Friday, 24 August 2012

Where I am this autumn

A quick update that I just arrived in Berkeley, California, where I’m visiting at their Centre for the Study of Law and Society for the next few months – I may be blogging or tweeting about some US-related topics as long as I’m there.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

What determines who gets the top legal jobs? - a comparative overview

When students start their law degrees they may often have an idealised picture about what this will get them, such as, earning a fortune in a big commercial law firm dealing with major M&A transactions, becoming an eminent criminal attorney/barrister, a distinguished judge (or even a law professor) etc. But then this does not always work, at least in the current economic climate. Still, some will be able to make it but why? The table below presents a comparative overview of three possible determinants (plus ¯­ for recent changes in the relevance of those reasons).

So, the situation is quite diverse across countries: in the UK exam performance (ie to get a 2.1) seems to me most important, but be able to pay for the studies (in advance or later on) gets more important with rise in tuition fees in 2012/13. In the US, of course, fees are considerably higher than in the other countries; I would also say that there is the clearest hierarchy between world elite universities and ‘shaky’ local ones. In Germany the exam performance is clearly most important, though recently some universities charge modest fees; also the government tries to sponsor elite universities. In Japan, the very difficult exam is the main hurdle, though with the new law schools presumably willingness to pay matters more as well.
Do these four countries also have anything in common? It can be seen that in the ‘money column’ all ­ go up. This may be regrettable but seems to be inevitable in the current economic climate. But, as I see it, the other determinants may stay diverse, given that the value of a law degree is not easily transportable across borders.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

If the REF were like the Olympics …

A couple of months ago I posted ‘if the Olympics were like the REF’ (referring to the Research Excellence Framework 2014) and promised a follow-up: so now, if the REF were like the Olympics (with countries = UK universities), then:
  • there would be various disciplines and sub-disciplines in which universities could compete, sometimes also groups of academics from one university: eg, there may be competitions for the best paper in particular areas of law, best monographs, also this could integrate the impact studies,
  • universities would pre-select appropriate candidates for each of these sub-disciplines (with no upper limit in how many of those an individual could compete),
  • in some of these disciplines objective measurements would be used (citation counts etc) whereas in others a panel of experts would make a subjective assessment (possibly, with the highest and lowest assessment to be dropped),
  • then only the top three in each of the sub-disciplines would be rewarded – and this would determine the overall rank, ie funding, of each universities,
  • and it would be disclosed in detail how well each participant performed.
Comment: this does not sound too absurd. There are already various academic prizes which may be akin to such a model, and there is also an apparent parallel to bids for research grants. But the suggestion would be to make this ‘REF-Olympics’ the main tool for university research funding on a regular basis (ie every four years). Controversial would be how many disciplines and sub-disciplines there would be (eg, if the government were the view is that more research should be done in a particular area of law, it would split it into various sub-disciplines: eg, something like UK, comparative and international company law). Also, the disclosure of all results would be contentious: but then, since only the top three will be rewarded, one could say that only those should be disclosed – and this could be quite useful to identify the highest level of research in a particular field (and, again, that’s akin to academic prizes). So, overall, perhaps this may indeed be preferable to the current REF system!