Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

March 7, 2006

George Mason: 1, All Other Law Schools: 0

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:41 pm

Practically all the law schools in the country just lost a unanimous Supreme Court decision regarding whether it’s Consitutional to require law schools that receive federal funding to allow the military to recruit on the same basis as other employers. (The Court says it is, 8-0.)

Todd Zywicki notes that the George Mason School of Law was the only school to argue on the winning side.

There’s also an interesting article in the current issue of National Review on the GMU law school; it’s excerpted here and here.

GMU is basically one of the few law schools in the U.S. that is not monomaniacally leftist. The article points to one way they have taken advantage of this fact to increase their ranking, even in a world in which ranking depends on part on the approval of those other, leftist, law schools:

But Daniel Polsby, the dean of the George Mason University School of Law, is different. … [H]e’s actually looking forward to the U.S. News survey [ranking law schools]. “We hope to move up a few places this year,” he says. That would certainly be in keeping with a decade-long trend: Mason vaulted from 71st place in 1995 to 41st in 2005 — an impressive achievement given that these rankings tend to remain static from year to year.

Whereas his competitors were obsessed with signing big-name free agents in hot fields such as feminist legal theory, [earlier Dean Henry G.] Manne quietly assembled a team of undervalued unknowns. “If the market discriminates against conservatives, then there should be good opportunities for hiring conservatives,” says Polsby. This is exactly the sort of observation one would expect a market-savvy law-and-economics scholar to make. Manne and his successors were able to act on this theory, and though Mason has in recent years expanded its recruitment of non-economics specialists, it has stuck by the core observation that law schools routinely overlook raw talent.

At the same time, the GMU law school has climbed the U.S. News rankings. Some years have been better than others: In 1999, as a result of poor data collection, there was a temporary but eye-popping dip to 113th. Slowly but surely, however, Mason has shed its status as a “safety” school for students who couldn’t gain admission elsewhere. In 2001, it broke into the top 50 — a group that U.S. News describes as “first tier” — and it hasn’t looked back. Since 2003, Mason has floated between 38th and 41st. It probably would do even better but for the particular ways U.S. News calculates worth: Forty percent of a school’s ranking is based on reputation, as determined by judges and lawyers (15 percent) and law professors (25 percent). “If we had Dartmouth or Princeton’s name,” says Polsby, picking two well-regarded schools that don’t have law programs, “we’d be a top-20 school overnight.” And by weighing the opinions of law professors so heavily, U.S. News gives liberals a lot of influence; Mason almost certainly pays a price for the perception that conservatives aren’t exactly an endangered species in its faculty lounge.

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