TaxProf Blog

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

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Influence of U.S. News on Law Schools

Back in 2007, I blogged an article by Wendy Nelson Espeland (Northwestern University, Department of Sociology) & Michael Sauder (University of Iowa, Department of Sociology), Rankings and Reactivity: How Public Measures Recreate Social Worlds, 113 Am. J. Sociology 1 (2007).  Today's National Law Journal reports on their related 2007 article, Fear of Falling: The Effects of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on U.S. Law Schools, just released by the LSAC: Research Documents the 'U.S. News' Effect on Law Schools:

Like it or not, the U.S. News & World Report's annual ranking of law schools profoundly influences the way those schools are managed, spend resources and are perceived internally and by the outside world.

That is the conclusion reached by two sociology professors who interviewed more than 200 law school administrators, faculty members and prospective law students and combed through other statistical data. Their report, "Fear of Falling: The Effect of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on U.S. Law Schools," has been released by the Law School Admission Council, which partially funded the research.

"One of the things that surprised us most is what a big impact the rankings have," said Northwestern University associate professor Wendy Espeland, who co-authored the report with University of Iowa assistant professor Michael Sauder. "They affect so many aspects of legal education."

The rankings have become a routine consideration in law school decision-making, according to the report, and pressure to move up in the rankings influences the way law schools distribute their resources.

The study's conclusion that law schools have several ways of gaming the system likely won't surprise the many critics who have charged that the rankings are easily manipulated and are harmful to the educational mission of law schools. Most of the interviewed administrators said that the rankings hurt law schools, but some believed that they add transparency and accountability to legal education. The magazine bases its rankings on reputation, selectivity, placement success and faculty resources.


Law School Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink

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