TaxProf Blog

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

WSJ Should Publish Law School Rankings To Supplant U.S. News, Focusing On Student Outputs (Not Inputs), Quantitative Measures Of Faculty Research (Not Reputation Surveys)

2017John O. McGinnis (Northwestern), A WSJ Ranking of Law Schools Would Improve Legal Education:

The Wall Street Journal in partnership with the Times Educational Supplement has just released a ranking of colleges. It provides a useful corrective to the more famous rankings by U.S. News and World Report, because it focuses more on the student outputs rather than inputs. That is, while U.S. News heavily weights the credentials of incoming students, such as the SAT scores and high school grades, the Wall Street Journal weights the outputs, like student satisfaction and salaries earned at graduation. This ranking system also appears to take a more quantitative approach to the quality of the faculty, relying less on reputation and more on actual research output.

It would be hugely beneficial for legal education, if this consortium were to undertake similar rankings of law schools. It would undermine the unhealthy power of US News’ ranking of law schools, which, as with colleges, focuses more on student inputs than outputs. ...

As a result, law school deans are more obsessed with student inputs than outputs as the key to improving their US News ranking, even though it is outputs that count for students and it is outputs that educational institutions are in the business of improving. Moreover, the lack of competition among ranking institutions contributes to the homogeneity of law schools, as they all compete on similar dimensions.  But in a profession as variegated as law, law schools should be more heterogeneous in structure and objectives.  For instance, in some law schools, faculty would do well to focus only on teaching, whatever the effects on scholarly reputation, thus delivering a less expensive product tailored at improving student skills.

The Wall Street Journal’s more quantitative measure of faculty quality would also make the rankings less ideologically biased. For instance, the Antonin Scalia Law School (formerly George Mason) is currently ranked 21 in citations in the legal literature to its faculty, but its reputation is only 51st in the US News peer reputation survey.  One obvious reason for the disparity is that law professors lean overwhelmingly the left, but the George Mason faculty as a whole is on the right. More subtle effects of this ideological bias throughout likely course through the rankings, penalizing faculties that are more conservative or libertarian than the very left-liberal average.

Law School Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink


Why don't the top 20 law schools get together and publish a ranking?

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Oct 5, 2016 6:50:34 AM

Actually, how about having Professor Caron publish a ranking, based purely on his subjective opinion? I bet readers of this blog, at least, would be very interested in that. I liked Prof. Leiter's philosophy rankings better when they were his own personal opinion, because a personal opinion from someone you know about is often more informative than an objective opinion from someone whose interests and biases you don't know.
Or, at least, how about a Caron Ranking for tax law? That wouldn't take much effort.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Oct 5, 2016 6:53:02 AM

Begin law school rankings with number eleven. Too many lack adequate focus on serving students to quality for an elite Top Ten list. ... And, for goodness sake, any ranking that gives credit for diversity is automatically voided.

Posted by: Woody | Oct 5, 2016 8:11:01 AM

I don't know if McGinnis writes about this in the full article, but Forbes already makes a very similar rankings system for undergraduate colleges. An exclusively output-focused ranking system that including student debt levels, starting salaries, percentage in grad schools or with elite scholarships (Rhodes, Fulbright, etc), unemployment rate, and so forth. Two interesting notes: it combines big universities and liberal arts colleges in one list with interesting results (schools like Williams and Amherst usually outperform at least half of the Ivies, for instance), and some of the institutions that have made a concerted effort to "move up" / manipulate the USNWR show their weaknesses in the Forbes rankings. Northeastern's undergrad program, for instance, has shimmied up to 39th place in USNWR, but languishes somewhere in the 200's in Forbes.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Oct 5, 2016 8:31:21 AM

yes, let's rank law schools by wall street standards, that will certainly restore public confidence

Posted by: mike livingston | Oct 6, 2016 1:43:23 AM