The Future of Law School Rankings
UNLV Law Prof Nancy Rapoport writes that recent law school decisions – like reducing the size of the entering class or trimming the size of their part-time divisions – are examples of “the tail of rankings wagging the dog of legal education.”
Law School decision making is often driven by USNEWS concerns instead of “reasoned faculty decisions about how to choose and educate law students.”
A focus on rankings forces uniformity among law schools to the detriment of their unique missions. Lower ranked law schools strive to move up in the rankings by becoming more like the schools above them. That might mean buying into set of values that may not reflect a school’s unique situation. A school may value teaching or service or access but those things don’t get high reputation marks. Publish or perish, indeed!
In good economic times, law schools could throw money at rankings based projects by raising tuition. And, in good economic times, students accepted the implicit bargain: run up a big law school debt in exchange for a well paying job with Big Law. The future looks different however. The current economic challenges may be the very thing that forces law schools to re-evaluate their willingness to buy into the rankings-at-all-cost mindset. In the next few years, students are going to shop for better law school bargains closer to home. And the schools that offer reasonably priced educations with graduates ready to practice law will thrive, whether or not they rise in the rankings.
As I wrote in a previous post: schools that are mission driven and can measure their effectiveness will thrive. This means that life as law schools have known it for the last 20 years is over: if rankings survive, they will have take into account the new value that students will seek.