One of the most common complaints that you hear from law professors and deans is that the U.S. News and World Report rankings exert too much influence over legal education. If given a choice between doing something to boost its ranking or doing something to help students, the incentives for a school are heavily weighted towards boosting the ranking. This is true because rankings are widely publicized and provide a simple way for prospective students, alumni, and other interested constituencies to evaluate law school performance.
If people were confident about how the the rankings were done, then that influence might be acceptable. But most faculty do not think that the methodology used by U.S. News is sound. I’ve noted before that they give no weight to student or faculty diversity, and Malcolm Gladwell wrote an essay observing that the rankings do not take cost-effectiveness into account (which is especially strange in this era). Granted, coming up with a standard that everyone would agree upon is impossible, but we can do better.
What is to be done? The answer to monopoly is competition. We need other organizations to conduct law school rankings. This would give people more information, especially if the alternatives explicitly take factors into account (e.g., cost) that are absent from the U.S. News rankings. It would also diminish the power of any single organization or person over law schools, and make gaming the ranking system far more difficult.
No single school can be trusted to do this for conflict-of-interest reasons, but there are plenty of other candidates. The ABA and the AALS are two obvious ones assuming that no other commercial outfit wants to compete with U.S. News. Or, dare I say it, a consortium of law blogs could organize and then disseminate these rankings for free. It’s time to stop whining about U.S. News and start doing something to give schools better incentives to improve legal education.