A comment on one of my earlier posts raised the question of what business state law schools have in attempting to increase rankings. This raises a couple of interesting questions, about which I wrote an op-ed several years ago:
1) Why should states have law schools at all? If there is a desire for more lawyers in a state, funding a state law school (esp. a prestigious one) is not an efficient means of getting them. In Ohio, for example, Ohio State touts the opportunities for its graduates to get jobs across the U.S., not just in Ohio, after graduation. Clearly not aimed at maximizing the number of new lawyers in Ohio.
2) In a state like Wyoming or Idaho, where there is only a state law school, there might be a case that having a state law school is useful to the state because it creates a body of legal scholars who can help with law reform (Prof. Dale Goble at Idaho, for example, played a key role in reforming that state's administrative law.) But is establishing a law school the best way to do even that? Alaska has no law school - but it does have a law review (the Alaska Law Review) which it contracts out to a law school elsewhere. Isn't that a more cost-effective means of getting scholarship on Alaska law than setting up a law school?
3) Another justification is that state law schools help state residents go to law school by offering cheaper tuition. Again, however, there is no reason to do this via a state-operated law school. Vouchers for an appropriate tuition amount could be offered state residents and used at any law school if a subsidy is the motive. Vouchers would be more flexible as state resources expand and contract, since in tight budget years new vouchers could be cut in size or number. (Existing students presumably would need to be protected.) Operating a law school, on the other hand, is a lumpy financial commitment.
4) A fourth justification is that the poor, criminal defendants, or some other group need more representation. Again, however, subsidizing all graduates of a state law school because some might go into the desired field is an inefficient use of resources. Various medical scholarship programs already demonstrate how to do this effectively: give a scholarship that converts to a loan if the student doesn't practice in the desired area or type of practice.
So, why have state law schools at all?
Note: I completely exempt from the above my alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. UT receives relatively little of its funding (I believe less than 25%) from Texas and has, like many flagship universities' law schools, changed into something other than a pure state law school. This exemption is self-interested, of course. Ohio State doesn't get an exemption because my employer competes with it. Self-interest again.
UPDATE: George Mason is, of course, also exempt from criticism since it is something of an admission against interest by the state - funding a law school that generates graduates who understand economics and faculty who publish scholarship that advances liberty is sufficiently rare that they should be the last ones cut off from the state trough.
UPDATE #2: Uh, the "disclaimers" were supposed to be humorous.