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

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ABA to Study Law School and Law Firm Rankings

ABA Journal, ABA to Study How Law Firms & Schools Are Ranked:

The ABA will study how a variety of organizations rank law firms and law schools. The debate in the ABA’s House of Delegates about the measure proved to be the most contentious of any resolution it considered today.

Resolution 10A, passed by a narrow voice vote, was prompted by a forthcoming ranking of law firms nationwide by U.S. News & World Report magazine, conducted in conjunction with the Best Lawyers survey of law firms. ... 

The wording of the resolution was expanded in the hours before the House met to include law school rankings, and to strike any direct references to US News.

On the House floor, most of the resolution—asking lawyers to consider whether such rankings promote diversity, pro bono activities and other “core values” of the profession—was stripped way by a vote of 203 to 183.

The full resolution as passed reads: “RESOLVED: That the American Bar Association examine any efforts to publish national, state, territorial, and local rankings of law firms and law schools.”

The House narrowly defeated, by a vote of 209 to 190, a motion to indefinitely postpone the measure so that the ABA’s Ethics 20/20 Commission could study lawyer rankings.

In a report accompanying the resolution, the measure’s sponsor—the New York State Bar Association—said “we know, based upon the experience of the U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of law schools, that there will be significant issues regarding the validity of the rankings.” ...

ABA President Carolyn Lamm urged the House to table the measure, saying it may violate existing law, such as the First Amendment and laws against restraint of trade. “If we pass something that is legally incorrect, we will all be exposed. This is a matter for the press, and I’m sure they won’t let it lie if the ABA takes a legally incorrect position,” she said. “Just because you’re irritated about what some new ratings agency should do, that doesn’t mean we should dash off and take a position,” she added. ...

Lamm said in an interview after the resolution passed that she would ask the ABA’s Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to examine law school rankings, and the Ethics 20/20 Commission to review law firm rankings.

National Law Journal, Magazine's Planned Law Firm Rankings Raise ABA's Hackles:

U.S. News & World Report's decision to start ranking law firms along the lines of its much-maligned law school rankings has prompted the American Bar Association to investigate the magazine's methods. ...

Bob Morse, director of data research for U.S. News, said the magazine has approached the ABA in the past about setting up a system for communicating about the law firm and attorney rankings, but that the organization never acted on the idea.

University of Chicago Law School professor and legal blogger Brian Leiter said that the ABA should have taken a critical look at the U.S. News rankings long before the magazine turned its attention to law firms. "Unfortunately, a mere investigation won't do much," Leiter said. "Everyone with any knowledge of education or statistics or survey methods who has examined the U.S. News rankings has come to the same conclusion: They are irresponsible, misleading and provide consumer misinformation. This has had little or no impact on the irresponsible practices of U.S. News." The best way for the ABA to counteract the negative effects of the U.S. News rankings would be to release its own data on school quality and performance, Leiter said.

The resolution prompted a lively debate among ABA delegates. It was a last-minute addition to the agenda that originally made no mention of examining law school rankings. Opponents worried the probe could raise antitrust and First Amendment implications. ABA President Carolyn Lamm told the ABA Journal that it was too soon for the organization to take a position on the rankings and that the legal concerns are legitimate.


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