Monday, August 28, 2006

The Hylton Rankings

Gordon HyltonLast spring my friend Gordon Hylton put together a simple but important table, which ranked law schools according to two factors: mid-point between 25th and 75 percentile on the LSAT and US News peer assessment scores. (By the way, I’ve been a huge fan of J. Gordon Hylton ever since, as a youngster (i.e., law clerk), I read his great work on African American lawyers in Reconstruction Virginia. I highly recommend it. Gordon and David Callies and some other folks have an innovative property casebook, which I recommend to you for insights into teaching and property theory. Plus, Gordon, like many of my favorite scholars--David Brion Davis, Robert Ferguson, Robert Post, Daniel Hulsebosch, and Mary Bilder--has a Harvard American Civilization Ph.D.)

Gordon makes the point, which I agree with, that law school rankings ought to focus on quality of students and quality of faculty. The key question for me is what’s the intellectual experience at a law school? Is it a place on fire with ideas? (Don't you like the link to a discussion of Richardson's book on Emerson, The Mind on Fire? One of these days I'll be posting a little bit over at ratio jurist about antebellum legal thought, with a title along the lines of "the legal mind on fire." So much for product placement.) If a school is on fire with ideas, it deserves a good ranking, in my opinion. Moreover, I like getting rid of the clutter. I tend to think that much of the rest of that stuff is (1) manipulable (particularly self-reports on graduates’ employment) and (2) irrelevant to the intellectual experience of students and faculty at the school.

I’m enamored of what has become known in the trade as the “Hylton Rankings.” (And, hey, wikipedia refers to them, so you know they've arrived!)

I thought Hylton's method–adding the mid-point LSAT (after subtracting 130 from it) of each school to its peer assessment score (multiplied by 10)--was worth a little more investigation. The standard deviation, as you will notice below, for the LSAT-midpoint is larger than that for peer assessment; therefore, the combined score gives more weight to the former more than to the latter. The means and standard deviations for peer assessment and LSAT midpoint are as follows:

LSAT mid-point Peer assessment
maximum 173.0maximum 4.9
median 157.50median 2.30
minimum 146.5minimum 1.3
Mean 158.11Mean 2.51
SD 5.24 SD 0.85

So, I tweaked the Hylton rankings slightly. I calculated standard scores with a mean of 50 and a standard deviation of 10 for each of the two variables (peer assessment and LSAT midpoint), added the scores for each school, and divided by 2. Thus, the composite score gave equal weight to the new variables. Want to see the schools whose “Hylton ranks” and “modified-Hylton ranks” differed by more than |3|? Check out my post over at propertyprof last spring, with additional comments from me here.

Alfred L. Brophy


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