Where are the Best (Corporate) Law Professors Teaching?

Marco Ventoruzzo is a comparative business law scholar with a joint appointment with the Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law and Bocconi University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Ventoruzzo.

Are the best law professors teaching at the best law schools in the United States? And how can the best law schools around the world be evaluated in terms of the scholarship their professors produce? On this website we talk a lot about corporate governance, but what about the governance of scholars of corporate governance? Is the Emperor naked?

I recently wrote an essay that contributes to addressing these questions by examining empirically a specific issue: whether the top-ranking law schools employ the most productive, authoritative and influential scholars of corporate law. For the reasons I explain in the paper, corporate law can be used as an effective and useful proxy also for other areas.

After a discussion of the data and the methodology, the paper examines the correlation between the ranking of 25 law schools in the U.S. and different measures of productivity, visibility and relevance of their corporate law professors such as number of publications, H-index, SSRN downloads, and Impact Factor of the journals they have published in. I examine these metrics critically, pointing out their value but also their flaws. The evidence indicates that correlations exist, but they are not always very strong, especially if rather than grouping together and averaging scholars at different schools, we consider individual performances. In this perspective, it is clear that extremely productive and influential scholars teach at (still excellent) but somehow lower ranked institutions.

I next conduct an international comparison of corporate law scholarship. Comparing legal scholars operating in different jurisdictions is often considered too problematic because of the obvious apples-and-oranges problems that the different national and cultural contexts raise. While I acknowledge these difficulties and argue that cross-country comparison has limited meaning, I also observe that if we correctly understand and interpret the most common bibliometric measures, they offer some useful insights. The possibility of comparing law schools in different countries looking at the variance of the performances of their faculty members is also discussed. In this last part I build on an idea of Stephen Jay Gould, the brilliant Harvard paleontologist, who in the 1980s considered whether variance among baseball players could be used to compare sport teams and performances across time, an apparently similarly impossible task. While my conclusion, based on the data used in this paper, is that this approach has profound limitations when it comes to law professors, the discussion offers additional information about hiring and tenure and promotion decisions, and might be a basis for future research.

Legal research, and academic research more generally, is not cricket, discus throw, or boxing (even if some boxing skills might come handy at some faculty meetings). None in his or her right mind would argue that the value of scholarship—let alone of all the other contributions of a faculty member—can be expressed with a few numerical indexes. We cannot univocally rank law professors as if they were weight-lifters, and even less so we can do that at the international level. Qualitative evaluations by independent and qualified scholars are essential and probably more important than any automatic bibliometric reference; but the metrics considered in this paper tell us something, and should neither be worshipped nor ignored.

The paper also confirms that, at least in areas such as business law, an international “market” for legal scholarship and teaching is developing. Academic communities around the world must understand how this “market” really works, be able to talk across borders, and find a difficult balance between cultivating and pursuing the best of their own traditions and specific approaches, and engaging effectively in the international debate. In the quest for this balance, the data considered capture important information on productivity, reach and relevance of legal scholars.

My intent was to offer a balanced and rigorous analysis on these hotly debated topics, presented however with an occasionally tongue-in-cheek tone that, I hope, will entertain the reader.

The full paper is available here.

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  1. Steve Diamond
    Posted Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    One wonders how Coase would have fared in this approach. One paper.

  2. Patrick Reardon
    Posted Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    This is an interesting article and it highlights some of the issues relating to evaluating any teacher or professor.

    A broader issue is, “What is the connection between (a)legal research and writing, and (b) good pedagogy.” Related questions include, “Are legal research and writing the best predictors of good classroom instruction? Are there other essential experiences such a prior experience in running a business or serving on a board that improve the ability of the instructor to relate legal theory to real world situations?”

    These are easy questions to ask, but difficult to answer empirically. However, in a time when far more lawyers are being produced than are finding jobs, it is probably time to assess what skills and experience produce the best professors.