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March 13, 2012
Why So Much Movement in This Year's US News Law School Rankings?
Yes, the US News Law School Rankings for this year are now online. I'm thinking online sales for the full report will be hotter than ever. Rankings are good for US News revenue. This year's edition might even be better than previous years.
Why? First because US News reporter Katy Hopkins spotlights In 2013 Best Law School Rankings, Top Schools Switch Spots:
For the first time in three years, there was some movement at the very top of the U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings.
Yale Law School took the top spot in the 2013 edition of Best Law Schools, a place it's held since 1990. But contenders for the next two spots switched, with Stanford Law School outseating Harvard Law School for the first time since 2007.
Along with Yale, Stanford, and Harvard, 11 institutions that historically claim the top spots in the U.S. News rankings are known as the top 14 (T14), which isn't a designation by U.S. News but is widely known in the legal community. Some T14 schools shuffled: The University of California—Berkeley School of Law and the University of Virginia School of Law both moved up two spots to tie with the University of Pennsylvania Law School for 7th, while the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor Law School slid from 7th to 10th; Cornell Law School, now ranked 14th, and the Georgetown Law Center, at 13th, switched spots from last year's list.
Well, shuffling up or down a notch in the top 15, I mean, top tied-14, isn't all that important as long as a law school stays in that de facto top tier. It is below that elite tier where things get interesting.
Pull out those old rankings and spreadsheets. The second reason why this year's US News Law School Rankings may be a historic "best seller" is because of the amount of movement in the Top 50 rankings this year. Now that the legal and general media have caught on to the games that have been played, interest in all of the legal academy's shenanigans has increased.
There is no doubt in my mind that journalists will join the annual rite members in the legal academy have participated in for years, namely number crunching. Inside the legal academy, this year will be different because legal administrators and law profs will be crunching numbers every which way to figure out why there has been so much movement in the Top 50.
Since the US News ranking methodology hasn't changed, what's up? Are law deans worried about getting caught with their pants down now? Has more accurate data been provided to US News? If so, in what categories? If some data elements report substantially different stats compared to prior years, is that an admission against interest? Or will a chorus of law schools sing "the recession has finally hit us'? You can bet articles, blog posts and SSRN uploads will be filled with commentary and analysis.
[J]ust to save you some time and trouble, here are the top fifty of this year and last, along with how much each school moved. Commentary after the chart.
The biggest drop in the top 50, 12 spots, came from Illinois, which was scandalized this year by publishing fraudulent admissions data. ... But, another school further down dropped more. Villanova, which also published false employment statistics, plummeted from 84 to 101
Beyond Below the Top 50, does anyone really care? You bet! Many law schools look for marketing fodder to pitch "we are the top ranked" (or one of the top ranked) schools in the state or a conveniently defined region. Hell, marketing fodder based on US News rankings has even been crafted for selling a law school as one of the most highest ranked small public law schools in nation.
March Madness, ATL-Style. In addition to David Lat's The U.S. News Law School Rankings Are Out! on Above the Law, see ATL March Madness (2012): The Most Honest Law School:
Every year, we here at Above the Law like to put together a little bracket of our own. In the past, we’ve asked you to vote for such things as the coolest law firm or the douchiest law school.
This year, we’ve come up with a question that you don’t hear a lot of people asking when they’re talking about pursing a career in law: Which law school is the most honest?
We expect law schools to shape our next generation of lawyers. We expect law schools to teach their students to think like lawyers. But do we expect law schools to teach people to be honest lawyers? Are some law schools better at emphasizing the moral and ethical standards of the law, while others teach a more, well, ethically aggressive style?
(Emphasis in the original.)
US News is in the business of making money. In a recent post, US News rankings guru Bob Morse wrote:
Well-known writers have made the case recently that the U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings are among the most powerful forces driving behavior at law schools.
Our take: It's important to remember that the U.S. News rankings are done to provide one tool to help prospective law school students choose the best law school for them. The Best Law Schools rankings are not done to provide law school academics a benchmark to measure their school's progress or to influence or be an instrument to direct educational policy decisions.
The bottom line: U.S. News is not running the law schools, does not play any role in making decisions at any law school, and does not believe there are any credible justifications for falsifying law school data.
Providing a "tool" that generates a helluva lot of revenue, Bob. [JH]