The Big Law School Shuffle and the US News Rankings
The US News rankings are officially out (here), although advance copies floating around the blogosphere spoiled the exciting surprises.
As usual, there was some small shuffling here and there. US News sure has designed a great gimmick to captivate the world of legal academia in a near-hypnotic spell. We eagerly watch what is in essence a rather boring snail’s race, where each year, some schools inch up a few paces and some fall a few paces behind. US News gives us just enough shuffling in the race to keep us in suspense, but in reality, this race has the pacing and excitement of a 100-page law review article.
With that said, I confess I’m captivated by this silly race myself, and Paul Caron has a nifty summary of the schools making the biggest shuffles forward and backward in the race. I’m pleased that GW has inched up one notch. Now that the results are out, we’ll all have to wait until next spring to see the snails do their little shuffle again.
Last year at PrawfsBlawg, my co-blogger Kaimi had a very interesting post on the US News rankings:
Everybody loves to bash the US News rankings. Especially Brian Leiter. There is evidence that schools “game the system.” There are absurd results — precipitous drops for University of Washington and University of Kansas. There was even that dark time when the rankings placed NYU above Columbia — sacrilege by any standards, and irrefutable proof of flawed methodology. But even with all of its warts — and they are many — the US News list serves a valuable purpose. It’s cheap, accessible, and easily digestible, and it’s right more often than not. And frankly, it would be pretty ridiculous to expect much more from a $3.50 magazine. With U.S. News, the reader gets exactly what she pays for.
Exactly. We love to gripe about the US News rankings — and with good reason, for the rankings are stupid — but what should we expect from a magazine’s gimmick to sell issues? Actually, I think that the folks at US News are quite brilliant. Why should they invest the time and money to do the rankings properly? They’ve figured out a way to do the rankings cheaply yet with just enough plausibility to have them be widely accepted. They have no particular expertise in legal education, yet their rankings weild tremendous influence over it. They’ve figured out a way to shuffle up the rankings just enough each year so that we keep coming back to find out what’s going on. We gripe and gripe about it in the legal academy, yet what do we do about it? We still play along with US News. Of course, we have to, since so many folks take the rankings seriously. However, what’s to stop us from working on developing alternative ranking systems, as Brain Leiter has done? Or at the very least, why don’t we try to work with US News to get them to improve upon their rankings? Until that time, we’ll continue to be slaves to a magazine.