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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Black Responds to Harvard Students' Ranking of Top 15 Law Schools

BlackBernard S. Black (Texas) responds to the Harvard Law Students' recent ranking of the Top 15 law schools, blogged here on Monday:

Paul's helpful comparison of the Harvard students' rankings shows the weakness of both their rank and the US News ranks, which it resembles uncannily closely.

A widely publicized ranking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thus, US News ranks of faculty scholarship tend to gravitate over time toward the rest of the US news rank for that school (and gravitational attraction may be the right metaphor), as shown by Jeffrey Evans Stake, The Interplay between Law School Rankings, Reputations, and Resource Allocation: Ways Rankings Mislead, 81 Ind. L.J. ___ (2005).

Quantitative measures offer a needed counterweight.

On casual observation, the Harvard students have accepted, fairly blindly, the 7-8 rankings of Michigan and Penn promulgated by US News. Yet the average of the six quantitative measures for these schools is 14 and 14.3, respectively. Duke is tied for 11-13 in US News and ranks a near-identical 13 per the Harvard students, but averages 19.5 on the quantitative measures. The Harvard students have accepted, equally blindly, the 15 ranking of my home school Texas. Yet the average of Texas's rank on the six quantitative measures is 8.7. Not a single school in the US News top 16 is outside their top 16, not a single schools varies from the US News gravitational attractant by more than a trivial amount. Dare I suggest that reputation surveys leave something to be desired, and surveys of students who have little knowledge of other schools and less knowledge of scholarship leave A LOT to be desired? The usual metaphor for the results of a survey of the non-knowledgeable is GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. A better metaphor for the Harvard students' views is UIUO - US News in their ears, US News out.

Bernie Black (conflict disclosure: I am managing director of SSRN and teach at a school, Texas, that routinely does better on quantitative measures than on US News, which might reflect in no small amount its lack of proximity to an ocean.)

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