The Interplay Between Law School Rankings, Reputations, and Resource Allocation: Ways Rankings Mislead

Jeffrey Evans Stake, Indiana University Maurer School of Law


The law school rankings published by US News and World Report have changed and continue to change the law school world, affecting both the demand and supply sides of legal education. Are the rankings valid? Are they changing schools for the better? The US News rankings mislead both applicants and law schools. As measures of educational quality, the US News rankings are seriously flawed. They overweight criteria that matter little, such as bar pass rate. They exclude criteria that matter greatly, such as job satisfaction. At least two of the seemingly valid criteria incorporated into the US News rankings are illusory; the reputation surveys done by US News do not tap into independent professional opinion but instead measure opinions that are echos of US News and, thus, add little reliability to the results that would be reached on other criteria. A more serious problem is the effect of US News rankings on the operation of law schools and students who desire admission. The rankings have created incentives for students who want to be lawyers to go to schools that have grade inflation and take easy courses at those schools. The US News rankings have created incentives for schools to teach to the bar exam, spend money on glossy publications, raise tuition, increase the number of transfer students, and admit students according to their bubble ability (their aptitude for taking multiple-choice standardized exams) rather than their prospects for contributing to the learning environment at the law school or their prospects for becoming effective and responsible lawyers.