Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Andrew P. Morriss (Dean, Texas A&M), Legal Education Through the Blurry Lens of US News Law School Rankings, 20 Green Bag 2d 253 (2017):
The Chinese Characters in the title of this piece are the closest thing to the apocryphal “Chinese curse” of “may you live in interesting times.” The closest actual proverb is “Better to be a dog in a peaceful time, than to be a human in a chaotic period. This seems a fitting metaphor for what has been going on in legal education since 2008, when things began to get “interesting.” That the attribution of the English version of the curse is apocryphal and that I’ve taken the “true” meaning from Wikipedia (although I did check with a native Chinese-speaking friend, who assures me that Wikipedia is accurate on this point) is a good metaphor for rankings and their impact on legal education. Applicants, law review editors, alumni, and many more people rely on US News’s law school rankings to evaluate law schools, as secure in their knowledge that these are a valid source of information on relative merit as are those people who confidently attribute the “may you live in interesting times” version of the curse to a non-existent Chinese language source are in theirs.
Just as the apocryphal curse bears a resemblance to an actual proverb about dogs and peaceful times, so the US News rankings reflect — if through rather blurry glass — where legal education is. With the caveats that there are many bad things that have come from rankings, and from the illusory precision of US News rankings in particular, and that a great deal of what the rankings reflect is a fairly stable pecking order, as well as having tortured this metaphor as far as I can, let’s look at the data that US News uses and see what it reveals about where legal education is headed.