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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Unconfirmed: Law School Rankings Released, University of Houston Jumps 10 spots to #60

Via Marshall Preddy at Legalese, the University of Houston Law Center has jumped 10 spots to #60 in the 2008 U.S. World and News Report Rankings. The USWNR site still shows 2007, but Concurring Opinions has the scoop on 2008 law school rankings which were apparently released earlier to subscribers and posted on

I’ve made my feelings known on the matter in earlier posts, I wish I could say it doesn’t matter at all, but of course it does. Why? Not for any intrinsic matter, but because someone out there pays attention to these things and acts accordingly – those bright-eyed, terrifyingly insecure youngsters in the throes of acceptance/rejection letters trying to figure out where they’re going to spend the next three years. Orin Kerr makes this argument at Volokh; this comment nails it specifically.

In my opinion, and to borrow from Malcolm Gladwell, there are two schools of thought on the value imparted by an educational institution. Law Schools can be more like modeling agencies or more like the Marine Corp. Modeling agencies earn their reputations be selecting only the best. The Marine Corp is far less selective, but you can be damn sure it will turn whatever it gets into a soldier. Of course neither motive is completely true of all law schools, but for the average law student, you’re much better off at a school that sees itself as more marine corp than modeling agency.

UPDATE# 1: Houston’s former Dean Nancy Rapoport takes a look from a perspective only a Dean can bring – We’re number, uh, something?. The decision to promote Houston’s appearance on the Vault’s underrated law school list I thought was a bit like a company touting a depressed share price.

UPDATE# 2: Bill Henderson at the Empirical Legal Studies Blog, puts the modeling agency / marine corp dichotomy in terms of stronger students / better education –

Nancy Rapoport, Rapoport’s tried-and-true method for learning how to take law school essay exams

Nancy Rapoport has drawn on her experience as a law professor to give students an idea of some of the mistakes they might be making in law school exams and how to correct them – Rapoport’s tried-and-true method for learning how to take law school essay exams (with a shout-out to Mary Beth Beazley). This hits close to home. I’m still kicking myself for inexplicably forgetting to address self-defense in my torts exam last semester. It hit me as soon as I turned it in that I had meant to come back to it but had forgotten. I survived, but these things are hard enough without leaving points on the table.

The Rapoport Method

  1. The best way to prepare for an exam is to take practice exams and diagnose the answers to those exams. (Analogy: the best way to play a sport is to play it, not read about it.)
  2. You get points on exams for what you put in your answer, not what you have in your head.
  3. There are two types of errors that I see on most exams. The first type of error is serious: not understanding the law. (Let’s call that error the input error.) My method doesn’t deal with that error. It deals with the second type of error: not understanding the components of a good answer. Let’s call that error the applicaton error.
  4. Often, students with the second type of error systematically skip one or more of the components of a good answer, thereby cheating themselves out of points that they could have gotten.
  5. So, to the diagnosis part. Get four colors of highlighters. You’ll use one for highlighting your statement of the rules, one for highlighting your use of the facts from the hypothetical, one for your application of those facts from the hypothetical to the rule (including any exceptions to the rule), and one for any conclusions that you draw after you apply the facts to the law.
  6. Students who systematically forget to put the rule(s) down on paper will see that mistake. So will students who jump to conclusions without demonstrating each step of their analysis, or those who write general statements about the hypothetical without looking for those particular facts on which a given hypo will turn.
  7. After the student has had a chance to look for systematic errors, then it’s time to start with step 1 again: more practice exams, more diagnosis, then still more practice, and still more diagnosis.

The Law School Rankings Game

The University of Houston Law Center is featured in a cover article – “The Rankings Game” – in the National Jurist this month. U.S. News & World Report is ostensibly a weekly news rag, a la Time and Newsweek. The only significance it holds in the legal community is the annual law school rankings it has published since 1988. Houston and our former Dean, Nancy Rapoport, have become either a cause celebre and a cautionary tale in the great law-school-ranking-debate, depending on your point of view. The author begins the article with the cautionary tale part -

Deans leave law schools all the time, for varying reasons. But they don’t usually announce their resignations shortly after breaking into tears in front of an audience of more than 100 angry students, which is how Nancy Rapoport, former dean of the University of Houston Law Center, left her job last spring.

Rapoport had not embezzled tuition money or made promises she didn’t keep. Students were upset because the law school had slipped in the U.S. News & World Reports rankings, dropping to 70th overall. And they showed up at a faculty meeting to express their dismay.

That happened the semester before I started, so I know relatively little about it other than what I’ve heard from other students and from Nancy herself. Rapoport discusses the incident and the article on her own blog – Touching Nerve at National Jurist and Closure (?) on National Jurist article – and at MoneyLaw – Am I the poster child for why the USNWR rankings are bad?. Which brings us to the cause célèbre part because Rapoport is in fact the poster child for the USNWR ranking’s shortcomings. I took too much economics to dismiss out of hand the value of attempting to measure even subjective things. I submit that there is nothing at all wrong with the rankings, but only in how we (the legal community) treats them.

You Can’t Beat Something with Nothing

The Rankings are important because we pay attention to them. Like an annoying sibling or a schoolyard bully we know that if we just ignored them, they would go away, but we don’t; so they won’t. So why do we pay attention to them? Law students as a group are neurotic little prestige-whores with no clue how to evaluate the choice of where to go to law school. I am one so I can say that. Go eavesdrop on some of these conversations and tell me I’m wrong. I’m really glad I ended up at Houston. It’s the perfect place for me. Yet most of that was geography and dumb luck. The things I used to evaluate law schools then are not the things I appreciate about Houston now.

Factors I Considered Then…

  1. USWNR Ranking
    As I said, you can’t beat something with nothing.
  2. Salary Comparison
    The reason I’m not living in Missoula right now.
  3. Location, Location, Location
    The other reason I’m not living in Missoula right now.

vs. Things I Appreciate Now…

  1. Reasonable Tuition
    I know, I know, when we start out we’re all going to be first in our class, we’re all going to work for BigLaw for 8 gazillion dollars a year and the bonus is another 9 gazillion dollars. You know what they have to do for 8 gazillion dollars. Picking Houston meant a difference of about $60,000; probably twice that if I factored in other incidentals, then factor in interest. Oh and I can afford to eat something besides ramen noodles right now.
  2. Quality of Professors
    I can’t stress this one enough and by quality I mean the ability to teach. Civil Procedure was boring enough with a great professor, I can’t imagine what it would have been like with a lousy one.
  3. Quality of the Student Body
    My classmates are my single biggest source of inspiration and motivation. Their experience, passion and talent make me work harder than I ever thought I could.
  4. Sanity of the Student Body
    Your time in law school will seem like forever. Spend it with people you like.

Let’s ask the multiverse, shall we?

In a perfect world, if I were to evaluate the effectiveness of the legal education of various institutions I would clone myself a hundred times over, get a JD at all of them, wait 5 or 10 years and see how all my perm(luke)tations (sorry) were doing at a few years into their careers and see if Harvard-Luke was really doing any better than Houston-Luke. That’s impossible of course, and that’s my point.

More later….

Welcome to the Blogosphere

Nancy Rapoport, former Dean at the University of Houston, is blogging at Nancy Rapoport’s Blogspot.

Nancy Rapoport joins the MoneyLaw Blog

I got a note from Jim Chen tonight that UHLC’s own Nancy Rapoport has joined the MoneyLaw blog I mentioned in a previous post. I’ll be looking forward to her thoughts, as for better or worse, she’s perhaps in the best position to speak to the pros and cons of the current law school ranking regime, given her experience in Houston.

I met Dean Rapoport only briefly at an event prior to the start of our first semester, but I’ve run across more than one student who was greatly impressed by her personality and wit. Looks like she will be leaving UHLC following her sabbatical.

I’m currently a law professor at the University of Houston Law Center (and the former dean there, from 2000-2006); after my year’s sabbatical, I’ll be moving to the Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where I’ll become the Gordon & Silver Professor of Law.

As one if her first posts indicates, being a law professor is every bit as bizarre as being a student,

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