Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Is the Influence of U.S. News Declining?

Over at The Faculty Lounge, Al Brophy asks, "Is US News Still Relevant?".  One thing that caught my eye in the new rankings is that far fewer opinion survey recipients seem to be responding.  Over the past decade, an average of 67% of the academics receiving the US News survey filled it out.  This year, that number was down to 58%.  Among judges and lawyers, the average response rate over that time period has been 22%.  Several years ago, US News started using two years of the judge/lawyer responses each time, probably in recognition of the low response rate.  This year, US News did not even publish that response rate.  And, they moved to a 3-year average.  This strongly suggests that the response rate dropped significantly.

What does it mean that more people than ever are throwing out the US News survey?  My guess is that the ongoing crisis in legal education makes it easier to recognize that the annual horse race-like results of the rankings are far less important than lots of other things going on in legal education. 


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The much-anticipated/dreaded annual ranking of law schools has been unleashed by U.S. News to the usual howls of outrage mingled with squeals of glee. There are few, if any, other lists that are simultaneously so heavily used and so widely criticized. The disproportionately immense influence these rankings exert on a law school’s volume of applications, applicants’ credentials, job placement results, and student retention, must be considered in light of the many assumptions, biases, and inaccuracies that taint the numbers.

Any metric that purports to assess the relative merit of institutions of higher education should be subject to the highest possible means of maximizing objectivity, transparency, proper focus, and freedom from manipulation. It is a poorly kept secret among law professors and deans that the U.S. News rankings are deeply flawed in every one of these criteria. This allows some law schools to game the system and exploit their inflated rank to their own advantage, while many others are thrown into a desperate whirlpool of negative publicity and unfair preconceptions.

This matters in several ways, but most notably in the distortion of alternative analysis for potential law students contemplating the law schools to which they may apply, and for rising 2Ls considering whether to transfer to a “better” school for the remainder of their law school career. Each year, thousands of such decisions are made. To the extent law school rankings are an important factor in shaping these decisions, it is imperative that these rankings be reformed to correct the multiple profound deficiencies that render the results both misleading and dangerous.

Posted by: Prof. John C. Kunich | Mar 13, 2015 1:25:32 PM

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