Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rank and File

Late last night, U.S. News & World Report released its annual law school rankings for 2012 online. The popular rankings weigh accredited US law schools by such factors as GPA and LSAT scores, employment and bar passage rates, and “reputation scores” from surveys of judges, lawyers, and law school deans (see methodology). (Should you feel validated by such arbitrary computations, let’s get this part out of the way now: Duke Law landed at #11 in the overall scores, and #8 on a supplemental new list of law schools ranked by law firms.) The site offers numerical rankings for the first three “tiers” of accredited law schools, and an unranked alphabetical list of the remaining 53. (In previous years, only the top 100 schools were given a numerical rank.) U.S. News & World Report also offers interesting breakdowns by specialty, including ranks for legal writing, clinical practice, trial advocacy, and other specialized area of practice.

U.S. News & World Report began these graduate school rankings in 1990, printing the lists and analysis in the March issue of the magazine. More than two decades later, the rankings have grown into a cottage industry: first released online (with, of course, a “premium” option to view fuller data); excerpted in the magazine, and finally published separately as a guidebook to graduate school programs (due in early April this year, undoubtedly to prevent leaks by unscrupulous bookstore employees). The list is hotly anticipated, highly quoted, and often criticized (particularly for creating a culture of system-gaming by schools, and for encouraging prospective students to overvalue “prestige” when selecting a law school). But the rankings can also have legitimate research purposes, particularly when compared over time. If you’d like to analyze changes to these rankings, though, you’ll need to do some legwork: the Goodson Law Library has the current issues of U.S. News & World Report in its Leisure Reading collection, but the separate rankings guidebooks are kept in the Perkins Library and the University Archives. Here’s a shortcut to the catalog records:
  • America’s Best Graduate Schools (2003-present)
  • Best Graduate Schools (1998-2002)
    Note the “Details” tab, which explains: “Developed from a special report published annually, 1990- in a March issue of: U.S. news & world report; substantial excerpts continue to be published in a March issue of the magazine, 1998- ”
  • U.S. News & World Report (1990-1997 March issues; excerpts continue from 1998-present)
Rankings are big business, and U.S. News isn’t the only one trying to make sense of all this law school data. The Princeton Review publishes an annual guidebook to The Best…Law Schools, which the Goodson Law Library keeps on Reserve for the most current issue (some data are also provided online). The Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan also publishes an annual report, Judging the Law Schools, which has drawn some criticism for a methodology which consistently places its home institution near the top of the list. University of Chicago Professor Brian Leiter computes Leiter’s Law School Rankings, presenting different views of ABA and US News data in reports like “Top Producers of Law School Teachers” and “Supreme Court Clerkship Placement.” The National Jurist magazine for law students (which you can find each month on the rack across from the Blue Lounge) frequently crunches numbers to publish lists like “Best Value Law Schools,” “Best Public Interest Law Schools,” and even “Best Law School Libraries” (we were #19 in March 2010). And the list goes on—which should tell you something about the potential usefulness of these numbers. But if you’re obsessed with reading rankings and would like help finding more, be sure to Ask a Librarian.