April 08, 2007
Rankings, Leiter, and LSAT: "The Tyranny of Lists"
Posted by Alan Childress
Jeff Lipshaw has posted helpfully on whether law school rankings have blue-coastal bias (a torch carried on by ELS Blog here and good comments here), and he has charted the largely-clumped distribution of the reputational scores in USNWR both by judges/lawyers and by "peers," i.e., law school Players.
Since then, on April 5, Brian Leiter posted this updated 2007 rankings of law schools by student numerical quality, which is based on LSAT. Leiter ranks the top 40 schools according to 75th LSAT percentile, and then 25th LSAT percentile. Tulane faculty got an email from a colleague alerting us to this and noting our school made the list (as #40) in terms of 25th percentile. In reply, another colleague emailed a response for which I asked permission to post here, as long as we are on the subject of rankings and law school "quality." The response reminded me of some of Nancy Rapoport's cautions, and said what I wish I had said.
So welcome to our distinguished guest blogger Raymond T. Diamond, Tulane's John Koerner Professor of Law and the coauthor of a prize-winning legal history book on Brown v. Board's origins and legacy (right). We appreciate his allowing us to reproduce his email:
Interesting survey, but I wonder about drawing normative content from it. It's bad enough that so many schools, not excluding our own, make choices on the basis of the perceived need to improve or maintain their US News rankings, but this one is based almost to the point of exclusion on the the norm that a high LSAT class is better than a low one.
Surely there are other norms -- gender, racial, and geographical diversity for one, the desire to serve friends and alumni of the university, the desire to serve a host city, region, or state, and the choice to serve particular areas of legal inquiry and practice -- that influence and that should influence the admissions practices of law schools, including our own.
Having said all this, Leiter doesn't add anything not previously available to the body of information available to the public. One can figure this out by trolling through US News or ABA data -- undoubtedly what Leiter did. But I do worry about the tyranny of lists.