toward diversity scholarships, Redfield said.
Morse did not sign on to the challenge, nor did his dismiss it out of hand.
Redfield’s idea was met with skepticism by St. John’s Dean Michael Simons. He did not specify what the school spends on its mailings, but stipulated that it would not be enough to fund even a half-scholarship. The National Law Journal contacted a number of law schools to ask what they spend; none responded.
“I’m skeptical that we’re talking about enough money to make a difference, as far as making a difference in diversity at law schools,” he said. “But I agree with [Redfield] that the glossy brochures are an obvious and visible way that U.S. News influences how we spend our money.”
Redfield said that a large number of law school deans would need to agree to stop producing the material for the plan to work, since no single school would likely be willing to risk their reputation score by going it alone.
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