Saturday, March 31, 2007

Playing around with the numbers

I've done some sorting of the latest rankings by various measures. If you want to take a gander, my version is here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

LUV letter--thank you, Southwest Airlines!

Before I go to sleep tonight, I want to thank Southwest Airlines publicly for how nicely it handled my travel delays today.

I was headed to Jurist's 10th anniversary celebration conference, Law as a Seamless Web. My original flight out was canceled, and I was booked on the next flight out, which was also going to be a little late. The Southwest agent assured me that I'd make my connection, even though I was landing at Midway in terminal B and heading to a gate in terminal A. About two minutes after we landed at Midway, I was heading toward terminal A, and I heard "final boarding for Pittsburgh." I figured that I wasn't going to make my flight, so I didn't rush to the gate. I walked, heard a second "final boarding" announcement, and picked up my pace a bit. Made it to the gate to see the agent walking away from the boarding area--the agent turned around, and he asked if I was "Rapoport" (no I'm Not Rappaport play jokes here, please). Southwest held the flight for me--and my bag made it onto the plane.

I already "LUV'ed" Southwest's business plan and the fact that it lets its crews use their senses of humor to good effect. Now I love LUV because it got me to Pittsburgh in fine style.

In case you're wondering (or are preternaturally cynical): no one at Southwest has paid me to say this.

Same as it ever was, again (stop making sense)....

Paul Caron has posted this year's USNWR rankings on TaxProfBlog, and he's done us a favor by posting the vertical moves of several of the schools, including the schools in the top 50.

The backslapping and media wars may now begin. I'll be interested in seeing how Houston explains its 10-point leap to 60 from 70, especially since (1) the cluster of schools in which Houston falls (the band of similar schools) likely hasn't changed at all, and (2) the foundation for any change in the rankings occurs at least one year before (e.g., placement numbers are, obviously, not for the current year). In other words, when I first came to Houston and Houston was "in the top 50," Steve Zamora and his team deserved some credit. But the real lesson is that no one person changes anything about the score that goes into the rankings (although the head of placement is key, and Rhonda Beassie at Houston deserves significant credit for her hard work in helping graduates find jobs)--and that the bulk of the score has to do with things that aren't directly affected by changes at the margins (reputation, entering numerical credentials).

The most important thing to notice, of course, is how little movement there was at the top (once again). David Byrne and Talking Heads said it best:

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? I wrong? And you may tell yourself
My god!...what have I done?

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/in the silent water
Under the rocks and stones/there is water underground.
Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down....

Same as it ever was...same as it ever was...same as it ever was...
Same as it ever was...same as it ever was...same as it ever was...
Same as it ever was...same as it ever was...

Once in a Lifetime, Stop Making Sense, Talking Heads (1990).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

YouTube, Viacom, AutoAdmit, and Ann Coulter--and, of course, the rankings

What do the Viacom/YouTube dispute, the brouhaha over AutoAdmit's content, and some of the back-and-forth on alternative rankings all have in common? From my point of view, it's a discussion about responsibility for one's actions. Here's some background.

AutoAdmit, which bills itself as "[t]he most prestigious law school discussion board in the world," is a collection of posts ranging from the insightful (well, theoretically, at least) to the disgusting. For a discussion about the latter, see, Harsh Words Die Hard on the Web: Law Students Feel Lasting Effects of Anonymous Attacks. Last year, my actions, character, etc. were rehashed on both AutoAdmit and, so I have an inkling of what it feels like to be e-mobbed. It didn't feel wonderful, but I blamed the people who posted on those sites and not the sites themselves.

Viacom and YouTube are in a dispute about what YouTube may or may not allow people to post on its website. (Here's one article discussing the dispute: Viacom's case against YouTube and Google: Site is not passive Web host digital copyright act protects.) Although it's my understanding that YouTube removes copyright protected work when it's notified of the copyright protection, the issue--best as I can tell--is that Viacom thinks that YouTube should be more proactive in monitoring postings on its site.

Ann Coulter. Ah, what can I say about her that won't be, well, just nasty and mean, which is certainly how I view her? At least I give her credit for being brave enough to attach her name to her opinions.

What do these issues have in common? The fact that, often, people blame the medium rather than the writer, and I don't understand why they do that. Certainly, the people who posted the ridiculous things on AutoAdmit have amply demonstrated their own character flaws and should be worried about their own careers, should their anonymity ever be pierced. (And is it really a surprise that so many people post anonymously on blogs to spew their venom, rather than demonstrate a willingness to take responsibility for what they post?) But is it Anthony Ciolli's fault that the people who abused the law students on AutoAdmit exhibited such a lack of judgment? (For what it's worth, he's resigned from AutoAdmit.)

Opinions are just that: opinions. Sure, there are judgment calls about what to allow and what not to allow--in newpapers, on TV, in movies, on websites. But why do people attack the decisions to allow/disallow the posts rather than focusing on the posts (and those who write the posts) themselves?

I've seen well-reasoned disagreements about topics like the use of SSRN downloads as alternative rankings. (For example, see Brian Leiter's No Ranking is Too Trivial to Spark Commentary from Folks with Time to Burn..., Doug Berman's hilarious last line in SSRN rankings and Leiter's (rank?) omission, and Ann Bartow's Eats, Shoots and Leaves-like post, Fuck, SSRN Rankings, as well as my own MoneyLaw post, We're number, uh, something?) Sure, we're (sigh) older and probably wiser than the authors of the AutoAdmit posts in question. (I think that I'm older than Ann Coulter, too, which is very depressing.) But I also think that the fact that we attach our names to our opinions reminds us that we take responsibility for what we say and that we know that our posts will be available for a long, long time.

It's really possible to disagree using humor and kindness, rather than with the elementary school response of "I know you are, but what am I?" (Apologies to PeeWee Herman.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

On the usefulness of scholarship

I just posted, over at MoneyLaw, some musings on whether legal scholarship (especially that published in traditional law reviews) counts for anything. (See If an article falls in the forest....) Feel free to weigh in here or there.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Treasury meeting of corporate bigwigs--"same as it ever was?"

I just read, in today's Houston Chronicle, that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's convening a group of movers and shakers to discuss two related ideas: first, that perhaps firms shouldn't have to forecast quarterly earnings; and second, that perhaps big accounting firms shouldn't face as much exposure when things go wrong. See Marcy Gordon's story, Big names will weigh in on corporate laws. According to her article, "The panelists include billionaire investor Warren Buffett, General Electric Co. Chairman Jeffrey Immelt, brokerage founder and CEO Charles Schwab, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg." SEC Chairman Christopher Cox is the co-moderator with Paulson.

Not that the panelists aren't well-qualified (they are, especially Warren Buffet, who seems to be a true straight-shooter), but where are folks who represent other ways of looking at the market? Where are the academics who study corporate behavior? I know that almost all conferences consist of singing to the appropriate choirs--academic conferences are no different--but, well, geez! This conference is organized by the government. Would it have hurt Paulson & Cox to invite other perspectives to the table so that at least the panelists could have had some productive cross-talk?

I've said before (The SEC's “Bullwinkle” Enforcement and the WABAC Machine) that accounting firms don't deserve special protection. For what it's worth, I actually agree that the quarterly forecasting does more harm than good to companies, because it forces them to focus on short-term needs, rather than long-term issues. Short-term focus was one of the problems that Enron faced, and we all know how it chose to deal with those pesky facts that got in the way of its made-up forecasts.

Please, Mr. Paulson & Mr. Cox: I applaud you for asking important questions. I really do. But it's just as important to have a variety of views positing answers as it is to ask the questions in the first place.

In the immortal words of David Byrne & the Talking Heads,

Watch out you might get what you're after
. . . .
Burning down the house

Hold tight wait till the party's over
Hold tight
We're in for nasty weather
There has got to be a way
Burning down the house
Here's your ticket pack your bag: time for jumpin' overboard
The transportation is here
Close enough but not too far,
Maybe you know where you are
Fightin' fire with fire

Same as it ever was?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Countdown to the death of billable hours continues

Two stories in today's Wall Street Journal caught my eye (and, like all "the sky is falling" theorists, confirmed my theory that law firms are going to have to move away from a billable-hours based budget): a story on defense firms taking on more contingency fee cases (and the issues that they face divvying up the wins and sharing the losses) and a blurb noting that Harvey Miller is planning to leave behind his investment firm and rejoin Weil, Gotshal. For some juicy/nasty comments about the latter story, see the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog. (FWIW, I heard Harvey give a keynote address at an American College of Bankruptcy initiation, and his words and delivery moved me greatly.)

The point is that there's movement afoot in the larger law firms: moves to some non-traditional types of fees and moves of well-known players. Add to this my prior post about partners feeling the pinch between their draws and the starting salaries of new associates and an article by Stephanie Francis Ward in the Feb. 2007 ABA Journal. Stephanie's article, The Ultimate Time-Money Trade-off, suggests that some significant number of large firm associates would cut their paychecks in return for a cut in billable-hour requirements. That finding goes against the traditional wisdom I've heard from some big firms--that they must pay starting associates more and more each year to be able to get the ones they want.

At some point, firms won't be able to increase starting salaries for associates and still keep their rates low enough to get and keep the good work on which they've been relying to pay their bills. Something's got to give.