TaxProf Blog

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Law School Rankings By Student Quality (LSAT And UGPA)

2018 U.S. News Law 2Christopher J. Ryan Jr. (Vanderbilt) & Brian L. Frye (Kentucky), A De Gustibus Approach to Ranking Law Schools:

The U.S. News & World Report “Best Law Schools Rankings” define the market for legal education. Law schools compete to improve their standing in the rankings and fear any decline. But the U.S. News rankings incite contention, because they rely on factors that are poor proxies for quality like peer reputation and expenditures per student. While many alternative law school rankings exist, none have challenged the market dominance of the U.S. News rankings. Presumably the U.S. News rankings benefit from a first-mover advantage, other rankings fail to provide a clearly superior alternative, or some combination of the two.

This article assumes that the purpose of ranking law schools is to help students decide which school to attend. Accordingly, it describes an approach to ranking law schools based entirely on the revealed preferences of students. Law schools admit applicants based almost entirely on their LSAT score and undergraduate GPA, and compete to matriculate students with the highest possible scores. Our de gustibus approach to ranking law schools assumes that the “best” law schools are the most successful at matriculating those students. This article concludes with a “best law schools ranking” based exclusively on the LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs of matriculating students. ...

Law schools in our ranking were assigned a scaled desirability index score based on the “purchasing power” of their matriculating students. This index score was summed from six parts equal parts: a scaled 75th percentile GPA, a scaled median GPA, a scaled 25th percentile GPA, a scaled 75th percentile LSAT, a scaled median LSAT, and a scaled 25th percentile LSAT — each given one-sixth weight to construct the index. The consumer preference rankings we constructed from these index scores, proffered in the appendix below, surprised us, because there are consistencies between this ranking system and previous year’s peer review ratings, particularly among the top law schools. However, there are several notable exceptions, a few of which are detailed below.

First, the T-14s are disrupted, with Texas falling on the outside of the coveted territory. Also, several public universities in the South tend to perform better by this ranking than their peer review score would indicate, such as Alabama, William & Mary, and Georgia, all of which would make the top-25. However, Washington U. and Boston U. both slid outside the top-25. Often rated in the middle tier, BYU, SMU, and George Mason all benefit from this ranking system, landing among the top-35 law schools. Perennial top-40 schools Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Illinois all slid outside of the top-40, while Washington & Lee fell the farthest to 65. Surprising additions to the top-50 include Nebraska, Northeastern, and Pepperdine. Florida International and Belmont — which is not ranked by U.S. News — made their way into the top-100. While Texas A&M made significant strides to check in at 82, American slid precipitously back to 87. Notable schools that fell outside the top-100 include Chicago-Kent, Brooklyn, Loyola Chicago, Syracuse, and Louisville. This de gustibus ranking system departs from the U.S. News ranking system at statistically significant levels and may be a preferable approach to measure quality for prospective consumers. 

LSAT & GPA Rank

 

Law School

U.S. News 

Rank

1

Yale

1

2

Harvard

3

3

Stanford

2

4

Chicago

4

5

NYU

6

6

Pennsylvania

7

7

Columbia

5

8

Virginia

8

9

Duke

10

10

UC-Berkeley

12

11

Michigan

8

12

Northwestern

10

13

Cornell

13

14

Georgetown

15

15

UCLA

15

16

USC

19

17

Vanderbilt

17

18

Texas

14

19

Minnesota

23

20

BYU

46

21

Alabama

26

22

Emory

22

23

Boston University

23

24

William& Mary

41

25

Georgia

30

26

Notre Dame

20

27

George Washington

30

28

U. Washington

30

29

Washington U.

18

30

Colorado

36

31

Iowa

20

32

George Mason

41

33

Arizona State

25

34

Indiana

30

35

SMU

46

36

Fordham

36

37

Nebraska

57

38

Ohio State

30

39

UC-Irvine

28

40

UC-Davis

39

41

Florida

41

42

Boston College

26

43

Wake Forest

36

44

Wisconsin

30

45

North Carolina

39

46

Illinois

44

47

Pepperdine

72

48

Northeastern

65

49

Baylor

51

50

Arizona

48

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2017/03/law-school-rankings-by-student-quality-lsat-and-ugpa.html

Law School Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink

Comments

Looks like Pepperdine and Northeastern are the outliers in terms of the rankings undervaluing the students' LSAT/GPA measurements (or else *punishing* those law schools for other issues).

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Mar 15, 2017 1:14:10 PM

UN, the one school that really jumps out as being underrated by US News is BYU. One can speculate as to why a system that relies on the views of law school faculty might make this so.

Posted by: PaulB | Mar 15, 2017 4:47:44 PM

This beauty pageant is, of course, silly. A more honest ranking would be to rank by quartile or maybe by tenths. Is UC-Berkeley that much worse a law school than Yale?

(Although because my daughter went to Stanford, I have to say it is clearly better than Harvard. :))

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Mar 16, 2017 7:01:13 AM

My observation is that both "consumers" and savvy students are now more frequently self-selecting in school choices, based upon intangible factors. I think that partly explains the attractiveness of BYU, SMU and George Mason.

Posted by: Ron Morris | Mar 16, 2017 9:20:13 AM

@PaulB, that's fair. Upon second look, Nebraska also appears to be quite undervalued.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Mar 16, 2017 9:26:31 AM

GPAs are important measures of potential, combining both raw horse power and work ethic. Unfortunately there are large variations in the meaning of GPAs between schools and -- within the same school -- between departments. Is a 3.5 at the top, the middle, or the bottom of the class? There are also similar differences between the rigor of the program and the ability/motivation of the students. One should consider these differences in evaluating GPAs.

Posted by: Michael Waggoner | Mar 16, 2017 1:09:24 PM