The problem with being totally transparent about key methodology details about U.S. News's America's Best Law Schools Rankings is that it's clear—based on our own analysis of historical trends in the our law school rankings and recently published blog posts—that certain law schools are taking advantage of that knowledge to game our rankings.
U.S. News is going to take steps to prevent these data manipulations by law schools in future rankings. The post serves as notice of those changes to be explained below.
U.S. News has said that the percent of J.D. graduates employed at graduation and those employed nine months after graduation count for 4.0 and 14.0 percent of the overall rankings, respectively. U.S. News has publicly disclosed the formula used in its ranking model to estimate the employed-at-graduation figure, should a law school not report the percentage of graduates who are employed at graduation.
The formula has been: that law school's employed-at-nine-months percentage minus approximately 30 percentage points equals employed at graduation. For example, for a law school with a 90 percent rate of employment at nine months, its ranking would be computed using an estimate of 60 percent. U.S. News publishes these nonreporters's data as N/A on the law school ranking table.
Why is U.S. News making this estimate? In the past, we had been told by many in law school career services offices that some law schools didn't or couldn't keep track of the proportion of their J.D. graduates with jobs at graduation, that what really mattered was nine months out, and that it would not be fair to penalize law schools in the rankings if they didn't have the employed-at-graduation data.
The problem created by this openness about our ranking model is that it's clear that more law schools have decided whether to report their at graduation employment based on how their actual percentage will compare to the estimate U.S. News will make for them. For example, a law school knows that its actual at-graduation employment rate is 40 percent, but knows because of our transparency that based on its nine-month rate, U.S. News will estimate 60 percent for its at-graduation rate, that school has chosen not to report its actual numbers and instead lets U.S. News make the estimate. In other words: ranking gamesmanship.
In the latest edition of the America's Best Law Schools rankings, 74 law schools (39 percent of those that were ranked) did not report their at-graduation employment rate. This is nearly double the number of schools (38) that did not report in the 2005 edition. U.S. News believes that this increase proves that far more law schools do track their students at graduation and believe that virtually all law schools could be reporting vital job placement data and have chosen not to do so in order to game the rankings.
Paul Caron, associate dean at University of Cincinnati's Law School and the publisher and editor of the widely followed Tax Prof blog, recently wrote a piece titled Did 16 Law Schools Commit Rankings Malpractice? that documented the growing number of schools who are choosing not to report their at-graduation employment rates to U.S. News. Caron wondered why 16 law schools purposely reported lower at-graduation employment rates than the higher estimated rate that U.S. News would calculate for them, calling this "ranking malpractice." The ABA Journal also wrote a story about this: "Were 16 Law Schools Too Revealing in Disclosures to U.S. News?" U.S. News strongly believes that schools should report their at-graduation data and finds the suggestion that schools that honestly report data are doing something wrong is misguided.
U.S. News is planning to significantly change its estimate for the at-graduation rate employment for nonresponding schools in order to create an incentive for more law schools to report their actual at- graduation employment rate data. This new estimating procedure will not be released publicly before we publish the rankings.