Thursday, November 26, 2015

Psst, Hey, Over here.

I need to tell you some things I found out today.

1. A certain first year dean at a large mid ranked law school is already interviewing to leave the school.
2. Jackson, that guy we just hired, is interviewing at Tennessee for a chaired position.
3. Janet said she smelled liquor on Jim's breath this morning.
4. Linda's students have been complaining about starting class 15 minutes late every day.
5. Did you hear the new dean is going to discontinue, dissemble, and destroy, the LLM in Law Finance. There is even some talk that he may torture the faculty.

Actually I made that all up. Or maybe I just changed the names. Whatever the case, one thing I have observed is that people love to have information. Actually, that is not quite right. More accurately, people love for others to think they have information, especially information that is not widely known.  This is probably true of all groups but, in the world of academics, seeming to know things others don't  raises status and, to some extent power.

But there are other interesting aspects of information status. First, as already noted you may know nothing but be good at appearing to know something. Second,  suppose you do know something and it's sort of interesting but not likely surprise anyone. A common practice is to ratchet the information up a notch. It goes like this: You overhear two students talking about how hard Professor Jones is. Ratcheted up it becomes, "I heard a bunch of students complaining that Jones is their worst professor and they are going to the Dean."

Or this: You are in the faculty lounge and Tom and Buck are discussion whether restitution can remotely be called a form of damages. Racheted up: "My God, I thought Tom and Buck were going to get into a fight. They were screaming at each other about teaching assignments."

Steve comes to school on a non teaching day wearing dirty clothes. Ratchet version: "Have you seen Steve lately? I've heard there are mental problems."

Sadly, although these are made up, I have seen  worse. Too many people thrive on drama and the appearance of being in the know. The ratcheting can be up or down like when the effort of one faculty member to push the hand of another away became the "slap" heard round the world and then was widely investigated as though the administration as nothing productive to do.  Ratcheting down means something like this, "oh but she/he is a really nice person". This comes right after finding  out that the person assaulted a student. I should mention that some information comes  from actual research into, let's say, the salaries of everyone who ever taught law or what someone far away said about someone's latest article. Don't trust these people either. They almost always present only part of the research.

So now you know how to (shall we say) "gather information." What do you do with it? Three possibilities. 1. Just impress others that you are so in touch with what is really going on in the faculty. This works mainly on the insecure untenureds who are just getting used to how unstructured things are. But that's Ok, the information peddler is usually also insecure. 2. Take it to the Administration because after all you are trusted, in the know, would never ever ratchet and, oh, by the way, maybe the Administration will look favorable on you. After all, you are not just any faculty member.  (Any administrator who encourages this at all or  without triple checking the informants information will be the death of your law school unless chased off.) 3. If it is really important and could actually have an impact on a person, go to him or her and discuss it. (Only a fool does this because it means no status and sense of importance for you.)

I really wanted to call this post "Information Whores" but I am not sure that term has evolved to be gender neutral which is the way I would have meant it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Law and Economics People:Don't They Suck?

Of course they do. They are the worst, aren't they. Always talking about efficiency, consumer surplus and the like. Heartless people who are not in touch with real values. "Bean counters."

I think I would be regarded as a law and economics person by anyone who has not read anything I have written and that's fine. With respect to most of the people who have rolled their eyes, accused me of have a law and economic agenda or whatever I stand with Rod Stewart. I would not let them tie my shoe.

There a couple odd things about being or not being a law and economics person. First, in actual real life it seems like the non law and economic types are far more likely to act like self-interested rational economic people. My observations are they are more inclined (or at least no less inclined) to worry about getting the best teaching load, the right number of students, enough money to travel the world, the highest salary, the best deal on a car, etc. And if you think for a second this is in service to the institution, forget about it. It is over-the-top self interest regardless of the impact on the community. In the words of Toby Keith, it is about "my, me, my." OMG, the stories I could tell of programs, certificates, LLMs programs that all reflect personal as opposed to institutional and student welfare. This is demonstrated most when they have outlived their usefulness, if there was a use in  the first place, and yet individuals cling to them.

So when it comes to individual self interest it's all about "law and economics." They should be teaching a course because they live in the shoes -- whether tied or not -- of the economic man. Interestingly this applies regardless of whose money is spent but the difference is this:

1. If the decision affects the individual, the hard nosed economic man comes out.
2. If the decision is spending the money of others the "it's not about the money, there are other values" comes out.

Well here is a little news: IT IS ALWAYS ABOUT THE MONEY!!! (Unless, that is, there is an unlimited amount of it.)

The only way to believe it is not always about the money is to be born without a part of the brain that understands opportunity costs. And since everyone I know understands opportunity costs when it comes to personal decision making, that part of the brain is in good shape. So what explains ignoring then in all kinds of other contexts? For example:

1. You want to run a summer foreign program in Poland, France, or Santa Barbara. You say it is  enriching for the (mostly already well-to-do) students. You send faculty there and say it does not cost anything because they would have been paid anyway. Yes, but the cost is in terms of what they would otherwise be doing. And if you say,  "They otherwise would be doing nothing" then the opportunity you missed was not paying them at all in the summer or paying the same money to some who actually does do something.

2. You want to have a Program in Intermediate Snooker Law because someone deeply interested in snooker wanted to teach it and then add advanced courses (total enrollment 30). You cannot have a program without a director and a director cannot possibly teach a full load what with all that directing that goes on. He or she is taken off the schedule for one course. The loss of that course is the opportunity cost.

3. You have an LLM program that wants teach its courses over a 60 minute class period even though the 95 per cent of the school teaches 50 minutes classes. The teachers really, really want it. It means dedicating a classroom to their use even though the room is rarely full and, in fact empty several hours a week. The opportunity costs? Classes that students want cannot be put in that room even when there is no other room for them.

Am I saying summer programs, snooker law certificates, and LLMs taught in 60 minute class periods are bad. Nope, not at all. I am saying the reasoning, or lack thereof, that results in those decisions conveniently  does not reflect the same law and economics analysis that the same people apply to themselves when trying to maximize their own well-being.

Yes, those law and econ people do suck but they may not be the ones most people think of.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Programs/Ranking Scam, Self Esteem, and Helping Your School

Did you ever wonder how important those rankings of specialty programs in law are. You know what I mean -- tax, IP, environmental law, international law, and on and on. This occurred to me, and I am sure others, some time ago. Let's say you've got 4 people on your faculty who teach Immigration Law. They actually are not very distinguished but then they create and LLM in Immigration Law. I am not sure how many of these programs exist but let's say 5, so now they are 6th. BOOM, U.S. News and World Reports announces that the program is the 6th best Immigration Law program in the US.  You know what comes next -- It is plastered all over the Law School web site, brochures are printed, and massive quantities of law porn hit faculty mail boxes across the country.

There is a slightly different way to think about it. Suppose your school has a program in Immigration Law that is ranked second in the nation. (Just in case, it is important to know that I have no knowledge about immigration law programs.) You look around at the actual professors in the program and maybe they are not so hot. In fact, it dawns on you that 50 other schools could take their existing immigration law faculty and form a program and yours would instantly drop to 52nd. What should you do. OK, I am going to get a little fancy here and bring in the Coase Theorem. You pay them not to start a program!

That is disappointing and costly but there is good news here too. Everyone actually should not get stoned but should start a specialty program instead. In fact, I think I may hang a sign outside my door that says: "Institute for Study of Law School Craziness." I am the director so I get time off and I will enlist 12 people as Associate Directors so they can put that after their signatures on all their correspondence. I'll also probably move to the mountains near a nice trout stream and "work at home" because as director I actually do not have to do much teaching.

You can do this too. Help the ranking of you school by forming up a program. It's good for your school and for self esteem. It does not matter if the actual people teaching are 20th best in the country. The program will be in the top 5 and then the teachers will likely believe they too are in the top 5. After all they are sooooo special. Or at least they are now.

So, how important are those rankings? If you think they tell you much of anything about the actual instruction that goes on I need to talk to you about some precious metals I would like to sell.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Double Pranking the Law Faculty: Am Empirical Work

Years ago I heard and believe it to be true that super lawyer Steve Susman pranked a law firm by  bringing in a bartender as a interviewee for a position with the firm. The bogus candidate was supplied with a resume  that was just right and coached enough to know what to say and not to say. In the version of the story I heard, an offer was made.

This led me to wonder if you could prank a law faculty. The best version of this would be a faculty hiring experiment. An articulate bartender would be supplied with the perfect resume, the right names to drop, and all the other dressing.  He or she would be coached on what to say and not to say. Frankly, I do not think it would work. Somewhere along the line a question would be asked that exposed the prank or, at the very least, a reference would be called. The job talk would likely be a disaster. Of course, if the success of the prank hinged on the job talk and references being called, I guess you could conclude that it did work in some measure by surviving the office interviews.

There could be another type of prank. This one would be conducted by a law professor looking to write a paper on the prankability of law professors. Here is how it works. The professor who is the pranker/researcher is invited to a workshop at a much lower ranked law school. This is important because law profs are very impressed by credentials. If you do not believe me, listen to the way they introduce each other.

The speaker/experimenter presents an empirical paper. This is also important since empirical would is both threatening and impressive to law profs. And, although  the questions they can ask based on intuition and logic can potentially expose the prank, for the most part a decent empiricist can fake it be saying, we used the "Himstead r-test to make sure that bias was not present" or "Hmm, that might be worth looking into."

The paper must be complete B.S. -- something like "Do Americans Like their Flag: Implications for Nationalism, International Relations, and Community." The actual empirical work could be fabricated or actual done. If actually done, people from all states could be asked:

1. Do You Like the U.S. Flag? (scale of 1-10)
2. Do you like your state's flag? (scale of 1-10)
3. Do you really, really like your flag? (scale of 1-10)
3.  What symbols do you want on your state's flag? [This is follow by a list of things ranging from eagles to Ronald McDonald.]

This would all be done by questionnaire. The data would them be compiled and correlations found based on race, gender, income level, average state temperature, party affiliation, etc. The results would be presented in graphical form with different colors for states where the flag was very popular and places where people did not care much for their flag. A very long table with all kinds of correlation coefficients, SSEs,  t-values, and R squares would be available.

The research questionnaire does not ask if the subject has any knowledge of what the state flag looks like. Why? Actually I do not know why but that is part of the prank. The researcher actually does not know if the people who have opinions about the flag have any knowledge of the flag. So among those liking or disliking the flag are completely different groups -- some are just making it up and some may have studied their flag closely.

When asked what this is all about the speaker says it has important implications for patriotism. No one asks, "Could you have just asked the subjects how patriotic they believe they are."

The  test in terms of the prankability of different faculties would be how long it would take for someone to say, "You are kidding, right?" or "Is this a prank" or "Is this being filmed for TV show." Perhaps everyone would just sit there, ask polite questions, and nod knowingly because, after all this is a faculty member from a highly ranked school delivering an empirical paper. 

Schools could then be ranking on the prankability scale -- how long it takes to detect the prank.  That ranking would them be correlated with the race, gender, socioeconomic class of the faculty, time of day, size of law school, density of population, per capita income of surrounding area, number of Walmarts in town per capita, height of the highest flagpole, etc.

I could then write up that paper and go on the workshop tour with an all new paper: "The Prankability of Law Faculties: A Comparative Study of Manners and Deference to Authority"  which itself could be a prank especially if I made it all up. 

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

VAPorized: The Demise of Individuality

For several years now, one way to a permanent law teaching job is to be a visiting assistant professor (VAP) at a law school. It's a temporary position that allows those who aspire to be law professors to write and teach while they are prepped, groomed,  advised, shaped, molded, etc. by people who are already law professors. A good idea, right? 

I'm  not so sure. In fact, what I see is a process close to mass production in which individuality is hammered out of otherwise interesting people. VAPorized candidates are very polished, well groomed, friendly, accomplished, (all in the same way)  and can thank everyone from Woody Allen to Jeff Lebowski in their invariably very long acknowledgement footnotes. Their job talks are impressive both in substance in style -- well rehearsed I would say. And their schools -- both the elite schools from which they graduated and their VAP homes -- cannot say enough good things about them. What I want to know is what is inside that dressing, that is, if there is anything left after they are told by law professors how to be law professors. If they were rooms, I would try to find the doors. But what they are taught while being VAPorized is not to show themselves.

Let's face it, the cloning effect in legal education was severe even before Vaps. So what do they bring to legal education?  I don't want to paint with too broad a brush here but in some sense "nothing new." (Is there something less than nothing new?)For the most part they have locked  into a specialty or sub specialty. They take on the characteristics of a mid career person. They do not seem that interesting because they have already arrived at one-dimensionality and lost interest themselves in anything other than a narrow field.  I preferred the old days when new hires were a couple of years out of law school and still, in a sense, learning.

Let's face it, the worse thing about law professors is a cultural sameness -- dress, vocabulary, mannerisms, appeals to authority, appearance of reflectiveness, law schools from which they graduated, socioeconomic class, passive aggression, close to the vest, never admitting mistakes or regrets, life is a life time negotiation, excessive self interest, blah, blah -- I know I am a broken record.

Before a candidate is VAPorized. there is a chance. Slim, I know, but there is a chance to see the real thing and a chance they will bring some element of diversity to a faculty. I would like someone to start a program for Vaps that deVAPorizes them.