David Bernstein over at the Volokh Conspiracy put up a post a week or so about "advice" given by faculty at top law schools to their mentees entering the teaching market. The advice ranged from prominently displaying ideological leanings to avoiding actual experience and going onto the job market fresh out of a judicial clerkship. As the post rightfully noted, all of the advice is in one way or another suspect.
But what caught our eye in particular was this piece of advice:
- Don’t bother going into the legal academy unless you can get a job at a top fifteen law school, otherwise you are better off working at a law firm; no one pays attention to what people at lower-ranked law schools have to say, so you will just get frustrated if you wind up at one of them.
David has this observation to make about the comment: "Actually, being a law professor at any law school with a good academic environment is one of the best jobs in the world; people do move up; and people do pay attention to good scholarship emanating from outside the top 15."
It has always been the case that faculty at non-top 15 (or 10 or 20) law schools have exercised important influence, contrary to the comment. But the comment bears a bit more thought. First, it is interesting to consider the notion of "influence." After all, there are multiple constituencies that can be influenced by the academy.
To the extent that they include only other academics, the top schools tend to be clustered on the coasts. Most of the top 15 schools are on the east and west coasts. Of the top 15 law schools, 9 are on the East Coast (Yale, Harvard, Columbia, NYU, Penn, Virginia, Duke, Cornell and Georgetown) and two (Stanford and Berkeley) are on the west cost. Other than the University of Texas, Michigan and the two schools in Chicago (Chicago and Northwestern), no other geographic areas are represented in that cluster. As a result, faculty interaction among these schools is relatively easy and could facilitate influence.
But this is a cramped definition of influence. Influence can also encompass the bar and assorted decision makers, whether those in the judiciary or those in the legislature (not to mention regulatory agencies). In that context, while a top 15 school or a top 15 journal might provide a small edge, the reality is that smart scholarship and commentary from anywhere will have the potential to influence. All of this brings me to the Internet.
The bar and decision makers want things that can help advance whatever process they are undertaking. In the pre-Internet days, locating appropriate scholarship was harder and probably resulted in a number of expediencies such as an emphasis on the rank of the relevant journal.
That has changed with the advent of the Internet. To the extent articles are posted on SSRN, they can be found through free Google searches. Moreover, Google, unless instructed otherwise, doesn't care whether the article is in a highly ranked or a lower ranked journal. To the extent, therefore, that scholars can develop a significant Internet presence for their work, anyone with access to the Internet and a search engine can find it.
In a piece I wrote several years ago (that ought to be updated if I could ever find the time), Of Empires, Independents, and Captives: Law Blogging, Law Scholarship, and Law School Rankings, I noted that, for the most part, faculty at the highest ranked schools were not active bloggers (with a few very notable exceptions). Many of these faculty have succeeded under the traditional criteria for influence -- teaching at a top school and publishing in top journals. Those blogging were far more likely to come from the next tier of schools. This made sense. Blogging amounted to a work around of the traditional criteria. Bloggers might not appear in the top journals as often but their Internet presence made it easier to find their work.
Moreover, there is evidence of the influence of posting on the Internet. Bloggers are well represented in SSRN. Blog posts are increasingly appearing in court opinions and in law reviews. There is evidence that they are read by judicial law clerks.
In other words, the advice that influence is limited to the top 15 law schools is wrong. But it also reflects the view of a faculty member in a top school who has not yet figured out how the Internet has altered the landscape.