May 04, 2020
Law professor Robert Jones (Northern Illinois) documents the trends here. Why is this happening? Maybe because the fortunes of law schools started to improve in the last few years, so evaluators are being more generous? Just speculation, I'm not sure there's any clear answer.
March 17, 2020
USNews.com "program" rankings for law schools have usually been even more worthless than the "overall" rankings of law schools, mostly tracking how well schools market a "program" than the actual quality of faculty or offerings. (Tax is the classic example.) This year they added four new categories: "Business and Corporate Law", "Contracts and Commercial Law," "Criminal Law" and "Constitutional Law." Although there were some halo effects from school names, the results are actually more sensible than one might have expected. Here's the top ten in each of these categories (outside the top 10-15, the lists mostly just track a school's overall U.S. News rank it seems to me).
Business and Corporate Law
|1||Columbia University (NY)||4.8|
|1||Harvard University (MA)||4.8|
|3||New York University||4.7|
|4||University of California--Berkeley||4.6|
|5||Stanford University (CA)||4.5|
|6||University of Pennsylvania Carey||4.4|
|7||University of Chicago (IL)||4.3|
|8||Georgetown University (DC)||4.2|
|8||University of California--Los Angeles||4.2|
|8||University of Virginia||4.2|
|8||Yale University (CT)||4.2|
NYU should have been tied with Columbia and Harvard at #1, but that's minor. Not quite sure, however, how evaluators would be interpreting "business law" apart from corporate. I suspect many were including some of what might also belong under commercial law.
|1||Yale University (CT)||4.9|
|2||Harvard University (MA)||4.8|
|3||Stanford University (CA)||4.7|
|4||University of Chicago (IL)||4.6|
|5||Columbia University (NY)||4.5|
|5||New York University||4.5|
|7||University of California--Berkeley||4.4|
|7||University of Virginia||4.4|
|9||Duke University (NC)||4.3|
|9||Georgetown University (DC)||4.3|
This one is a little quirkier. NYU and Chicago are both plainly stronger than Stanford in constitutional law, which should be in the top ten, but not the top five. The rest of the top ten is fairly plausible, although I wouldn't take the precise ordinal ranking very seriously. University of San Diego came in at #28 (score of 3.3), some indicator that evaluators were actually thinking about the faculties and not just the "brand name," although #28 still seems low for USD.
|1||Columbia University (NY)||4.7|
|1||University of Chicago (IL)||4.7|
|3||Harvard University (MA)||4.6|
|3||New York University||4.6|
|3||University of California--Berkeley||4.6|
|6||Stanford University (CA)||4.5|
|6||University of Pennsylvania Carey||4.5|
|8||University of Michigan--Ann Arbor||4.4|
|8||University of Texas--Austin||4.4|
|8||Yale University (CT)||4.4|
February 12, 2020
February 03, 2020
January 21, 2020
Recently, Professors Paul Heald (Illinois) and Ted Sichelman (San Diego) released law school faculty rankings that combined SSRN downloads and HeinOnline citations (here). (I'm skeptical about the value of SSRN rankings, as I've noted many times in the past: e.g., here and here). In their study, Heald and Sichelman included Hein-only rankings, combining both historical (all-time) and recent (2016) citations. In order to get a better estimate of recent scholarly impact, plus to get an initial view of what the US News citation rankings will look like, Professor Sichelman has kindly provided me rankings just based on Hein citations over a 5-year period (2012-2016).
Total scores were calculated based on 2 x mean + median (like the Sisk et al. methodology). Although U.S. News has not decided on its ultimate approach, it appears likely it will use a similar metric. Additionally, like US News plans to do, Professor Sichelman has included pre-tenure faculty.
Some differences between Heald & Sichelman's data (which Professor Sichelman used to construct the rankings below) and US News are the following: (1) Heald & Sichelman used spring 2016 faculty whereas US News will use fall 2019 faculty; (2) about two-thirds of the schools responded to Heald & Sichelman's requests for faculty name variants, whereas presumably a much higher fraction responded to US News's requests (those schools not responding effectively reduce their citation counts); and (3) Hein will use a slightly different citation identification methodology for the US News rankings than Heald & Sichelman's. All of these differences will lead to some shifts in the US News rankings from what appears below.
December 10, 2019
A young legal scholar elsewhere writes:
I'm my faculty's most recently tenured member, so I got a US News peer assessment survey. Or, I should say, peer "assessment," since it doesn't actually ask for any assessment of anything. I knew that the methodology was shoddy for these things, but I'm still kind of shocked at what this is: just a list of all the law schools and a request to rate them on a 5 point scale. No faculty or publications or any information about them. It's just a test of what schools I happen to have heard good things about lately.
So, given that this survey cannot produce any credible measure of quality or anything else (except of who I happen to have heard good things about lately), what should I do? Should I simply ignore this nonsense? Or is there some penalty (to me? to others?) if people who recognize this as nonsense refuse to participate? Should I rank everyone outstanding? Everyone except the top twenty schools?
A few observations and suggestions:
(1) any recently tenured faculty member (and that certainly goes for this young scholar) will, in fact, know a fair bit about the quality of scholarship (at least in his or her fields, and often cognate fields) at anywhere from a dozen to several dozen law schools. Evaluate those schools, being either generous or stingy with the scores as you see fit: e.g., give just five or six schools a "5," or give two dozen schools a "5." In general, I think evaluators should be generous, especially since higher scores will have more influence on the overall results: avoid 1s and 2s (unless you really are confident in the weakness of a particular school), and there's no harm in giving lots of 4s and 3s. (In the past, USNEWS.COM used to drop a percentage of the highest and lowest scores as a check on strategic voting, I'm not sure if they still do that.) Most importantly, when you "don't know" much about a school, choose "don't know." "Don't know" does not count against (or for) a school.
(2) The academic reputation survey is, in fact, one of the few "reality checks" in the whole USNEWS.com charade: without it, the rankings would be based on nothing more than wealth and the extent to which schools "massage" the self-reported data like employment statistics and expenditures. Unfortunately, the academic reputation surveys increasingly track the prior years' overall rank in USNEWS.com, which impedes its utility as a reality check. (This is one reason why adding citation data would, if done rightly, be salutary.) But evaluators can counteract that by actually thinking about (1) the quality of scholarship produced by a school's faculty (not the school's name!), and (2) looking at other data as a check on their impressions.
Here's a suggestion: everyone should give the University of San Diego at least a "4" this year in the peer assessment survey, since its overall USNEWS.com rank is preposterously low relative to the strength of the faculty (which is made up of folks who have had tenured positions or offers at lots of excellent schools, including Berkeley, Northwestern, Cornell, Minnesota, George Washington, Boston University, and elsewhere). If this works, I'll nominate more schools in future years who deserve a boost for their faculty excellence, even as they are punished by USNEWS.com on other metrics.
December 04, 2019
as The New York Times misleadingly reports today; indeed, he's not even one of the ten-most cited members of the GW law faculty. On Professor Turley's website (the source for the NYT claim), the context was clearer: in Judge Posner's 2003 book Public Intellectuals, Turley was the second-most cited law professor due almost entirely to references to him in the media. On the other hand, he is poised to soon displace Alan Dershowitz as the "most-cited law professor by Donald Trump"!
UPDATE: This is not atypical of the reception accorded Professor Turley's performance today.
December 02, 2019
Law.com has a list of naming gifts to law schools over the last few decades, with the majority coming in the last two decades. Here are the biggest gifts, by year:
1998: $115 million to the University of Arizona
2001: $30 million to Ohio State University
2001: $30 million to the University of Utah
2008: $35 million to Indiana University, Bloomington
2011: $30 million to the University of Maryland
2013: $50 million to Chapman University
2014: $50 million to Drexel University
2015: $100 million to Northwestern University
2016: $30 million to George Mason University
2019: $50 million to Pepperdine University
2019: $125 million to the University of Pennsylvania
For some of these gifts, it's too soon to say what their effects will be, and some of them served more, one suspects, to help newer schools stay afloat and continue to grow during tough times (e.g., Chapman, Drexel). On the other hand, George Mason's gift has already resulted in a lot more hiring by that school. But Ohio State, Utah, and Indiana all seem to be roughly where they were at the time of the gifts: strong state flagships, neither much better, and certainly not worse. The same goes for the most remarkable gift of them all, the one to Arizona, much lauded at the time. I gather a good chunk of that gift went to bricks and mortar, rather than expanding the size of a fairly small faculty. Northwestern's more recent major gift was followed a few years later by belt-tightening anyway.
It remains to be seen whether any of these gifts will really change the strength and status of any of these schools. In ten years, we'll probably have a clearer idea of the impact given how recent many of the largest gifts are.
November 19, 2019
In the wake of the outcry from students and alumni, Dean Ruger at Penn has sent a letter to students and alumni announcing that "the Law School will continue to use Penn Law as our short-form name until the start of the 2022-23 academic year, after which we will use Penn Carey Law." A reasonable compromise.