Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Peer Reputation Score v. Overall Rank

"Peer assessment score" - the opinion of deans and certain faculty about the overall quality of a law school - accounts for 25% of a school's score in the U.S. News ranking. It is the most heavily weighted item. Bar passage, for comparison, is just a bit over 2%. When told this my pre-law students almost inevitably say --- "why would I care what deans and faculty at other schools think?"  

Below are the 25 schools that have the lowest peer assessment relative to overall rank and the 25 schools with the highest peer assessment relative to overall rank. Tier 2 schools are not included because they do not have a specific overall rank. TaxProfBlog provided the data

I am not unbiased here. I teach in the business school at Belmont University, and our law school has the biggest negative gap between peer assessment and overall rank. There are some reasonable reasons for this gap --- e.g., the school is young (the law school founded in 2011, though the university was founded in 1890) and a lot of deans/faculty may not know that the law school is doing well on incoming student credentials, bar passage, and employment. FIU, the #2 school is also relatively young (founded in 2000). But it seems to me that the fact Belmont University is a Christian school and (former attorney general under George W. Bush) Alberto Gonzales is our dean is doing at least some of this work. 

10 out of the 25 biggest gaps are among religious law schools (in bold below). George Mason also likely gets hit for being openly conservative. Granted, this cannot be the only driver of the gaps . Also, there are 6 religious schools among the list of schools that have a high peer assessment relative to rank, so religion doesn't seem disqualifying. That said, there are exactly 0 Protestant schools among the high relative peer assessment score list (and I am not sure any of them are significantly conservative in maybe it is the conservative reputation more than the religious reputation doing the work). 

Anyway, I'm pretty interested in these gaps. Peer Assessment is supposed to measure overall quality of the school. What part of that "overall quality" is not already captured in the rest of the measures? Faculty research? Faculty Twitter followers? Faculty SEALS/AALS attendees? Moot Court National Championships? Something else? Feel free to leave comments below.  

Updated to correct confusion between FIU and Florida Coastal (H/T Matt Bodie); Updated to show San Diego and Seattle are religious.

Low Peer Assessment v. Overall Rank

  1. Belmont (-43)
  2. Florida Int'l (-31)
  3. New Hampshire (-31)
  4. Wayne State (-30)
  5. Baylor (-25)
  6. Drake (-25)
  7. Texas Tech (-25)
  8. Cleveland-Marshall (-25)
  9. BYU (-23)
  10. George Mason (-23)
  11. Missouri (Columbia) (-23)
  12. Penn State-Dickinson (-23)
  13. St. John's (-23)
  14. Dayton (-22)
  15. Duquesne (-22)
  16. Villanova (-20)
  17. Samford (-20)
  18. Pepperdine Caruso (-18)
  19. Washburn (-18)
  20. Tulsa (-16)
  21. South Dakota (-16)
  22. St. Thomas (MN) (-15)
  23. Cincinnati (-14)
  24. Drexel (-14)
  25. Penn State-University Park (-13)

High Peer Assessment v. Overall Rank

  1. Santa Clara (+53)
  2. Howard (+43)
  3. Seattle (+43)
  4. Loyola-New Orleans (+37)
  5. American (+33)
  6. San Diego (+30)
  7. Indiana (McKinney) (+28)
  8. Rutgers (+27)
  9. Hawaii (+25)
  10. Denver (+22)
  11. Georgia State (+22)
  12. Baltimore (+22)
  13. Gonzaga (+22)
  14. Arkansas-Little Rock (+22)
  15. Tulane (+20)
  16. Miami (+20)
  17. Idaho (+20)
  18. New Mexico (+19)
  19. Chicago-Kent (+18)
  20. Brooklyn (+17)
  21. Maine (+17)
  22. Memphis (+17)
  23. UC-Irvine (+16)
  24. Loyola-L.A. (+16)
  25. Oregon (+16)

Haskell Murray, Law School, Pre-Law, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink


The "reputation" score is complete and utter B.S. Smaller schools take a hit. Schools in the middle of the country take a hit. Schools that are more religious or more conservative take a hit. This is just a smoke & mirrors way to skew ratings toward the pre-determined outcome that the US News et al. folks want. There's no objectivity, and there's no way to move from where they want you to be. The system is not just flawed, it is unconscionably oppressive to some and unfairly promotes others. This is the most glaring example of the train wreck of the US News. We all need to stop empowering this ridiculous publication from impacting real world decisions based on its unjustifiable - and frankly just stupid - ranking system.

Posted by: Andrea Boyack | Apr 1, 2021 7:57:39 AM

It would be interesting (but still not super relevant because other metrics are a bit biased too) to reverse engineer what the rankings would be WITHOUT the 100% subjective "reputation" score. Has anyone done that?

Posted by: Andrea Boyack | Apr 1, 2021 7:58:59 AM


If you review the top six schools in Haskell's High Peer Assessment it is difficul to conclude that there is bias against religious, conservative or smaller schools. Five of the six fit that category and while there is a slight tilt to the west coast I would be reluctant conclude there is anything meaningful in that tilt, other than the possibility that the higher paying more robust job market out here has an effect of some kind. I do agree, however, that the rankings are problematic, even arbitrary beyond very broadly gauged classifications.

Posted by: Stephen Diamond | Apr 2, 2021 1:14:12 PM

Thanks for the comments. Steve, I had no clue that Seattle, Santa Clara, or San Diego were religious. Thank you. I have updated the post. That said, the names of all three are geographical and none are Protestant. I presented a paper at Seattle a few years ago and saw no indication that they were religious, but maybe I just was not paying attention. At a number of the schools on the "low" list there are prayers at nearly every event. Also, it seems like the religious schools on the "low" list are likely a good bit more conservative politically than the religious schools on the "high" list. At the very least, those religious schools on the low list are in less progressive cities and/or states than those on the high list. But again, this is clearly not doing all the work on these gaps, and I am interested in other explanations

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Apr 2, 2021 3:40:49 PM

SCU and Seattle are Jesuit, no less than Loyola. Jesuits have a significant presence on their Boards of Trustees and they both must have Jesuit Presidents. (Fwiw, I should have said 4 of the top 6; not five). I consider them to be very conservative though many in the outside world would view them as "progressive."

Posted by: Stephen Diamond | Apr 2, 2021 3:41:17 PM

Post a comment