Are Alternative Law School Rankings Any Better than US News?
The WSJ has an article on alternative law school rankings to the infamous US News rankings. According to the article: “In the last two years, at least a dozen upstart Web sites, academic papers and blogs have stepped in with surveys of their own to feed the hunger for information on everything from the quality of the faculty to what a school’s diploma might be worth to future employers.” It has this chart of some alternative rankings of law schools:
In my opinion, all of these rankings have serious flaws.
US News — The reputation surveys are only given to deans and just one or two faculty members (a very unrepresentative sample of faculty). The reputation surveys are too easy to game. And the reputation scores of 1 through 5 are not granular enough. For example, Yale has an academic reputation score of 4.9, Harvard 4.8, and Stanford 4.7. That means that people in the surveys are rating these schools with 4s or less. Who gives less than a 5 to any of these schools on a 1-5 scale? Some of the other numbers factored into the US News equation are quite silly and can be easily cooked, with schools using accounting tricks that would make Enron officials blush.
Supreme Court Clerkship Placement — This is a ridiculous way to rank schools. Getting a Supreme Court clerkship is like winning the lottery. There are far too many qualified people than positions, and getting a position certainly takes merit but it also takes a lot of luck. Part of it depends upon the connections of a school’s professors, who can place clerks with feeder judges or may even have influence with a Supreme Court Justice. Nobody seriously goes to law school planning on getting a Supreme Court clerkship. And it’s based on total number of clerks, so the ranking in the WSJ column is meaningless since some schools are much larger than others (Harvard is more than twice the size of Yale).
Elite Law Firm Placement — This is better than Supreme Court clerkship placement, but still quite flawed. It assumes that going to an elite law firm is the premiere job in the law. But what about government jobs? AUSAs? Judicial clerkships? Academia? Public interest? Ranking based on elite law firm placement will create terrible incentives for law schools to steer students into big law firms when this may not be what particular students really want to do with their lives.
Law Journal Citations — This is just silly. I don’t see any connection between how many times articles in a school’s journal receive citations and a school’s academic reputation.
SSRN Downloads — Another problematic metric. SSRN downloads only measure a paper’s popularity with Internet communities. They don’t measure a paper’s quality. High download counts are skewed toward schools with larger faculties, and to papers by professors who blog or who write about economics or technology issues. I wish I could be more sanguine about SSRN downloads as a ranking mechanism, for GW, the law school where I teach, ranks in the top 10.
Leiter’s Rankings — In this version of his ranking system, Leiter ranks schools by per capita citations to faculty scholarship. Leiter himself recognizes some of the problems with citation counts as a metric of quality, so he understands the flaws in his system. Citations are better than SSRN downloads, but they are still deeply flawed and even in an ideal world only capture a faculty’s scholarly reputation, which is a very important component of a law school’s quality, but there are other factors as well: quality of the student body, resources, teaching, job placement, etc.
So how are we to rank law schools? If all these methods are flawed, what is the ideal method? If the US News equation is silly, what factors should be considered and how much should they be weighed?