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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, June 4, 2007

Henderson & Morriss on Law Schools to Blame for Power of the U.S. News Rankings

William Henderson (Indiana) & Andrew Morriss (Illinois) have published an excellent op-ed in this month's American Lawyer, Rank Economics: Law Schools Have No One to Blame but Themselves for the Power of the U.S. News Rankings:

U.S. News is influential among prospective students at least in part because the magazine does what the law schools don’t: give law students easy-to-compare information that sheds light on their long-term employment prospects. Law schools could easily supply that information themselves, but they choose not to. ...

Our research suggests that prospective students care a great deal about their post–law school employment and bar passage prospects—information that law schools could readily compile and supply. We found that rather than work to provide applicants with the kind of information they say they want and need, law schools tend to report information in a manner that undermines the applicants’ ability to engage in meaningful comparative assessments on measures that matter. These practices, which range from puffery to borderline deceit, are all aimed at improving their U.S. News rankings. As a result, even as the rankings have become more important, they have become less reliable.

A simple solution is available that would both diminish the importance of the U.S. News rankings and enable prospective law students to make more enlightened choices. The only question is whether law schools will do it on their own or, if not, whether the ABA will make them. With the U.S. Department of Education now carefully scrutinizing the ABA’s accreditation authority, the ABA has an added incentive to pay attention to student needs. ...

By facilitating transparency and accountability, the legal academy and the ABA can end the tiresome annual ritual of abusing U.S. News, and focus instead on creating incentives that work to the long-term benefit of students and the bar. If legal academics take their mission as educators seriously, they will opt for competition that serves the interests of our students. If they want to be leaders, they need to act the part.

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