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Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Muller:  Law Professors Are Tough Graders (Of Other Law Schools)

2018 U.S. News Law 2Derek Muller (Pepperdine), Do Law Professors Generally Think Most Other Law Schools Are Pretty Awful?:

The U.S. News & World Report ("USNWR") law school rankings include a number of illuminating bits of information and some weaknesses, as I displayed yesterday. But a cursory look at Paul Caron's display of the peer reputation scores displays, perhaps, a startling truth: law professors generally think most other law schools are pretty awful. (I qualify that with "other" because I think most law professors generally think their own schools are probably pretty good.) ...

One might expect to see a fairly ordinary distribution between 5 and 1, perhaps a bell curve with a bulk of schools in the range of 3 in the middle. But it turns out law professors think little of other schools.

Just 47 schools exceed the middling score of 3.0. Nearly 80 schools score a 2.0 or below. The medianscore is a dismal 2.3. And over the years, law professors' peer scores have slightly declined on the whole--meaning they think schools are getting worse.

The visualization of the distribution rather vividly displays this point.


Law School Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink


A few obvious points to explain this phenomenon. . .

1. Most law professors come from the top 3 or top 5 law schools in the country. They would have never contemplated going to any non-elite school. In fact, if that were their only choice, they would have not gone to law school at all.

2. Most law schools outside the T30 or so are pretty awful. They fail in their central purpose, which is to launch students into careers as lawyers. The average school in the 40-100 range puts less than 50% of their class in full time bar passage required jobs, and puts less than 10% into jobs that can justify the cost.

3. Law schools are getting worse. Much worse. Just look at bar passage rates and entering class metrics.

Posted by: JM | Mar 16, 2017 6:10:39 AM

Many things in the world follow a power law distribution--- that is, there are a lot of low scores and then a gradual tailing off to the highest score. That makes sense here too.Law schools below a certain quality just die, then there is a mass of barely-OK, then somewhat fewer OK, even fewer mediocre, even fewer good, ever fewer elite.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Mar 16, 2017 8:10:30 AM

"A recent survey found that, among the 486 entry-level, tenure-track hires made by ABA-accredited law schools between 2003 and 2007, 38.5% of those hires had a J.D. degree from either Harvard or Yale. The survey also found that 85.6% of new hires received their J.D. degrees from one of a total of twelve elite law schools" And as we know, law is all about prestigery and shininess, so it is of little wonder that all of these H and Y grads are stuck in the stage of development where their brains cannot comprehend intelligence coming from anywhere else. As for liking their own institutions, it is simply a mechanism of self-validation.

One does wonder if the downward peer assessment trajectory of late noted in the article is a consequence not just of brazenly open admissions standards but also of the documented trend of the increase in new JD-PhD professors with zero years' practice experience - individuals whose only lens is that of college rankings.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Mar 16, 2017 9:25:11 AM


No, it's evidence of a trend of those who fill out the stupid peer assessment survey purposefully downgrading other institutions and upgrading their own in an attempt to game the rankings. What is actually happening, as shown, is that this results in a falling ride lowering all boats: if everyone's doing it, the logical outcome is that nearly everyone's scores on the peer assessment will decline.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 16, 2017 11:41:41 AM

The surveys go to school administrators, plus the most recently tenured prof, I believe. These folks have a vested interest in undervaluing as many other schools as possible to improve their own lot. I suspect the peer scores are less a reflection of the respondents' true opinion of the quality of other programs, and more a reflection of their own strategic self interests...

Posted by: Anon | Mar 16, 2017 12:07:29 PM

I've also been poking around with the reputation scores. I don't know what to make of this, but 78 schools' scores increased this year. On average, schools' reputation scores increased by 0.036. So, if your school isn't increasing in reputation, it's falling behind ...

Posted by: Anonymous | Mar 16, 2017 4:15:44 PM

@11:14 Anon,

Good point; I had forgotten all about the confessions of that Clemson University admin who admitted that they gave every other undergrad program a 1.0 in the USNWR submission form.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Mar 16, 2017 6:41:45 PM

By the way, If these presumably informed respondents have reached consensus that there are so many schools that are hardly "adequate," then there should be no qualms about shuttering a few of them, yes? Perhaps one might write a letter to DOE informing them of this consensus.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 18, 2017 1:07:23 PM

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