Law: Following Like Sheep

August 31, 2007

A while ago I was surfing the net and came across an article about the self-perpetuating nature of law school rankings (and most other school rankings for that matter).  I tried to find a link to the article but couldn’t, I apologize.  The article basically asserted that, barring any massive changes in school policies, law schools keep about the same desirability level to students from year to year and since many rankings rely heavily on student selected factors (namely by trying to measure where the highly qualified students are tending to go, often by using GPA and LSAT as indicators) this lack of change also leads to a lack of change in the rankings of schools.   This phenomenon, if true, would help to explain the stagnation at the top of the rankings for the last 20 years (namely that, since USNews started ranking schools, the same 14 schools have occupied the top spots every year.   Similarly, this helps to explain many recent changes in the rankings, for example the quick rise of Wash U in recent years (due largely to offering significant scholarships to students with high LSAT scores, thus making Wash U more desirable to top students) and the fall of the University of Chicago from a tie for fourth with Columbia to its current position (which I will assert has something to do with their reputation for rigor and the demanding quarter system, but of which were turn-offs to me and others I know during the admissions process).  This also helps to explain how overrated schools like Cornell continue to maintain a high ranking for no clear reason other than students feel like the “Top 14” are significantly better than the next set of school. So if this is true, three important questions must be asked:   

  1. What accounts for the original rankings, that is, how did the “top schools” once become the “top schools”?
  2. Is this lack of change a good thing, bad thing, or neither?
  3. Does this represent a flaw in the method of ranking, or does it tell us something about these schools and law students?

 When I started this article, I intended to deal with each of these questions in this entry, but now that I look at them, I feel I would be doing everybody a disservice to tough briefly on each one, so instead I will make these three questions topics in my next few posts.  In the mean time, I welcome your feedback on these three questions.

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One Response to “Law: Following Like Sheep”

  1. kurzman85 said

    I’ve wondered about this for a while now on all levels–not just law school. It pretty much does seem a “chicken or the egg” issue, though you do mention that the rankings DID start at some point.

    According the the latest US News Ugrad ratings, I attended the #8 school in the country. But what makes it that? They highly tout the “peer review” system…so basically top schools (who hypothetically have the most pull) can just kiss each other’s asses.

    Then again, I must say that there remains significant differences in academic rigor. Though I earned my Bachelor’s at Duke, I also took summer school organic chemistry at Loyola University Chicago–and it was the easiest course of my undergraduate career. And don’t get me wrong–LUC is not comparable to some random state school…it’s a fine school. But I worked 40 hrs/week while taking the “hardest” pre-med course, and I was able to ace it. And I was quite the average student at Duke, so…

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