About a decade ago, Harvard Law School hired — and paid a lot of money to — McKinsey & Co., the celebrated consulting firm, to offer suggestions on how to improve HLS. The hope was that, armed with McKinsey’s wisdom, Harvard would overtake Yale Law School in the influential U.S. News and World Report law school rankings.
But did HLS need to hire consultants to solve this problem? One simple solution would surely have put Harvard over the top: cut the size of its entering class by a third or a half, while leaving everything else — the size and quality of the faculty, the number of books in the library, the waterless urinals in Harkness — unchanged.
Okay, maybe consultants would be needed, to figure out how to replace the lost tuition dollars. But the overall point remains: when it comes to law school class size, small is beautiful. Fewer students means more resources per student. It’s not surprising that so many of the top law schools in the country — e.g. Yale, Stanford, Chicago — have entering classes under 200 students a year.
Oh wait — maybe not Yale. From an email just issued to the YLS community:
We write with an update concerning changes in the size of the incoming YLS Class of 2012, mentioned by Dean Koh in his State of the School address this past February. While it is difficult to precisely project the size of the class, according to the administration, they anticipate an increased JD class size of up to 25 additional students in the incoming class. This will most likely result in traditional small group sizes that range between 16-18 students in each group. The size of the graduate program is predicted to be in line with the class sizes over the last few years. As always, please contact us with any questions you may have regarding this issue at [redacted].
An increase of this size is significant for Yale. A typical YLS entering class has about 175 students, so an additional 25 students results in a class that’s about 15 percent larger.
What might this mean for Yale? More after the jump.
The move has caused some concern in the YLS community. Wrote an incoming student to ATL: “Are we slipping?” Wrote a current student: “YLS is increasing class size, perhaps rather dramatically. Major reason: they’re looking for more tuition money.”
Whenever we go to a YLS alumni event, the dean — first Tony Kronman, then Harold Koh — begins by reciting the mind-blowing credentials of the current 1L class: off-the-chart GPAs and LSAT scores, Rhodes and Marshall scholars galore, an Olympic athlete here or there. Increasing the number of students admitted risks reducing selectivity — and diluting the value of a YLS degree.
And, let’s face it, much of the value of a YLS degree inheres in the school’s selectivity (because, to put it diplomatically, it’s not all about the teaching at 127 Wall Street). One reason to attend Yale Law School is that, if you don’t, nobody will know that you got in. We know a number of brilliant HLS graduates, who served in leadership positions on the Harvard Law Review and then scored Supreme Court clerkships, who did not get into YLS.
This reminds us of an old New Yorker cartoon. It showed a car with a “Harvard” sticker in the rear windshield, and a second sticker on the bumper: “Also Admitted at Princeton, Yale, Stanford.” But that’s not how things work in the real world. Only a colossal douchebag would get a bumper sticker that reads, “I Turned Down Yale Law School.”
The latest U.S. News law school rankings are scheduled to appear next week. It’s fairly safe to assume that Yale will retain the #1 spot: in recent years, the gap in numerical scores between Yale and the second-place school has been significant.
But will that remain the same in the years ahead? Has Yale, by deciding to enlarge its incoming class by about 15 percent, picked a sweet spot that will maximize tuition dollars and its U.S. News ranking? Or is it cutting things too close, such that Harvard or Stanford will emerge on top every now and then?