Paul L. Caron

Monday, April 23, 2012

Osler: Which Law Schools Have Risen in the U.S. News Rankings Via Faculty Scholarship?

U.S. News LogoLaw School Innovation: Is There a Success Story?, by Mark Osler (University of St. Thomas):

Law schools across the country seem to share a common belief:  That if their faculty publish more academic scholarship, and place it in better journals, then the U.S. News ranking of the school will improve. Schools have expended great time and expense on this project, and reshaped their faculties in pursuit of this goal. In hiring and at tenure review, most places view scholarship as being more important than teaching, in part for this reason. This belief has played a role not only in restructuring our institutions, but our values.

Is it a myth?

Looking back over several years of rankings, I have trouble identifying schools for whom this tactic was successful.  After all, if scholarship can result in a long-term improvement in the rankings, shouldn't there be success stories? 

So tell me-- where are they? What are the schools that managed, through increased scholarship rather that other factors, to significantly improve their rankings over the long-term (as opposed to brief jumps)?

Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller?

Pepperdine certainly fits the bill:  the school has made the biggest move I am aware of in the U.S. News rankings, rising over 50 spots in recent years, from the unranked Tier 3 in 2004 at the start of Ken Starr's deanship to #49 this year (seventh among the twenty California law schools, after Stanford (2), UC-Berkeley (7), UCLA (15), USC (18), UC-Davis (29), and UC-Hastings (44)). Although many factors undoubtedly contributed to Pepperdine's rapid ascent, a number of high profile lateral faculty hires over the past decade likely played a major role, including:

In addition, Pepperdine is the only law school to earn Order of the Coif membership betweem 2004 - early 2012 (when Richmond earned membership).  For more on Pepperdine's growing scholarly profile, see Brian Leiter's Law School Reports, In Fairness to Pepperdine.

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Without taking anything away from Pepperdine's impressive hires, I do not think the data support that this was the reason for Pepperdine's rankings rise. In your own annual look at peer assessment rankings vs. Overall US News rankings, Pepperdine's peer assessment significantly lags its overall ranking. if that were the only factor in the rankings, Pepperdine would now be ranked about 20-30 spots lower. I have not done a complete analysis, but I think their rise would be more closely tracked to employment statistics.

Posted by: Kipper | Apr 23, 2012 7:53:31 AM

Isn't the real question whethre their academic reputation score has improved? I don't know the answer. Most schools move up in the overall rankings by massaging the data they self-report, not by actual accomplishments. I'm not sure which kind of case Pepperdine is.

Posted by: Brian | Apr 23, 2012 9:47:24 AM

My former school, the University of Alabama, has increased its peer assessment score significantly over the past decade. I think it was 2.6 around 2000 and is now around 3.1. A lot of effort and money went into that -- and I'm sure it's due to all sorts of things, like the rising quality of students.

Posted by: Alfred Brophy | Apr 23, 2012 1:37:07 PM

Aside from creating research assistant jobs for students, is any real purpose served or benefit provided by 95+% of legal scholarship?

Both the legal academy and the bloated administrations that support them have gotten fat and lazy on the backs of those of us who paid grossly inflated tuition and were saddled with a lifetime of debt.

Posted by: Todd | Apr 23, 2012 8:24:07 PM