July 2, 2008
BCS-style Law School Rankings (Alpha Test Version)
In the late 1990's, college football was at a crossroads. The power conferences formed an alliance, the Bowl Championship Series, and then faced the dilemma of creating a ranking system through which it could select teams for the big-money bowl games. At that time, there were two major rankings already in place-- a coaches poll and a writer's poll. The BCS created a system which (after adjustments in 2004) gave those two polls most of the weight in the BCS rankings, with the rest of the weight going to a number of computer-generated rankings which used significantly different formulas. The result was a ranking which takes some of the edges off of the problems with any one system.
Legal education finds itself at the mercy of a controversial ranking system, the U.S. News annual ranking of law schools. Few other ranking systems receive much attention as law schools are discussed, and critics believe that the U.S. News rankings are both manipulable and a false measure of educational quality.
What if we created a BCS-type ranking for law schools? I asked Baylor student Sid Earnheart to run some numbers towards this end. In taking a run at this, we took guidance from, but did not strictly replicate, the BCS system. For example, in our field there is only one major ranking, not two, a fact which requires a different methodology than that used by the BCS.
In calculating the rankings listed below, we gave 50% of the weight to the U.S. News poll, giving each school a score equal to the number of schools behind it in the rankings. For the remainder of the calculation, we looked to five ranking systems, each of which received a weight of 10%:
1) The Internet Legal Research Group: The ILRG is a compilation of raw data. We merged that data and compiled rankings, first excluding two of the categories listed, bar passage rate and percentage employed at graduation, because the data already included difference between bar passage rate and the state rate and employment after 9 months. (www.ilrg.com/rankings.html)
2) Law School100.com: This is a web site which claims to create rankings "based on qualitative, rather than quantitative data." Unfortunately, the site does not further explain their methodology. (www.lawschool100.com)
3) The Cooley Rankings: These rankings are created by Thomas E. Brennan and Don LeDuc of Cooley Law School in Michigan. It analyzes 32 factors. (www.cooley.edu/rankings/)
4) The Leiter Rankings: The Educational Quality Rankings are compiled by Professor Brian Leiter of the University of Texas (soon to be of the University of Chicago). He uses three factors: faculty quality, student quality, and teaching quality. (www.leiterrankings.com)
5) The Hylton Rankings: These are compiled by professor J. Gordon Hylton of Marquette Law School. He uses only two factors-- LSAT scores and the peer assessments from the U.S. News survey. (www.elsblog.org)
Using this combination, we come up with the following top-20 ranking. Each listing includes the name of the school followed by (U.S. News score/ILRG score/LawSchool100 score/Cooley score/Leiter score/Hylton Score).
1) Harvard (184/185/185/185/184/184)
2) Yale (185/184/184/178/185/185)
3) Columbia (182/183/182179/183/183)
4) NYU (181/181/182/180/182/180)
5) Stanford (183/182/184/167/180/182)
6) Penn (179/180/179/174/175/177)
7) Virginia (177/174/179/182/178/178)
8) Michigan (177/177/179/177/176/179)
9) Northwestern (177/175/179/181/177/174)
10) Cal-Berkeley (180/173/179/169/172/175)
11) U. of Chicago (179/179/182/148/181/181)
12) Georgetown (172/170/179/184/179/176)
13) Cornell (174/178/179/152/173/173)
14) Duke (174/172/172/162/174/172)
15) UCLA (170/171/172/173/171/171)
16) Texas (170/158/172/183/167/170)
17) George Washington (166/167/167/175/168/164)
18) Minnesota (164/163/172/176/163/167)
19) Boston University (165/169/167/164/157/165)
20) Wash. U.- St. Louis (167/160/161/156/162/166)
This composite, of course, is no better than any of the rankings contained within it, and may even be worse than all of them. For example, it is hard to get contemporaneous figures, and it could be that certain elements (ie, the US News peer assessment) may get too much emphasis because they are heavily weighted in multiple rankings). Further, it looks like some of the results which are surprising (Chicago, Harvard over Yale) are mostly because of the Cooley rankings.
My hope in posting this is to get input from those with knowledge in the area. Is this a worthwhile project at all? What changes should we consider in methodology? Are there different rankings which deserve consideration? And which law school might win the Rose Bowl against Ohio State, if the law students got to use motor vehicles?
I look forward to receiving some advice.
-- Mark Osler
June 30, 2008
Keeping up with the law...
With the flurry of exciting cases last week coming down from the Supreme Court, I was anxious to talk about some of the outcomes. However, when I tried to engage students in conversation about it, I was surprised how many had not read the opinions or even know what the key holdings were. I suppose that they might be so overwhelmed by reading for class that such detours are impossible, but if so, that worries me.
The Heller case (finding an individual Second Amendment right), for example, was genuinely historic. It will be taught in Con Law classes decades from now, and its announcement should have caused some kind of pause in our hallways.
Did other people notice the same thing? Is there a way to build into the life of the law school a systemic way to discuss landmark cases as they come down?
-- Mark Osler