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March 26, 2008

The Leaky-Boat World of U.S. News

As everyone at any law school anywhere knows by now, the U.S. News law school rankings are leaking all over the internet (so to speak).  As I have said before, I find it unfortunate that those rankings don't reward (and, in fact, probably hinder) innovation in law teaching.  Like everyone else who seems to opine on such things, I wish these rankings did not matter so much (of course, those heading up the list are less fervent in their critique than those headed the other way). 

But, they do matter.   Students too often choose a school based on the rankings, and academics pay attention to rankings when considering jobs.   Donors care, as do currently enrolled students.  Everyone's parents, for some reason, seem to follow these damn rankings.

They won't go away.   Maybe they shouldn't go away.  But I do have an idea about what could be done to mitigate the effect this one set of rankings has.

Not so long ago, college football's Bowl Championship Series began ranking teams by using a composite of other rankings.  They were not all weighted equally-- rather, the major press and coaches rankings were given greater weight.  With the proliferation of rankings these days, perhaps we need to create a Bowl Championship Series ranking system, creating a composite which gives the U.S. News rankings a stronger weight than others.

If so, which other rankings should be included?  I would be willing to create this composite once the official rankings are out.

-- Mark Osler


March 26, 2008 | Permalink


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I LOVE the idea of a BCS ranking system for law schools (with US NEWS getting the most weight), and I'd encourage you check out all the different extant ranking systems to be found already around the web (many of which are collected by Brian Leiter and/or Paul Caron at their blogs).

You definitely need to include, however, one or more "purely objective/quantifiable" measures in your composite rankings. In the BCS this measure is games lost, and nobody fights about how many games a team has lost (though often there are fights about which 1-loss or 2-loss team is better than others).

Unfortunately, I do not think there is a universal measure here, though I might seriously consider using law school/university size in the rankings. I believe Leiter has shown that, generally speaking, US News criteria favor smaller schools (in contrast to the RPI college basketball rankings, which may favor big conferences). I think one might reasonably assert that a law school/university which is LARGER will necessarily present more internal and external opportunities (and a larger alumni network) than those that are smaller. A BCS for law schools should reflect this reality, especially since US News seems to cut the other way (either by design or by happenstance).

Posted by: Doug B. | Mar 28, 2008 5:12:26 AM

I like both Mark's idea of a composite ranking and Doug's idea of a single, agreed metric, but I disagree that that metric should be "law school size," the bigger the better.

One better metric might be Bar Passage, adjusted to reflect the jurisdiction's overall bar passage rate.

Even this is problematic--for one, it is quite variable, year to year, especially with smaller student bodies.

Posted by: Anupam Chander | Apr 1, 2008 7:03:30 AM

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