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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Jones: The U.S. News Law School Academic Reputation Scores, 1998-2017

2018 U.S. News LawRobert L. Jones (Northern Illinois), Academic Reputation Scores for Law Schools Rebound in 2016 and 2017 to Reclaim 2013 Levels:

This essay summarizes the results of the U.S. News & World Report (“U.S. News”) rankings published in 2016 and 2017 with respect to the academic reputation scores of law schools. In contrast to the general trend over the last twenty years, the U.S. News academic reputation scores for law schools improved in both 2016 and 2017. With respect to the 172 law schools analyzed as part of a longitudinal study published by this author four years ago, law school academic reputation scores improved by an aggregate of 4.1 points in 2016 and by another 5.9 points in 2017. These recent increases offset declines from 2014 and 2015 and brought the average academic reputation score for the law schools in the data set back to 2.542, virtually the same average for those law schools in 2013.4 The median score of the law schools in the data set rose in 2017 as well, from 2.3 to 2.4.

Chart 3

Chart 2A

Chart 2

It is interesting to note that the schools in the data set with the highest academic reputation scores tended to gain less in 2016 and 2017 than other law schools in the data set. ...

Chart D

Similarly notable is the fact that law schools from California tended to gain less than law schools located elsewhere. Of the sixteen law schools in the data set located in California, only four saw their academic reputation scores improve between 2015 and 2017 (Cal. Western, Loyola Marymount, Univ. of Cal. at Davis, and Univ. of San Diego). This percentage (25%) is significantly lower than the national percentage of law schools (54.1%) that saw their scores improve over the two-year period. In fact, when the California schools are extracted from the national numbers, the percentage of law schools outside California which experienced improvements to their academic reputation scores between 2015 and 2017 climbs to 57%. The California law schools in the data set improved an average of .019 between 2015 and 2017. The average improvement for all law schools in the nation was over three times higher at .058.22. ...

The fact that twelve law schools in the data set have been able to improve their scores by .3 or more is somewhat remarkable given the overarching stability of the scores and the general downward trend over the period. Below is a table of the twelve schools in the data set that have succeeding in improving their scores by that margin during the twenty-year period.


Interestingly, two of the three schools at the top of the list would appear to have benefited from their decision to associate themselves with larger, well-known universities. In April of 2004, the law school that had once been known as The Detroit College of Law became Michigan State University College of Law. ... Similarly, Texas Wesleyan Law School was acquired by Texas A&M University in August of 2013. ...

[S]trategic considerations may have played a reduced role in the voting patterns of academics over the last two years as the number of applicants to law school stabilized in 2015 and 2016. The average academic reputation score for the 172 schools in the data set fell from 2.607 to 2.484 between 2010 and 2015. Over those same years, the number of applicants to law school fell from 87,900 in the Fall of 2010 to 54,500 in the Fall of 2015 (representing a 38% drop in applicants over those five years). The dramatic decline in law school applicants, however, appeared to bottom out in the Fall of 2015. The number of applicants declined only 2.2% between Fall of 2014 and Fall of 2015 (the smallest decline of the period) and the number of applicants to law school appeared to actually rise in 2016. LSAC reported a total of 56,500 applicants to law school in 2016. That figure appears to represent the first increase in the number of law school applicants since 2010 (although it is difficult to make a definitive comparison with past years because LSAC changed the methodology they utilize to track applicants in 2016). If the increases to academic reputation scores in 2016 and 2017 are attributable in any way to a slight respite from the competitive pressures felt by law schools, that factor might help explain why the law schools in the data set from California (where low statewide bar passage rates have arguably accentuated competitive pressures) did not generally experience the same increases.[Fn. 52: See, e.g., Paul Caron, July 2016 California Bar Exam Carnage (November 22, 2016), available at (“The overall pass rate [in California for July of 2016] was 43%, the lowest in 32 years.).]

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While I would certainly never assume that any law school admin would do anything untowards [rolls eyes], all sorts of shenanigans have been reported w.r.t. USNWR's undergrad academic reputation score, or as I like to call it, the Prestige-o-Meter. Things like ranking yourself a 5.0 and everyone else a 1.0. Things like buddying up with ex-classmates or colleagues at other institutions to give each other high scores. The torrents of glossy brochures about School X's recent academic achievements that School X mailbombs to every other institution. Etc., etc., etc. Like most other USNWR variables, academic reputation is manipulated and gamed seven ways from Sunday.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Nov 3, 2017 10:03:31 AM