March 13, 2014

"The Most Overrated and Underrated Law Schools."

These variations on the 2015 U.S. News law school rankings are based on the premise that what really matters is the "peer reputation" score. What accounts for a significant discrepancy between peer reputation and the overall rank? I'm guessing — and this is an educated guess based on 30 years of experience — it's about the aggressiveness with which the school selects students based on the hard numbers (LSAT score and GPA) and limits the size of the incoming class to control where the median LSAT and GPA go.

On this theory, the so-called "overrated" schools have played an aggressive numbers game that more than makes up for the lack of respect shown by the "peers." The so-called "underrated" schools are, I'm guessing, the ones that resist allowing U.S. News to push them to select students based on the hard numbers and have opted to build a student body out of accomplished, interesting individuals whose LSAT and GPA aren't so impressive.

The "peers" who are surveyed to get the "peer reputation" score are "law school deans, deans of academic affairs, chairs of faculty appointments and the most recently tenured faculty members" at all the law schools. How these people are expected to have accurate opinions of 194 law schools I have never understood. I've been among the surveyed peers a number of times, and I didn't think I had an accurate opinion about any of them. You're allowed to pick I don't know, but do you trust the power-wielders who do the survey to say they don't know? And if they think they know, do you trust them to base their knowledge on current information about the school? Worst of all, knowledge of the law schools is absurdly infected with knowledge of the very U.S. News ranking that annually reinfuses itself with endlessly recycled awareness of reputation.

For the opinion that reputation among academics is the only factor that should matter to prospective students, here's John Yoo. (For the record: My school has always done better on peer reputation than overall, though the difference isn't enough to put us on the most-underrated list.)


CWJ said...

If the schools are being rated individually in both rankings, how is it possible that all schools that were tied in their "overall scores" were also tied in their "peer" scores.

The "peer" ranking is a sham.

Chance said...

30 years of experience reading usnews rankings? Or 30 years as a law professor or something else? In any event, that is an interesting an unnecessary pseudo credential.

DKWalser said...

The peer ranking is subject to the biases of law school faculty and administrators. As a group, the peer voters skew to the left on political, social, and religious views. Also as a group, they tend to be one both coasts and other population centers (because that's where most of the law schools are). Might these factors help to explain why schools found in the Rocky Mountains or in Texas (which tend to be more conservative and might have less contact with schools outside their region) have a greater likelihood to being "underrated"?

EDH said...

Feel in some way like I persuaded Althouse -- and others -- to look under the hood on these numbers, particularly the "peer" ratings.

Like Althouse here, I thought the peer assessments are over weighted. From my vantage, however, it's because the faculty and administration "peer raters" at all law schools are themselves inordinately drawn from the top-tier teaching schools.

"And graduates of the teaching schools by-in-large are the ones subjectively rating the schools, aren't they? Pretty incestuous, if you ask me."

Quality assessment (0.40)
- Peer assessment score (0.25)
- Assessment score by lawyers/judges (0.15)

Peer assessment score (0.25): In fall 2013, law school deans, deans of academic affairs, chairs of faculty appointments and the most recently tenured faculty members were asked to rate programs ...

In my experience, going to law school later in life largely with people who've already done something in the real world was more interesting that being surrounded by a bunch of callow 22 year olds.

After all, law school is what you make it.

mccullough said...

Median law school debt to income ratio is the only stat that matters at this point. Law school is just too expensive given the career prospects of most students.

West Texas Intermediate Crude said...

I'm glad that I went to medical school, instead of law school. I'm judged on my ability, accomplishments, and experience, not what a has-been magazine says about what my value to my profession is or should be.

Why does the legal profession stand for such nonsense? Is it because there really is not a better metric to judge the value of an attorney?

Robert Cook said...

The law school ratings are not meant to enhance the careers of practicing lawyers, but to make schools attractive to those applying to law school and for employers hiring new law school grads who have no career accomplishments to prove their desirability to be hired. Surely, medical schools are no different.

tim maguire said...

Law is a trade school, people go to law school to get a job as a lawyer. It's more like welding or auto mechanics then it is like most academic majors.

Legal hiring tends to be nepotistic--lawyers hire graduates from schools they are familiar with. So with few exceptions, law schools are also regional. The smartest move for a future lawyer is to go to the best law school you can in the region where you hope to work.

So what's the best school? The one that places the most graduates where you want to end up (whether big law, criminal, government, public sector, etc.).

jacksonjay said...

I sure hope that the lawyer I shouldn't trust is interesting. Maybe being "interesting" will make-up for being overcharged AND being given bad advice.

"But Honey, he comes highly recommended, he's interesting."

Strelnikov said...

Then are those of us who went to one that made neither list.

(Hint: It's widely considered the Harvard of Southern Illinois.)

West Texas Intermediate Crude said...

Mr. Cook-
It turns out the US News does have a med school ranking issue- easy to find on google- but in 4 decades of pre-med study, med school, residency, and medical practice, I have literally never heard anyone refer to it. So, med schools are different.

I believe that it may be similar in the far reaches of academic medicine, but in the world of practicing physicians, the residency counts far more than the med school. Unlike law school, the grittier the residency, the better. Serving 3-5 years in an urban teaching hospital will get a young doc far more hands on experience than doing a residency in a suburban community hospital, and is more valued for this reason.

I still wonder why lawyers suck up to US news so much.