Of Rankings and Regulation: Are the U.S. News & World Report Rankings Really a Subversive Force in Legal Education?

There’s a discussion going on right now on the law library directors’ listserv about the upcoming changes to the ABA Questionnaire and several directors have chimed in about the possible effects of library volume counts on the U.S. News & World Report graduate school rankings.  And then just today I received from the Legal Scholarship Network, Volume 1, Number 1 of the University of California, Irvine School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series journal which includes this abstract:

Of Rankings and Regulation: Are the U.S. News & World Report Rankings Really a Subversive Force in Legal Education?”

Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 81, 2006
UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 863032
UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2008-3

RACHEL F. MORAN, University of California, Berkeley – School of Law, University of California, Irvine Law School

The description for this symposium on The Next Generation of Law School Rankings begins with the following statement: “The U.S. News & World Report annual law school rankings are the 800-pound gorilla of legal education . . . affect[ing] virtually all aspects of law school operations.” The image is one of vigorous, even ruthless, competition among law schools to be number one. Although the symposium participants disagree about whether this competition is healthy or destructive, they all largely accept that it is a robust phenomenon. There is an occasional reference to the highly regulated nature of legal education, but these are mere asides, not the heart of the argument. By accepting competition as the dominant motif, a number of puzzles arise: Why are the rankings relatively stable over long periods of time despite vigorous competition? Why has a plethora of alternative rankings systems not emerged? Why do schools limit their strategies to gaming the U.S. News & World Report (“U.S. News”) rankings, even when there are perverse consequences, rather than undertake bold reforms to gain prestige and value in the marketplace?

These puzzles become far less vexing when the dominant paradigm is one of cooperation rather than competition. In fact, norms of uniformity and standardization have dominated the world of legal education, substantially limiting law schools’ ability to compete against one another. To advance law’s professional stature, the accreditation process has regulated legal training so that students receive a quality education and clients get competent lawyers. Given this framework of comprehensive rules and regulations, no law school has been able to pursue radical innovations without jeopardizing its accreditation, its reputation, and its future. In a world of highly constrained competition, schools have few ways to improve their standing through strategies that upset the prevailing wisdom about how best to deliver legal education. As a result, law school rankings largely remain stable over time, and different methods of ranking overall quality yield similar results. With full-bodied competition curbed by the accreditation process, schools rely on gaming to influence the U.S. News rankings rather than strike out in novel directions to gain prominence.



Source: LSN: University of California, Irvine School of Law Legal StudiesResearch Paper Series Vol. 1 No. 1,  07/10/2008

1 thought on “Of Rankings and Regulation: Are the U.S. News & World Report Rankings Really a Subversive Force in Legal Education?

  1. Graduates of foreign schools suffer when their GPA ‘s are used as a barometer of scholarship. Good grades just do not come easily in some prestigious schools. The fact that you have grade “C” does not necessarily mean you are a dull student. With an identical effort, that might fetch grade “A’ in other schools! How do you fairly compare such students? In some countries, having 40 per cent is a passing mark! And 70 per cent is considered grade “A”!

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