Friday, June 27, 2008

Those US News Rankings

An interesting article recently appeared on the US News & World Report website regarding potential changes in the way the magazine computes its rankings of law schools. Read them, and then we will follow up.

"The first idea is that U.S. News should count both full-time and part-time entering student admission data for median LSAT scores and median undergraduate grade-point averages in calculating the school's ranking. U.S. News's current law school ranking methodology counts only full-time entering student data. Many people have told us that some law schools operate part-time J.D. programs for the purpose of enrolling students who have far lower LSAT and undergrad GPAs than the students admitted to the full-time program in order to boost their admission data reported to U.S. News and the ABA. In other words, many contend that these aren't truly separate part-time programs but merely a vehicle to raise a law school's LSAT and undergrad GPA for its U.S. News ranking. We have used only full-time program data because we believed that the part-time law programs were truly separate from the full-time ones. That no longer appears to be the case at many law schools. So, it can be argued that it is better analytically to compare the LSAT and undergrad GPAs of the entire entering class at all schools rather than just the full-time program data.

Another idea was proposed in the 1998 report "The Validity of the U.S. News and World Report Rankings of ABA Law Schools" commissioned by the Association of American Law Schools. The proposal calls for U.S. News to compute our bar passage rate component (school's bar pass rate/jurisdiction's bar passage rate) using only the data of first-time takers who are graduates of American Bar Association-accredited schools. Currently, our "jurisdiction's bar passage rate" uses the rate of all first-time test takers from a state regardless of the ABA accreditation of their law schools. This distinction is perhaps most meaningful for the state of California, which has a large number of non-ABA-accredited schools. Many people say the non-ABA students are causing the California pass rate to be lower than if calculated just from first-time test takers from ABA-accredited schools. Because we rank only ABA-accredited schools, it makes sense that we should compare only ABA graduates when doing the bar passage rate analysis. If U.S. News implements this idea, the method would be used for all states."

These changes would be mere tinkerings that would produce only slight changes in the rankings. US News is financially compelled to change the formula that computes the ranks year after year to help sell magazines. After all, if the rankings stayed the same from year to year, no one would need to buy a new magazine.

In addition, discussions of these kinds of changes make it appear that the rankings are based upon objective criteria. The truth is, however, that the greatest portion of a law school's rank is determined by the subjective opinions of what less than about two thousand federal judges, law school academics, and big firm lawyers think about all of the law schools in the country. You tell me, where do you think big firm lawyers, judges, and professors went to law school?

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