Can Lawyers Afford Not to Play the Rankings Game?

In an article in National Jurist, rankings expert Brian Leiter was quoted as saying that “The more info and the more competing measures there are out there, the less concerned law schools will be about pleasing their U.S. News master.” In a different setting, I too have been enamored of a diversity of rankings. I’ve also hoped that law schools would more formally recognize, say, their top 10% of brief-writers, researchers, or oral advocates, elevating the visibility of those with exceptional skills in areas outside of exam-taking.

However, Leigh Jones reports that there are some costs associated with a diversity of rankings:

By some estimates, law firms have about 200 chances each year to participate in rankings, awards programs or so-called “league table” publications that they hope will distinguish them from the competition. Not only are firms finding their marketing resources stretched thin by the onslaught, but they also say it is getting tougher to wade through the rubbish. “Not a day goes by that I don’t come across another one from someone I’ve just never heard of,” said Lloyd Pearson at White & Case.

Pearson is the “communications manager at the 1,907-attorney firm,” and “was brought aboard last year to handle the flood of surveys, questionnaires, phone calls and research related to awards and rankings that the firm pursues each year.” What happens to firms who can’t hire someone to manage the information overload?

Unfortunately, avoiding the rat race may not be much of an option. As law schools learned to their chagrin, an “echo chamber” effect can cause early ratings to become self-reinforcing. This dynamic sheds new light on lawsuits against websites that purport to rank or score lawyers. Plaintiffs may rightly worry that a low initial rating will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, handicapping their chances at getting good cases and thereby pushing them further down the pecking order.

Hat Tip: Eric Goldman.

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