Friday, June 22, 2007

Rankings Finagling: Who pays?

Everyone remotely involved in legal education knows that many Law School policies are now set by the publishers US News and World Report rankings. Alums, students, university presidents, deans and law faculties appear to desire high rankings at virtually any cost. The biggest cost, to some extent, is the integrity of the schools as they figure out ways to game the system. The ways of doing so are far more numerous than this list but include:

1. Generating massive applications even from those who have no chance of acceptance.
2. Altering the weight given to LSAT and GPA in making admission decisions.
3. Temporary hiring of grads in order to report high placement rates.
4. Lopping off the "bottom" of first year classes and admitting more summer students, transfer students, or part time students.
5. Operating what are, in effect, in house bar review courses.
6. Printing huge numbers of announcements, brochures, and magazines at great expense that are little more than advertisements.

When all the shuffling and spending is done, it looks like the same numbers of students will enter law school and the vast majority will have the same legal education they would have received before the arms race. And, if all schools follow suit, they will stay in roughly the same place ranking wise. The only way to break the cycle is for law schools not to cooperate with USN & WR or for new and better rankings to emerge. I doubt either will happen.

I worry about two things when law schools turn over control to a magazine. The first deals with state law schools. Has any one of them determined whether the price paid is justified by the benefits for those who pay the bills? Or are deans simply responding to noisy faculty and alums -- spending money without a chance of increasing the quality of what the school does. Second, is there a particular group or class of students most likely to be affected? If law schools lop off the "bottom" of the class in order to rise in the rankings do those students -- other than not having performed as well on the LSAT -- have common characteristics.


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