Friday, August 17, 2007

Is the Tail Wagging the Dog Always Bad? Or The Rub

Taking the USN&WR rankings seriously is a little like thinking fans vote for the best players when determining the baseball and basketball All Star teams. The connection between the voting and the actual merits is far from clear. Still law schools behave like teams that just want players in the All Star game even if it means finishing well down in the division.

Are there times, though, when the ranking quest and the quality may come together. One possible example is the effort to inflate entering student LSATs. The gaming has been well documented – part time students, decreased first year acceptances in favor of transfer students, summer admissions. Hide your lower LSATs and ratchet yourself up a slot or two.

Lets take the transfer student example. It is at least possible that a school that lops off all students below a certain LSAT and then admits transfer students may increase the quality of its student body and increase it’s bar passage rate. Its important to be careful to cut the right students and not to lower transfer student admission standards but some empirical evidence suggests that this is a place where gaming the system may produce desired results.

There are at least three areas of controversy:

1. Whether the student body is better is a wholly subjective matter. Yes, bar passage rate may go up, but it has been suggested to me and I have no way to confirm it, that diversity may decline. If so, this may be the rub when it comes to all out efforts to make the All Star game.

2. Did any school making the switch from entering students to transfers actually study the numbers first to see the likely impact on bar passage? If not, these dogs are totally at the mercy of the USN&WR tail.

3. What should law schools be doing – especially state law schools? Is it only to admit students who are predicted to do well on the bar exam or is it to give even high risk students a chance?


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