I’m now just exhausted by Law School Rankings and the navel-gazing that is going on in the legal academy.  First, let me point the finger at myself.  I posted rankings and commentary on law school ranking when I ran the Empirical Legal Studies Blog, and have posted rankings on this blog when they promote Vermont Law School.  Second, some information used in such rankings is necessary for prospective students and maybe faculty.  Third, some self-promotion is useful and necessary to attract students, faculty, and scholarly readership.  That’s why law schools make color-glossy viewbooks, faculty are interested in law review rankings, and law prof blogs are quite popular.

But now it’s simply gotten out of hand.  There are so many lists–Law school and faculty scholarly rankings by U.S. News and World Report, Brian Leiter, Gregory Sisk, Gordon Hylton, Cooley Law School, Roger Williams Law, Princeton Review, SSRN, and a new one by Forbes.  Did I miss anyone? (Note: I decline to provide links to these.)

Many of these rankings don’t provide the individualized information that any prospective students need.  Or, perhaps better stated, do prospective students know how to interpret data that might be useful to them?  E.g., if I go to “X Law School” will it help me get the type of job I want in the geographic location I desire?  There are exceptions.  As an example some data that I would have found useful, Leiter’s information on “Where Current Law Faculty Went to Law School” would be quite useful if you want to be a law professor.

This now leads me to the potential erosion of faculty scholarship, which is already under enough criticism.  Here, I’ll pick on three friends and colleagues rather than people I don’t know (so they can simply and comfortably call me up and argue with me; though I’ll link to their work since ‘any PR is good PR’).  Professor Gregory Sisk has written an article “Scholarly Impact of Law School Faculties: Extending the Leiter Rankings to the Top 70.” It’s received a gazillion SSRN hits (now more that I’ve linked to it), tons of blog commentary, and, I have little doubt, is high-end methodology given what I know about Greg’s other work.  Similar, Paul Secunda wrote “Tales of a Law Professor Lateral Nothing.”  Once again, if you write articles about rankings, faculty hiring, citation downloads, or degrees of separation from Cass Sunstein (here picking on my friend Tracey George, who is an absolute first rate scholar and methodologist), the blogosphere explodes, your citation counts increase, and your self-promotion is successful.  I ask quite calmly and seriously ask, what is the goal of such work?  And for what audience?

So here’s my point: We need to make rankings, to the extent they are created, useful for students, and be careful not to let legal educational structure be dictated by overall rankings as it may impair educational quality.  Second, while we live in a self-promoting world, I think we need to have a thoughtful discussion about the goals and scholarly value of essentially ranking and writing about law professors.

UPDATE: It was just pointed pointed out to me that “if [my] blog post is taken seriously, that will just mean more SSRN articles about rankings!”  True enough.  I give up.

UPDATE 2: Another person pointed out to me: “If you hate law school rankings, and especially if you hate the U.S. News ranking, then you should wish for more law school rankings.  Only by a proliferation of metrics and evaluations and surveys that address a diversity of law school characteristics and elements, allow each person to consider the individual rather than a conglomerated whole, will the U.S. News stranglehold on the law school ranks be broken.  And each additional ranking has the effect of diluting the others, thus making each new addition less important and less powerful than what went before.”

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