The Big Law School Shuffle and the US News Rankings

usnwr1.jpgThe 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.

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5 Responses

  1. Luke says:

    I mostly agree with this, but I will add that the rankings issue of US News actually costs $10, which, while still cheap, is relatively expensive for a single magazine issue.

  2. mobius says:

    “We love to gripe about the US News rankings — and with good reason, for the rankings are stupid”

    Yet the legal community and law school RANK students… with an arbitrary forced curved of all things.

    It’s a stupid and hypocritical argument to say that rankings don’t mean anything and then use rankings for everything else.

  3. Anthony says:

    “Yet the legal community and law school RANK students.”

    Most law schools (at least top ones) don’t rank their students, or only release one or two general cutoff points (“Top 25% in Section Y is a 3.4X GPA” “The cutoff for summa cum laude this year was 3.8X”).

  4. Emily says:

    Too true that it’s bizarre to have so much emphasis placed on these rankings by the law school community. Perhaps people shouldn’t take them so seriously.

    On the other hand, GW moved up a point. Score!

  5. crazy idea says:

    why don’t law schools use mean LSAT, rather than median LSAT? wouldn’t mean LSAT be a more telling statistic?