Law Schools, Martha Minow, Rankings

Can Stanford Overtake Harvard and Yale and Become the #1 Law School?

Hello, West Coast readers! How’s it hangin’ out there past the Rockies? Here at Above the Law, we try to overcome any suggestion of East Coast bias by consistently publishing a post later in the day for our readers in the Pacific time zone. And we try to be generally aware of West Coast firms and schools.

We’ve even heard of Stanford Law School. It’s like the Harvard of the West, right? We hear it’s wonderful. It’s not Yale, but hey, neither is the Harvard of the East (a.k.a. Harvard).

Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer wants that to change. He’s already pushed through grade reform, so now Stanford copies Yale’s grading methods. (Berkeley kids, just be quiet. Nobody wants to hear about how everybody copied it from you.)

But apparently grade reform was just step one of Kramer’s grand plan to oust Yale from its position as the nation’s best law school…

According to the ABA Journal, Kramer’s plan involves — well, it involves a lot of pillaging:

Now Kramer is hoping he can boost Stanford, ranked third by U.S. News & World Report, with some well-placed hires from competing schools, the story says. He recently hired John Donohue from No. 1 Yale, and he’s made offers to Adriaan Lanni and George Triantis at No. 2 Harvard.

“I think we’re in a process of developing a program here that once we’ve put it all together and got it working, is just unmatchable anywhere else,” Kramer told the Mercury News.

Is Larry Kramer running a law school or the Miami Heat?

And please, nobody, nobody ask Larry Kramer whether or not these “well-placed” hires will cause a further increase in Stanford’s $44,880 tuition or $71,535 full year budget expectation. We’ve already seen students willing to pay this kind of price to go to law schools that aren’t even in Stanford’s universe. Kramer knows he’s dealing with a prospective student body that will pay whatever he tells them to pay.

In the San Jose Mercury News, Brian Leiter says that stealing the best professorial talent isn’t all that Stanford has do to overtake Harvard and Yale:

University of Chicago Law School professor Brian Leiter said that Kramer is “an extremely successful and skillful dean,” but he is skeptical Kramer can overtake the top school.

“Yale leads everyone: in the scholarly impact of its faculty, in the success of its graduates in getting prestigious clerkships and faculty positions, and so on,” Leiter said. “Everyone is a distant second to Yale on these measures of success. To ‘break away’ would be to surpass or even tie Yale, and that would be hard.”

So, are the bigwigs at Yale and Harvard worried about the upstarts from out West? It’s hard to say:

Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow declined to comment and Yale Law Dean Robert Post was unavailable for comment.

Damn. Wouldn’t it be great if they had commented? Or, at the least, wouldn’t it be great if they had commented, but only after they were waterboarded with sodium pentothal? I can come up with a number of entirely fictitious responses from Deans Minow and Post….

ELIE: So, Dean Larry Kramer is coming for you guys. He wants Stanford Law School to be number 1!
MINOW: Oh, but Stanford already is number 1. It’s the number 1 law school for faculty who will never be on the Supreme Court.
ELIE: Well, in fairness, Stanford has occasionally bubbled up to tie HLS in the rankings.
MINOW: Harvard graduates a great deal more students than Stanford. The fact the we are able to maintain our prestige despite the antics of some of our less-than-stellar graduates shows that our brand is strong. Trust me, if Stanford graduated a student like you, Elie, its ranking would plummet.
ELIE: The problem of large class sizes… hey wait a minute.
MINOW: Always the student, never the teacher.
ELIE: Dean Post, you’ve been very quiet.
(Gunshots, muffled screams.)
ELIE: Dean Post?
POST: Sorry, I just had to re-engage the blast doors. It’s New Haven, you know…
ELIE: Right, well then, what do you think of the Stanford challenge?
POST: At Yale, we don’t believe in grading people or judging people; we don’t believe in competition or making people feel “less than.”
ELIE: Okay.
POST: We don’t believe in using the law to disadvantage others, or using it for profit.
ELIE: You don’t believe in profit?
POST: Of course not, but that’s besides the point. We don’t believe in…
ELIE: Wait a minute, why don’t you tell me what Yale actually believes in?
POST: At Yale we believe in producing the the best lawyers, and we do, which is why we are the best.
ELIE: That sounds like a practically circular argument.
POST: I don’t know what that word means.
ELIE: Circular?
POST: Practical.
MINOW: I think what Dean Post is trying to say is that the prestige of Harvard or Yale isn’t drawn just from student-faculty ratios, professorial salaries, or other such crude measures.
ELIE: Then where does it come from?
MINOW: Tradition. It’s the one thing you can’t buy.
ELIE: And if Larry Kramer lures all of your best faculty to Palo Alto?
POST: Then we will promote new tenured law professors and call them “the best.” And people will believe us, because of the tradition of Yale and Harvard.
ELIE: I don’t know if I should be impressed or horrified.
(Minow begins to glow in a greenish hue. Speaks the next line in Elvish.)
MINOW: All shall love me and despair.
ELIE: I think that’s my cue to leave.
(Exeunt: Dean Post plays “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” as Elie leaves room.)

Stanford Law Dean Is on a Mission to Make His School No. 1 [ABA Journal]
Stanford law dean out to make school best in nation [San Jose Mercury News]

Earlier: Stanford Adopts ‘Retroactive’ Honors Policy: Students Complain In Real Time

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