I tend not to say much about the U.S. News & World Report rankings of law schools. No offense to the schools that did well (or the opposite), but the rankings are a little goofy. Kind of like an ABA accreditation process that counts the number of hard-copy volumes a law school has, as if that is an important indicator of legal training. (I love books, but I think 1970 is calling, and they want their library back.)

The ranking process is, shall we say, opaque. It reminds me of the vaulted (and vaunted) formula Google uses to calculate news rankings. Somewhere in there is the secret sauce that will move schools up.

As I thought about that, I came across a Department of Defense PowerPoint chart (below) that “explains” pstabilization in Afghanistan. And some small quadrant of that represents the complexity that must occupy the waking hours of law school administrators. No wonder they rub their temples a lot.

complex chart afghanistan law school

It really is this complex to determine who trains lawyers the best?

Despite my skepticism for the process, a recent ABA Journal news story on the topic caught my eye, for a few reasons.

For one, it included a good Bloomberg video (posted below) on this year’s rankings. Clearly, there is no joy in some Mudvilles.

And second, the following sentence grabbed my attention: “Greater weight is now given for permanent, full-time jobs that require bar passage or for which a J.D. is an advantage.”

Really? I’ve been referred to as “disadvantaged.” But never the reverse. My job as a legal magazine editor has been recognized as more valuable?

I’ll alert my masters. And Accounting.

Hmmm. Maybe I should start to take those rankings more seriously.

You can read the whole news piece here.

David Remnick, The New Yorker editor in chief who carves out time to write

David Remnick, The New Yorker editor in chief who carves out time to write

The role of magazine editor ain’t exactly digging ditches, as a sometime-friend has advised me. And he’s right: My work tasks never involve picks, hoes or laying pipe. A fellow appreciates that, especially when the Phoenix temperatures hit 116 or so.

But (you knew a “but” was coming) sometimes when I face a stack of documents requiring close scrutiny, or when I have to somehow trim a lawyer’s sentence that is as long as a page, or when I must decide whether an attorney’s success on the tennis court is really (really?) worthy of inclusion in the People column … then, I begin to gaze out the window into the shimmering heat island and think, That’s not so bad.

Of course, that’s just temporary insanity, because I’m always able to remind myself of an important fact: Despite an ever-flexible list of “Other Tasks as Assigned,” I am, to a large extent, paid to write. So, dammit, stop gazing out the window.

That fantastic job benefit comes to mind on this Change of Venue Friday, as I think about the recent new-President profile I was privileged to write last month. And I am reminded every year that although that annual profile holds its challenges, it never fails to be a rush to interview people about important matters, and then to transform those conversations into something—occasionally—revealing.

The “revealing” part of the profile-writing job can make you feel you’re on a ledge, let me tell you. For it is straightforward enough to put someone’s resume into narrative form—and I’ve done that, when on a short deadline. But to go beyond, and to say something essential and insightful about a person, requires a large investment of time and energy. It requires that a writer become so conversant about the subject that she or he can confidently draw some conclusions—conclusions that may not be inked in the four corners of a notepad, or uttered in the stream of anecdotes from secondary interviews.

Besides the views into Bar leaders, I’ve gotten quite a few chances to write profiles, and I always feel like I have more to learn. And one way I aim to learn is by reading as many profiles as I can. One of my favorite spots to locate fantastic, rip-out-and-save profiles is The New Yorker. I routinely find myself drawn into a profile on a topic or on a person for whom I have had zero interest before I opened the magazine. But before I know it, I’ve encountered a new favorite “true story.”

The idea of the best profile being a “true short story” is an ideal, and it comes from a terrific magazine editor. If you have a few minutes on this Friday, watch this brief video with David Remnick, New Yorker editor in chief, on “The Art of the Profile.” I have to agree with his assessment of how fortunate the profile-writer is. For, as he points out, writing is an opportunity to carve something artful from what is almost always a mundane task-list of a day. Much better than ditch-digging.

If you’re in a hurry, here is some of Remnick from the video:

“Let me be honest with you: You’re failing all the time, all day long, all week long, all year long. And when you can write something, and publish something, do something out of the ordinary, that is a little funny, or a little insightful, or more artful, maybe—maybe maybe maybe—you don’t disappoint. I think constant disappointment is a very good spur to sometimes doing something halfway decent.”

“If you’re really self-satisfied all the time, you probably are a lousy writer.”

Or a lousy lawyer, chef, or ditch-digger, I would guess.

(Remnick reminds me of writer David Rakoff, who passed away this week. Among many things, Rakoff was the author of Half Empty, a paean to pessimism.)

Let’s hear it for the creative power of disappointment! I wish for you an unsatisfying—but creative—weekend.

Jill Abramson

It took 160 years, but if finally happened. A woman—a talented and experienced journalist—took over the executive editor position at The New York Times. Appropriate, I suppose, for a newspaper dubbed The Gray Lady.

On this Change of Venue Friday, I point you toward a news story that signals a real change. I decided to read the coverage of the appointment of Jill Abramson as written in the Washington Postread the whole story here.

(You can read The New York Times story here.)

The Post reporters offered up an analysis of the paper’s move that pointed to dark economic storm clouds:

“Abramson’s appointment was part of a sweeping and symbolic series of changes at the newspaper, which is both a journalistic leader and one that reflects its industry’s deepening financial crisis.”

“She takes over a newspaper that has doubled down on its journalism in tough economic times, resisting the cuts to staff and budgets that other papers have chosen as advertisers and readers migrate to other, mostly digital sources of news.”

This is a great step, and the Times should be commended for making a terrific choice. But I can’t help thinking that when advancement for many groups that are historically unrepresented finally occurs, it almost always occurs at a certain time. That is, when times are bad.

I’m sure that Abramson will do a great job; she’s spent her entire career getting ready for this lofty position. But how much more could she have done if she had been offered the job in economic boom times. She takes the helm as staff is cut, investigative reporting is on the ropes, and story lengths are cut.

That cannot be the most fun time to be a newspaper editor.

Congratulations to her and the Times. And here’s hoping opportunities like this will come as readily even as the economy gets better.

Have a great weekend.

Arizona Attorney is the monthly magazine published by the State Bar of Arizona that is mailed to (and maybe read by) all Arizona lawyers.

We are already on the Web (http://www.myazbar.org/AZAttorney). You also can fan us on facebook (http://tinyurl.com/ksgly5) and follow us on twitter (http://twitter.com/azatty).

That’s all fun and informative, but we established this blog to communicate even better with readers and others.

Our upcoming mission: Our editor, Tim Eigo, will be participating in National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org). It all happens in November, so stop in to follow his progress.