Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Henderson and Morriss Rise (Wrongly!) to the Defense of U.S. News

William Henderson (Indiana) and Andrew Morriss (Illinois) have been doing quite interesting scholarly work on law school rankings, that I have had occasion to note before.  But their recent "summary" of some of their work in the American Lawyer, cast as a "defense" of U.S. News, strikes me as misleading.  They write:

U.S. News is influential among prospective students at least in part because the magazine does what the law schools don’t: give law students easy-to-compare information that sheds light on their long-term employment prospects. Law schools could easily supply that information themselves, but they choose not to.

Professors Henderson and Morriss are surely correct that the law schools ought to make the information available; but they themselves know it is false that U.S. News gives students information that "sheds light on their long-term employment prospects," since the employment data in U.S. News is all self-reported by the schools, and as Professors Henderson and Morriss themselves have shown, of dubious accuracy (I call the employment stats a "work of the imagination," which is the most charitable thing that can be said).  In effect, Professors Henderson and Morriss soon acknowledge the point:

We found that rather than work to provide applicants with the kind of information they say they want and need, law schools tend to report information in a manner that undermines the applicants’ ability to engage in meaningful comparative assessments on measures that matter. These practices, which range from puffery to borderline deceit, are all aimed at improving their U.S. News rankings. As a result, even as the rankings have become more important, they have become less reliable.

This implies that the comparative employment data in U.S. News may have been reliable in the past, which I rather doubt, though in the past carelessness in reporting together with massaging of the data by U.S. News was more of a problem than deceit and trickery, which has come to the fore as the rankings have become more influential.  But having conceded this point, Professors Henderson and Morriss ought not to cast their message as one in defense of U.S. News:  it isn't defensible, and they know it! 

I, of course, applaud Professor Henderson and Morriss's suggestion for the ABA to start leaning on law schools to make available meaningful data--though, once again, the accuracy of the reporting will be an issue, though the ABA has more sticks by which to ensure truthfulness than does U.S. News.


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