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October 8, 2007

Would it be unethical (or even illegal) to put my US News vote up for sale?

For the second consecutive year, I have received US News' survey asking me to help identify "law schools having the top programs in intellectual property law."  My receipt of this survey highlights just how flawed some aspects of US News' rankings can be. 

I was an IP litigator a decade ago and I taught a few IP courses early in my career.  But, especially with my primary field so active, I cannot even hope to keep up with all the IP doings in law schools.  Nevertheless, US News seeks my opinion on which 15 schools have "the highest-quality intellectual property law courses or programs."  Candidly, I have absolutely no idea.

I suppose I could try to make educated guesses about the best IP programs based on who sent around the hottest "law porn" covering IP topics this year.  But I also could throw darts at the survey form and probably not do much worse. 

Consequently, I am now wondering if I could and should simply offer my US News survey to the highest bidder.  Helpfully, US News promises that survey responses are kept confidential, so nobody would know whether or to whom I sold my vote.

Of course, I do not want to do anything unethical or illegal, so I am genuinely seeking an answer to the question posed in this post's title.  I know vote selling in some contexts can be illegal, but I don't think a survey by a private magazine garners too much public protection.  As for ethics, well, what I am proposing seems no less savory than what some schools have reportedly done to game the US News rankings system.  Plus, some recent research suggests that open vote buying/selling may be efficient in this kind of setting.

Posted by DAB

P.S.  Though I started this post in jest, the free-market libertarian lurking inside me is really getting jazzed about this US News vote-selling idea.  Perhaps some law-and-econ folks need to talk some sense into me.

October 8, 2007 in Rankings | Permalink


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This GW is an interesting type GW of question. I'll have GW to think about it GW.


Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 8, 2007 4:12:24 PM

Thanks for a provocative question, Doug. It would be hard to imagine that vote selling for US News would be efficient because I do not believe that any law school worthy of a high ranking would be willing to pay for that ranking. Otherwise, we might as well rank law schools by their financial endowment alone.

By the way, on a related note: the UC Davis IP program is fantastic--with Professors Leslie Kurtz, Madhavi Sunder, Keith Aoki, Peter Lee, and me as stalwarts in the program. But I wouldn't pay you to put us down.

Posted by: Anupam Chander | Oct 8, 2007 4:21:58 PM

Actually, I have a counter-question. Would be unethical for those polled to list the same school 15 times -- their own or that of the highest bidder -- on the theory that any ranking for a rival counts against the favored school.

Posted by: Jeff Harrison | Oct 8, 2007 5:31:34 PM


The survey says you can name UP To 15 school, so you could vote just for one school and send in the survey. I would not be surprised if some folks do this.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 9, 2007 8:31:27 AM

Actually, we do rank schools by their financial worth--the correlation between endowment and ranking, when I last studied it in 2000, was around .88. So Doug's just offering, to those schools that CAN buy, e.g., law students w/great "numbers", well-known faculty members, etc., one more option for them. Bravo, Doug, for this very interesting post!

Posted by: Nancy Rapoport | Oct 9, 2007 10:52:25 AM

I don't doubt that it would be unethical to sell your vote, unless you're from Chicago, at which point you could sell your vote and the votes of all your dead ancestors. :) However, a more meritorious system could be that you make them earn your vote by creating web sites or blog posts that justify why they meet the criteria of a top program - a one page Q&A. That way, you'd have all the data you need to make an informed choice without doing too much research, and so would everyone else in the voting system. Just a thought.

Posted by: Hillary Burgess | Oct 10, 2007 9:34:31 AM

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