March 26, 2008
US News Law School Rankings: Why March Madness Started Early This Year in the Legal Academy
|Corrections & Clarifications for the ABA Journal Article|
When I worked for the Chicago Tribune, the paper published a follow-up "Corrections & Clarifications" column whenever the paper goofed in one of its articles. Here's a howler for the ABA Journal article.
Noting that his TaxProf Blog "often becomes a forum for venting about law school rankings," the article reports that Cincinnati Law's Paul Caron "says his own university does not publicize its place in the U.S. News rankings or whether it rises or falls." Unless misquoted twice in the article, that simply isn't accurate, half true at best.
I used to work with the University's PR machine which regularly publicized the College's ranking, annually that is until the College's academic peer assessment score took a hit a few years ago that drove the College's ranking into the embarrassing mid-50s range and eventually dragged the College's ranking down to the third best in Ohio. Rest assured that would change. Betting money is on the University's well-oiled PR machine; it probably would overheat if UC made it above 50 and reclaimed its "rightful place" as the second best law school in Ohio, after OSU of course.
But not yet. If lawschooldiscussion.org has posted an authentic copy of the 2009 rankings, it looks like Cincinnati can reclaim its second place standing in Ohio but it hasn't broken through the Top 50 barrier (tied at 52, up from last year's 57). Why? The much-dreaded Reputation category. Weighted at an enormous 40 percent of a school’s total rating, the hearsay category is, as the ABA Journal article claims, "the one category that can make or break a law school’s ranking." In Cincinnati Law's case, it looks like the College has tied for second lowest academic peer score and tied for worst assessment score by members of the bench and bar among the top 55 law schools this year.
When the College's hearsay rankings took its hit, the College's dean told me, half in jest I think, that the College doesn't talk about assessment scores. Unfortunately the College talks up the quality of Cincinnati Law students all too infrequently. Bottom line, the College's law students, measured by GPA and LSAT by US News, has kept it from plummeting further down the rankings these last several years.
Rankings improvement is a University-wide objective at UC. Ranking performance is factored into the budgeting calculus every year. Unfortunately, I think this is a fairly common practice.
Two events have the legal academy buzzing before the release of the dreaded US News Law School Rankings on March 28th.
First, the ABA Journal article, The Rankings Czar: Law deans hate Bob Morse's rankings. He'd like their help to make them better is out. The article reiterates well-known complaints, law school reporting practices, and consequences of playing the cut-throat rankings game. It features, for example, interviews with Nancy Rapoport (UNLV) (read her "poster child" post) and Brian Leiter (Texas), author of Brian Leiter's Law School Rankings, the leading source of alternative law school ranking information.
Unfortunately the article failed to interview one law prof whose comprehensive critique of the US News ranking's methodology would have publicized his well-recieved research to the Journal's non-academic audience, namely, Ted Seto (Loyola Law School Los Angeles). See his Understanding the U.S. News Law School Rankings (SSRN). Check out Daniel J. Solove's (George Washington University Law School) Improving the US News Rankings: A Wish List (Concurring Opinions), one of many posts that have launched the earlier than usual March Madness buzz in the legal blogosphere.
Robert Morse is director of data research for U.S. News & World Report. He developed the methodologies and surveys for the magazine's America's Best Colleges and America's Best Graduate Schools annual rankings. Check out his blog, Morse Code: Inside the College Rankings. The folks at the ABA Journal email bombed law bloggers to call attention to the article and to announce that Morse will be taking questions from the public on ABAJournal.com on Friday, April 11, from 3 to 4 p.m. ET. Wow, one hour! Why wait; post comments on Morse's blog instead.
Second, lawschooldiscussion.org has posted what the site claims to be pages from an advance copy of USN&WR's 2009 Law School Rankings (pdf). Instead of listing the Top X schools, which will be blogged soon enough, I'll close with a cautionary note from Judge Posner's Law School Rankings (SSRN):
Ranking is a method of evaluation. It has the advantage of extreme simplicity and the disadvantage of revealing very little, because the ranking doesn’t disclose the distance between the ranks. In fact, rank ordering exaggerates quality differences because of its association with winning; normally what matters in a contest is who came in first, not how much better the winner was than the losers. Ranking is thus a low-cost, low-benefit method of evaluation—cheap, but crude.This makes it suitable primarily for unimportant decisions—decisions where the cost of a mistake is slight, so that there is little benefit to increasing the information content. [Emphasis added]
As previously mentioned at A Jury of One's Peers: Ranking Law School Reputations, the online edition of the 2009 US News Law School Rankings will be launched on March 28, 2008; pre-order it now for the rankings-obsessed. [JH]
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Posted by: Law school rankings | May 19, 2008 12:36:49 AM