The Contradictory Goals of Law School Rankings

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11 Responses

  1. TJ says:

    This is very insightful, but there is one tension here that is unexplored. One of the most frequent criticisms of the US News ranks is that they are self-reinforcing. But self-reinforcement would imply that a school that drops will keep dropping (or at least not go back up). But your theory is that schools remain fairly constant and bounce back, even after dropping. The two cannot both be true.

  2. Sean M. says:

    My school put out a press release for moving to 30 from 31.

    I am embarrassed (though, I suppose, I get to say I go to a “top 30″ school now…)

  3. G says:

    The US News system is no more broken than legal scholarship is.

  4. AY says:

    The rankings are self-reinforcing. The data U.S. News uses is actually about a year and a half old at press time, so what can develop is a slight yet noticeable “yo-yo” effect as each incoming class makes their choice based on a ranking that uses data from the current 2L class.

  5. Robert Arvanitis says:

    Using external rankings to sell magazines is no different than the schools’ own use of their brand image, so assiduously cultivated by their own marketing departments.

    Nor are those two processes much different from students’ cultivation of what they perceive schools to want in the admissions process.

    Everyone is grooming, and each has an ax to grind. Welcome to the marketplace.

  6. Maxwell Demon says:

    I think it would be more fun if the law schools were ranked the same way college sports teams were–specifically, the rankings should change weekly, and a school’s position should be affected by every piece of news relating to it. Of course this makes no sense, but ooh, the drama.

    Separate note–is Yale Law permanently enshrined at number 1, or could it potentially be replaced?

  7. Frank says:

    Very insightful. James English has noticed some similar developments in other “award systems” in his book The Economy of Prestige. He also doubts that new rankings systems will help matters much, because they fall into the same trap–they want to give different results than the old established ranking system, but if the results are too different, everyone will dismiss it as off-the-wall.

  8. coggieguy says:

    Why not dip into college sports for the proper ranking analogy: an annual rite of Law School March Madness. Take the top 64 schools (of course leaving about 5 schools deploring the process as unfair) and have playoffs – mock trials etc. Go through the first two rounds in one weekend of crazed simulated jurisprudence. Then the Sweet 16, Elite 8 and Final Four. Think about the possibilities – three point depositions hurled up as the clock runs down, full court press of obscure latin terms, shooting precedents like foul shots. Cinderella teams like George Mason can come out of nowhere to dramtically rise in the rankings! Everyone would complain about Yale being a perennial Number one seed, and get homecourt advantage in the East regional. At the end, the new reigning national champs would be crowned, and deans everywhere would be out on the recruiting trail to get new talent and talking about next year.

    Of course the downtrodden can have the Judicial NIT and mumble about getting experience for next year.

    A modest proposal for your consideration……certainly more entertaining than statistical analysis of US News rankings which are eerily reminiscent of analysis of which Soviets were on Lenin’s tomb for the May Day parade.

  9. Orin Kerr says:

    But rankings systems have a contradictory goal: They need to reflect some kind of change, or else looking at the rankings each year would be like watching glaciers move. There must be some drama in the rankings year by year. We eagerly await our rankings each year, and we don’t want rankings at five or ten year intervals. And we don’t want stable rankings — we want changes to cheer and kvetch about.

    Who is “we”?

  10. To Maxwell says:

    As for whether Yale is permanently enshrined as #1 — consider this. A vastly disproportionate number of law professors and deans are Yale grads. And who is surveyed in determining who is #1? Law professors and deans. If there were a large number of Cooley grads answering the survey, the results might be different.

  11. Maxwell Demon says:

    @9:24–that makes sense. Still, I’m surprised that the business and medical rankings don’t have a permanent #1; I would think that the same kind of institutional bias would apply. With law, even assuming a rigged game, I’m also surprised that Harvard hasn’t figured out a way to win occasionally.