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November 30, 2022

Who are law school rankings meant to help? (Michael Simkovic)

Approximately 12 law schools, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, have refused to compile data to facilitate the U.S. News rankings. 

Statements by the deans of the protesting law schools suggest that they hope to pressure U.S. News to modify its ranking system.  This raises a fundamental question: What is the purpose of ranking law schools?

I would argue that there are three purposes of law school rankings:

These purposes can help guide discussion of what should ideally be included in law school rankings.  If law schools hope to displace U.S. News, they will need to agree on an alternative ranking system or several rankings systems.  This will be difficult given the collective action problems facing institutions that view each other as competitors.

The first purpose of rankings—informing students—presents an obvious problem.  Students are heterogeneous in their life goals, their idiosyncratic preferences, and their reasons for attending law school.  No one ranking system can capture these differences and serve all students well.  A school that invests heavily in preparing students to pass the bar exam may be ideal for students who would otherwise fail, but wasteful for those who are likely to pass with a few weeks of studying.  A school that pours massive resources into preparing students for the rigors of private practice may be a poor fit for students who intend to be stay-at-home parents or only work part-time after graduation.  A school that emphasizes constitutional and criminal law may be a poor fit for students who view law school as their family’s ticket out of poverty and financial insecurity and are therefore only interested in lucrative areas of law with abundant employment opportunities.  A law school that teaches only practical skills and doctrinal law may be a poor fit for those who wish to become law professors or who see law school as an opportunity to explore interesting theoretical questions. 

In other words, there should not be a single ranking of law schools, but rather multiple rankings of law schools tailored to identifiable subgroups of students, as well as tools that help match students with the right law school for them.

The second purpose of rankings—informing employers—presents a similar problem.  Employers and jobs are heterogeneous.  A law school that excels at preparing law students to be Supreme Court clerks or Public Defenders may be less effective at preparing them to be Tax or Capital Markets lawyers or Investment Bankers or Employment lawyers or IP lawyers or Immigration or Bankruptcy lawyers or Real Estate lawyers or Family or Immigration lawyers.

Differentiating law schools—rather than ranking them on a single scale—would better serve both students and employers by creating a greater variety of offerings that better serve particular needs.  Differentiation would also better serve law schools.  Instead of competing with each other head-to-head to provide a commoditized service at the lowest possible cost, law schools could instead operate within smaller niche sub-markets where the focus is on providing more value to the students and employers who best fit their offerings.

AccessLex and LSAC have attempted to develop tools and resources to help students decide which law schools are right for them, including virtual pre-law advisor software.  However, to date, infighting among law schools—who constitute the members of these non-profit organizations—have derailed these efforts and limited their influence.

A relatively simple approach that would encourage differentiation would be to rank law schools based on the resources that they place into teaching various areas of law, as measured by the number (or quality-adjusted-number) of their full-time faculty FTEs dedicated to teaching and researching particular areas of law as well as based on practice-area-specific outcome measures.  This approach would naturally lead law schools to prioritize particular practice areas (and de-prioritize others), facilitating better sorting of students and faculty according to their areas of interest.  Geographic-specific rankings would also be helpful, because most law schools have alumni networks and employer relationships that are denser in particular areas of the country and weaker in other areas.

Posted by Michael Simkovic on November 30, 2022 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic | Permalink

It's official: Cornell is not joining the boycott against USNews.com

The ambiguity of Cornell's initial statement has now been clarified:  no boycotting for Cornell.

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 30, 2022 in Rankings | Permalink

Even if Yale Law may not be #1 in USNews.com rankings much longer...

...it will still #1 for graduates convicted of seditious conspiracy!  I would love to see Mr. Rhodes's application file!

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 30, 2022 in Legal Humor, Of Academic Interest, Rankings | Permalink

November 29, 2022

UC Davis joins boycott of USNews.com ranking

Dean Johnson's statement is here.  At this point, the official boycotters are:  Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Berkeley, Michigan, Georgetown, Duke, Northwestern, UCLA, UC Irvine, and UC Davis.   Chicago has declined to join the boycott, and Cornell's status is ambiguous.  No word yet from NYU, Virginia, Penn, Texas, Vanderbilt, Southern California et al.

Unless there is a snowballing of boycott announcements this week, I suspect that the net effect on USNews.com's mischief will be minimal.

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 29, 2022 in Rankings | Permalink

November 28, 2022

Some law school rankings from the 1970s


Posted by Brian Leiter on November 28, 2022 in Rankings | Permalink

November 24, 2022

Cornell's statement on USNews.com rankings

I think they're not joining the boycott, but it's actually a bit ambiguous.  Dean Ohlin makes many points I've made here, but then note the first sentence of his last paragraph (bold added):

My own view is that the rankings distort academic decision-making, fail to adequately capture institutional quality, and create perverse incentives that are not in the best interests of students or the legal profession.

However, withdrawal from the rankings process will not have the desired impact that many assume that it will have. For one, U.S. News has said that it will continue to rank all law schools regardless of their level of participation. In addition, all law schools are already required to report most of the relevant data used in the rankings to the American Bar Association, and this information is publicly available by ABA rule. This includes LSAT, GPA, acceptance rate, yield, number of courses, faculty head count, average financial aid package, bar passage rates, career outcomes, and more. (This transparency regime was part of a laudable ABA effort to provide applicants with the information necessary to make informed decisions about pursuing a legal education.) Even financial reports about expenditures are publicly available in summary budgets that some universities publish online. The reality is that U.S. News & World Report is a journalistic enterprise, and they don’t need anyone’s permission, including mine, to publish a ranking, and they have ready access to information from the ABA and other public sources to construct their rankings.


Whether Cornell Law School ultimately “withdraws” or not from the rankings, what we need is a deeper and more searching conversation about the role that rankings play in law school life, the legal profession, and higher education generally.

Again, I think they're not joining the boycott, but I'm really not sure.  Comments are open if any faculty from Cornell want to clarify.

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 24, 2022 in Rankings | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 23, 2022

Chicago is not joining the boycott

From Dean Miles's statement:

Many of you are aware that in the past week some law schools have announced that they will no longer participate in the U.S. News rankings. After conferring with University leaders and with some members of our faculty, our administrative team, and our alumni community, I have decided that we will continue to furnish information to U.S. News

My past practice has been to avoid direct, public comment on the U.S. News ranking. The ranking is not our guide, and I prefer to shine a light on the substantive attributes that make our Law School the home of the most intellectually ambitious faculty and the most powerful legal education.

Most of the data we supply to U.S. News are already public, and the rest is information we have no reason to withhold. The rankings of academic institutions clearly have a readership, and we wish to prevent the use of inaccurate information.

Fundamentally, a ranking of schools is an opinion. A ranking is the product of innumerable and contestable design choices. As our University is dedicated to the free expression of ideas and to questioning viewpoints, our aim is not to suppress opinions. Rather, we should encourage prospective students to apply critical thinking and reach their own conclusions about what value the rankings add.

My own belief is that the essential features of the University of Chicago Law School are not, and perhaps cannot be, captured in any ranking. What makes the Law School distinctive is its unabashed enthusiasm for the life of the mind—the conviction that ideas matter, that they are worth discussing, and that a single viewpoint or style of thought should not be imposed. Instead, our faculty expose students to contrasting views, confident in students’ abilities to think critically and choose their own paths. Our curriculum reflects a belief in generalist education and interdisciplinarity, and students learn from a faculty dedicated to teaching and serious inquiry. Our faculty produce path-breaking ideas about the most important questions of law and legal institutions through intense inquiry, a multiplicity of approaches, and dialogue with leading practitioners.

Our commitment to the core missions of excellence in scholarship and teaching has made our Law School eminent, and I am confident our commitment will make it ever more so in the future.

I hope that you enjoy a restful Thanksgiving, and I look forward to our returning to learning next week.

Best wishes,

Tom Miles

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 23, 2022 in Rankings | Permalink

UC Irvine Law will not cooperate with USNews.com rankings

Announcement here.   This is a much riskier decision for Irvine than for Yale or Harvard, and perhaps signals that schools outside the top ranks will also boycott.

(Thanks to Sameer Ashar for the pointer.)

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 23, 2022 in Rankings | Permalink

A boycott of USNews.com will only succeed if most law schools (not just top law schools) join it

The NYT story noted the other day foolishly invoked the nonsense category "top 14" in discussing schools that were declining to cooperate (UCLA's joining the boycott torpedoed that characterization).  As UCLA Interim Dean Korobkin correctly noted, 80% of the input data is available to USNews.com without the cooperation of the schools.  It will, however, be a lot more work for USNews.com to compile all this data on its own.  The loss of "free labor" by the schools won't matter if only 15 or 20 schools are boycotting.  If 100 or 150 schools are boycotting, that will be different, and could cause a logistical crisis for USNews.com. 

Right now, ten law schools are boycotting.  Because the first two--Yale and Harvard--are extremely prominent that has generated a lot of attention.  But it will take more than ten to create a problem for USNews.com's annual mischief.

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 23, 2022 in Rankings | Permalink

November 22, 2022

UCLA Law will not cooperate with USNews.com, at least this year

The letter from Interim Dean Russell Korobkin, which makes a number of good points about the more general problems with what USNews.com does, that other Deans have not noted:

Dear UCLA Law Community,
As most of you know, a number of our peer schools have announced that they will not submit proprietary data this year to U.S. News and World Report for use in its annual law school rankings. After substantial and deliberate consultation with a variety of stakeholders, I write to tell you that, in the absence of significant and meaningful changes to the methodology employed in these rankings, we will also decline to participate this year.
Faced with the choice of where to attend law school, one of the most significant decisions of their lives, students reasonably search for some method of comparing the overall quality of law schools. Third-party rankings can provide a useful service in this regard if their methodology is transparent, if they value features of the schools’ programs that are reasonable proxies for educational quality, and if they provide incentives for schools to compete in ways that improve educational quality and ultimately benefit the legal profession.
Although no rankings can provide a perfect measure of quality, the U.S. News rankings are particularly problematic for a number of reasons:
The rankings disincentivize schools from supporting public service careers for their graduates, building a diverse student population, and awarding need-based financial aid.  UCLA Law does all of these things, but honoring our core values comes at a cost in rankings points. 
The rankings’ reliance on unadjusted undergraduate grade point average as a measure of student quality penalizes students who pursue programs with classes that tend to award lower grades (in STEM fields, for example), regardless of these students’ academic ability or leadership potential.
The rankings assess faculty and program quality solely on the basis of “reputation” ratings provided by a small number of lawyers, judges, and professors who cannot hope to have detailed knowledge of the nearly 200 schools they are asked to evaluate, rather than using more quantifiable measures. 
And the rankings perversely reward schools for spending more and passing on the costs to their students, without regard for the value of the expenditures – a feature that also structurally disadvantages public law schools, which tend to spend less and charge less than private schools. 
All of these features of the U.S. News rankings are inconsistent with UCLA Law’s values.
We are under no illusion that UCLA Law’s decision will have a substantial impact on how law schools are evaluated by U.S. News. Approximately 80 percent of a law school’s U.S. News “score” is based on publicly available data and the surveys of reputation that U.S. News itself conducts, so U.S. News undoubtedly will continue to rank all of the law schools, perhaps with only minor methodological adjustments. Nonetheless, it is important for us to use this moment to reinforce our values and do what we can to encourage positive change by withholding our cooperation. We are eager to work with U.S. News, or with any other organization that wishes to rank law schools, to help determine a methodology that can provide useful comparative information for potential students without creating harmful incentives for schools that fail to encourage the improvement of legal education.

(Thanks to Rick Hasen for forwarding Dean Korobkin's letter.)

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 22, 2022 in Rankings | Permalink