Law School Rankings Too Powerful, Writers Say

Law schools need to take more responsibility instead of blaming others for their current woes.

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Well-known writers have made the case recently that the U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings are among the most powerful forces driving behavior at law schools.

In the online commentary piece titled "The Bad News Law Schools," Stanley Fish, a professor at Florida International University College of Law, reviews Failing Law Schools by Brian Tamanaha, a law professor and author. The book—to be published later in 2012—documents, in Tamanaha's view, what is wrong with law schools and calls out the "bad actors," which he says are the American Bar Association and the U.S. News rankings because they have driven law schools to be what they are today.

Fish writes:

The U.S. News and World Report rankings, says Tamanaha, produce even worse deformations (than the ABA); in fact they produce behavior that is at least deceptive and borders on fraud. A law school dean who knows that the rank of her school will in large part determine the faculty it can attract, the quality of the applicants, the support provided by her university and the job opportunities of graduates will be tempted to fiddle with the numbers by (among other things) reporting high salaries for graduates when the pool surveyed is a tiny fraction of those who have the school's degree, devising schemes to keep students with low test scores off the books by shunting them off to evening programs and inflating the employment rate by hiring its own for a short term. Tamanaha finds these and other 'disreputable actions' understandable if not excusable given the structural situation."

New York Times reporter David Segal, whose recent articles on law schools have drawn a great deal of attention, was quoted in the ABA Journal article "NY Times Reporter Sounds off on Legal Education, Accreditation and the 'Crazy' Race for Rankings" as saying that law schools have taken the quest for higher rankings and greater prestige to "an incredibly destructive" place. Segal says the U.S. News rankings do some good, but have led almost all law schools to fudge a lot of their figures and set "really sad" priorities. He said U.S. News bears some of the blame for building such perversities into its rankings. "But it doesn't help that law schools are just completely obedient to the set of standards and jump through any hurdle that is erected by U.S. News" to improve their ranking, he says.

Our take: It's important to remember that the U.S. News rankings are done to provide one tool to help prospective law school students choose the best law school for them. The Best Law Schools rankings are not done to provide law school academics a benchmark to measure their school's progress or to influence or be an instrument to direct educational policy decisions.

The bottom line: U.S. News is not running the law schools, does not play any role in making decisions at any law school, and does not believe there are any credible justifications for falsifying law school data.