Michael has an article in the latest issue of Administrative Science Quarterly, “Interlopers and field change: The entry of U.S. News into the field of legal education.” The paper uses in-depth interviews to examine the effect that the entry of the U.S. News law school rankings had on the interorganizational relationships within the field and on the organizational identities of law schools. Sauder illustrates that the “wedging in” of a single, disproportionately influential actor can significantly alter an organizational field, causing transformations that are not reducible to shifts in institutional logics or exogenous shocks.
One reason I like the paper is because it emphasizes the role of organizational actors in shaping their environments and identifies the conditions in which certain organizational actors are likely to be influential. Many stories of institutional change emphasize features of the institutional environment without leaving much space for the “on-the-ground processes that facilitate or inhibit such change” (228). With rich interview data, Sauder is able to examine in detail the reactions that other field actors had to the intrusion of the law school rankings. But Sauder is careful to acknowledge that not all organizations are equally effective in shaping their environment. In fact, some law schools were (and are) resistant to the rankings, but their resistance was relatively ineffective because the U.S. News had quickly become naturalized as a central member of the legal education field. By establishing itself as a neutral third-party arbiter of quality (based in the “procedural legitimacy” of the ranking system) and as an institution that already had a wide audience, the U.S. News established itself as an influential player. Thus, the paper speaks to the mechanisms of intra-field influence. It’s well worth a read.
Definitely a paper for the Money Law crowd. To paraphrase Larry Solum, read it while it's hot!