Thursday, September 19, 2013

Law Schools Unfairly Ranked by U.S. News


I've occasionally commented in the past about particular schools that clearly had artificially low overall ranks in U.S. News, and readers e-mail me periodically asking about various schools in this regard.   Since the overall rank in U.S. News is a meaningless nonsense number, permit me to make one very general comment:   it seems to me that all the law schools dumped into what U.S. News calls the "third" and "fourth" tiers are unfairly ranked and represented.  This isn't because they all have as good faculties or as successful graduates as schools ranked in "the top 100"--though many of them, in fact, do--but because the metric which puts them into the "third" and "fourth" tier is a self-reinforcing one, and one that assumes, falsely and perniciously, that the mission of all law schools is the same.  Some missions, to be sure, are the same at some generic level:  e.g., pretty much all law schools look to train lawyers and produce legal scholarship.  U.S. News has no meaningful measure of the latter, so that part of the shared mission isn't even part of the exercise.  The only "measures" of the former are the fictional employment statistics that schools self-report and bar exam results.  The former aren't even really a measure of the training of lawyers, since U.S. News counts as employment any kind of employment, whether legal or otherwise.   The latter are slightly more probative, except that the way U.S. News incorporates them into the ranking penalizes schools in states with relatively easy bar exams.  So with respect to the way in which the missions of law schools are the same, U.S. News employs no pertinent measures. 

But schools differ quite a bit in how they discharge the two generic missions, namely, producing scholarship and training lawyers.  Some schools focus much of their scholasrhip on the needs of the local or state bar.  Some schools produce lots of DAs, and not many "big firm" lawyers.    Some schools emphasize skills training and state law.  Some schools emphasize theory and national and transnational legal issues.   Some schools value only interdisciplinary scholarship.  And so on.  U.S. News conveys no information at all about how well or poorly different schools discharge these functions--that worry, I should add, applies to its ranking of the "top 100" too.  But by putting some 100 schools in the "third" and "fourth" tier, U.S. News conveys no actual information, it simply gratuitously insults hard-working legal educators and scholars and their students and graduates.

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