Monday, April 20, 2009

USD soars in US News ranking
Tom Smith

Or so says the leak.  So USD Law has gone from 82 or so to 61 or so.  That's good, but 82 was a grotesque slander in the first place and 61 also rates us below many law schools that have nowhere near as good a faculty as we do, at least measured by such things as publications and peer recognition.

The US News rankings are a scourge on legal education.  US News has gotten itself into its position as ranker in chief in a winner take all market and now has an utterly absurd amount of influence on how law schools are managed.  It is a spectacular market failure.  What a business model for Mort. Anybody who criticizes the rankings sounds like sour grapes.  There's little incentive for the ranked to cooperate against the ranker.  The rankings themselves are far from transparent.  But as long as the big name law schools are at the top, they certainly have no reason to oppose them; quite the contrary. If ever there was a need for some sort of objective, non-self-reporting based system, this is it.  Brian Leiter has come up with his ranking system, which is at least somewhat objective, but I don't think it's in any danger of immediately displacing US News.

For those unfamiliar with this racket, probably the biggest problem with US News methodology is that crucial data is gathered by self-reporting, which law schools game like crazy. These are lawyers after all.  Then there is the survey data which asks all sorts of people to opine on stuff they have no reason to know about.  Then there are other factors such as how strong the job market is in your area (notoriously tough on San Diego) that calls out for some sort of adjustment to the methodology.  But instead, if unemployment goes up disproportionately in California, Florida and Arizona, say, law schools in those states will get killed because their placement goes down.  That's a fine thing to measure, but it's no reflection on law school quality any more than it is on lawyer quality.  If a lawyer has a harder time getting a job in Pheonix, it does not necessarily mean he is a worse lawyer.  I mean, duh.  I notice an Arizona law school gets slammed this year.  Is there any reason for this other than Arizona's rough economic patch?  And with unemployment in California now around 12 percent, what will happen next year?

Anyway, I'm glad to see USD's treatment has gone from grotesquely unfair to merely very unfair.  In the spirit of false precision so appropriate here, I offer 1.34587621000001 cheers.  Just to be clear, I'm all for competition among law schools and all for measuring outputs objectively.  I just think US News does a poor job of it and it's frustrating to see it seize the market using strengths other than the quality of its products.

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Tom Smith

» More: US News Specialty Rankings And Assorted Blog Commentary from The Faculty Lounge
The US News rankings of law school specialties appears to be here. It might fairly be entitled "Trading Places" because the number 1 and 2 ranked schools have switched places in the environmental, IP, international, and legal writing categories. FWIW.... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 20, 2009 12:49:39 PM


I couldn't agree more. It's sad because although many decry that the rankings don't really mean anything, the truth is that the perception that they do drives applications & enrollment to the schools in general, and employment upon graduation afterwards, etc.

Posted by: brightcoast | Apr 20, 2009 10:48:27 AM

I stumbled upon your blog (and the other one that won't name you) and I am very impressed. As a 1977 USD-Law graduate, I'm also pleased. It's terrific that both USD's right and left have strong voices in the blogosphere - many higher education institutions lean way left and the right voice isn't heard as much as it should be. I landed here because of the piece on rankings. So I will add two comments: it's nice to see USD moving up and your blog is well written and put together. I sent a comment to the other blog asking why they don't reveal their names. Why is that? Keep up the great work!

Posted by: John Hochfelder | Apr 20, 2009 2:24:52 PM

P.S. Nice blogroll.

Posted by: John Hochfelder | Apr 20, 2009 2:25:52 PM

I agree that USD has been underrated by USNews. But part of this has been the fault of USD, not USNews. Given their importance to prospective students and to employers, these rankings need to be taken seriously. It's nice that USD's ranking appears to have bounced back to where it was before, but it never should have been allowed to decline in the first place. USD must compete in the real marketplace, just like every other law school.

Posted by: Button | Apr 20, 2009 2:34:07 PM

Tom - The rankings have no meaning to me so long as our alma mater remains number 1. I prefer to preserve my outrage until such time as truly grave mistakes and misdeeds have occurred.

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