Bow Down to the US News and World Report Ranking Overlords

If there is one thing that everyone can agree about what sucks about the law school cartel, it is the US News and World Reports law school rankings. Law students hate them because their school’s rank determines whether decent (or any) firms will recruit there. Deans hate them because when his school’s rank increases, no one cares. But when the rank goes down, the dean gets his ass thrown out. Most state bar associations and the American Bullshit Association (ABA) in particular can’t stand the fact that a for-profit magazine that ranks everything from law firms to weight loss programs has more clout and influence over legal education than they ever will. Employers don’t really hate them but they need someone to blame when their new hires end up being useless. Similarly, law professors shouldn’t have a reason to hate them but they do anyway because they need someone to blame when their graduates end up unemployed, working for Wal-Mart or a fraudulent mill. 

The 2015 USNWR law school rankings have been released. And the outcome was as predictable as a North Korean election. The top 14 schools are unchanged with minor cosmetic alterations. As for the remainder of the schools that nobody cares about, while there were some notable adjustments, most remained in their place.

The usual suspects are overanalyzing the shit out of it. As expected, most of the butthurt criticism comes from the shit schools and the schools whose rankings have plunged down the sewer. They say the ranking calculation is flawed because of elitism, racism, wealthism or whateverism. Yeah, yeah. Cry me a fucking river. Bob Morse and his cronies have heard it all before. He cares about the critics’ whining as much as most law schools care about their graduates’ outcomes.

It’s a sick, culinary story. The law schools cook up poisoned employment figures. Then their deans and select faculty include a underprepared peer reputational survey of every law school – because I’m sure every dean and participating faculty member of every school knows the precise quality of instruction of their peers. Then they force feed this information to US News. And when Bob Morse digests this information and later vomits out the rankings, the law schools continue to kiss up to him while complaining about his breath.

Law schools waste a shitload of money trying to game the system – money that could be used to reduce tuition. They waste trees spamming law school porn to every professor’s mailbox bragging about how great their programs are in order to increase the peer assessment rating. And we all know that schools have no qualms about listing freelance DJs and crack dealer as a JD-advantage position. And in a last move of desperation, more and more law schools (including some top schools) are scheming to “hire” their own graduates in useless positions only to ensure that 90+% of their students are employed. I wonder how much money each school can save their already broke students if they stopped trying to “manage” their rank.

What the critics don’t understand is that no matter how loud they complain or how hard a law school tries to game the USNEWS, no school will rise from a Third Tier Trash the unranked to a Top 50. And no Top 50 will break into the T14 tower. You may have the occasional jump from a #90 to #80 or a heartwarming story about an unranked school breaking into the Top 100 but that’s about as superficial as it gets.

Why is that? Foremost, keep in mind that USNEWS can and will do whatever it wants to control the rankings in order to ensure that people will buy it. I wouldn’t be surprised if USNEWS does not accurately report the totals of the peer and practitioner reputational scores. And even if it did, they would adjust the methodology in the manner it sees fit in order to prevent Cooley from swimming in the same pool as Harvard. Also, has anyone ever wondered why USNEWS continues to solicit reputation scores from the professional community when there is only an average response of 15-20%?

You see, when it comes to academic rankings, everyone likes stability – as unfair as it sounds. It’s not like the NCAA, NFL or NBA where a new team gets to hold the championship trophy every year. Employers don’t want to waste their time trying to find out which school won the 170 LSAT game. Also, law students, lawyers, lawprofs and deans want bragging rights that will stay with them for the rest of their careers and their lives. And the only way to ensure that is if Yale stays #1, Harvard and Stanford fight over the #2 spot and the T14 keep out the second tier cattle out of the club. 

Speaking of YHS, it seems that no ranking that lists Harvard, Yale and Stanford in their top 10 will be taken seriously. All three are strong academic schools with many influential alumni. While Nebraska or whoever can have the top Space Law program, you’re not going to see Cooley or University of Phoenix Arizona Summit occupy the top spot in the Corporate Law Rankings.

Now if everyone hates the USNEWS rankings so much, why can’t anyone do something about it? The ABA, American Association of Law Schools (AALS) and the National Association of Law Placement (NALP) can collectively pimp-slap USNEWS and easily force Bob Morse to adjust the ranking methodology that will allow lemmings to make an informed decision. Of course, they will not do that because if the truth about law school outcomes were to come out, more people would choose to work as an insurance agent instead and thus further fuck up the revenue stream and influence of all three organizations. Can anyone say incestuous conflict of interest?

It doesn’t really matter. The USNEWS rankings is not only influencing whether students are going to law school. But as I have been advocating before, savvy lemmings are using it to negotiate tuition discounts from numerous schools and reconsidering schools that were once considered a safe bet. Soon enough, employers will see that more of the best and the brightest are going to schools other than the T14. If this continues for a few years and T14 schools start to see a decline in student quality and revenue, only then we will see the law school cartel do something.

The one good thing about the US News ranking this year is that some of the most expensive and deceptive trap schools had their rankings decrease or plummet. The schools that had their rankings increase are top state schools.

If there is one thing I would recommend to USNEWS is to stop treating its overall ranking as a solution for everyone. There should be a ranking specially designed for lemmings and one for employers. Lemmings care about tuition costs, debt levels and likelihood of getting a job that will help them pay off their near-nondischargeable student loans. Employers care about intelligence, diligence, respect for authority and people who think outside the box or whatever the B-school buzz word is. By having two separate rankings, it will help the lemmings make an informed decision about law school.

Another suggestion for reform is eliminating post graduate employment from the rankings. This will stop the incentive for submitting molested employment outcome information. Instead, post graduate numbers should be used for advisory purposes.

Finally, if Bob Morse decides to stay stubborn about this, he should look at an upcoming White House proposal.

Today, President Obama outlined an ambitious new agenda to combat rising college costs and make college affordable for American families. His plan will measure college performance through a new ratings system so students and families have the information to select schools that provide the best value. And after this ratings system is well established, Congress can tie federal student aid to college performance so that students maximize their federal aid at institutions providing the best value.

This ratings proposal sounds promising and I call on my fellow bloggers and reformists to somehow get involved in making this happen. A government sponsored ratings system with the above goals sounds more trustworthy than that of a for-profit magazine.

So until USNEWS reforms their rankings methodology, law schools will continue to kiss up to them at the expense of their students. But even under the current system, law schools will lose out in the future. Because of the constant gaming of the system, the rank should be useless to employers trying to hire the top draft picks and I hope that in the future top firms will publicly announce that they will not use the USNEWS rank in their hiring strategy. More students will use the rankings to get free rides to other schools because with all of the information out today, no one should be attending law school at full price.


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