Strawberry Rankings Forever

I prefer "Here Comes the Sun," then again, I'm an unabashed George-o-phile.

Incidentally I listened to Magical Mystery Tour recently.  Great songs, but the concept rehashes Sergeant Pepper.

Bob Morse’s comments on the ABA’s and law schools’ responsibility for rising tuition caused me to completely rethink my opinion on the U.S. News rankings.  I gave y’all a paragraph of that two weeks ago, but allow me to expand on it.

Before then, if you’d’ve asked me what I thought about the U.S. News rankings, I would’ve told you that rankings aren’t bad for any consumer product, including a legal education.  Given the high number of law schools, some must be demonstrably better than others.  U.S. News’ methodology may be…”opaque,” but that’s probably because it cornered the market in ranking law schools.  By comparison, Cooley’s “Judging the Law Schools” is completely inadequate.  I’d close by saying something like, “The problem isn’t the rankings but the fact that we need them at all.”  Now, I harbor a profound disappointment towards the U.S. News law school rankings for novel reasons.

Remember how I recently compared law schools to waste management companies?  Well, in this example, let me take you down ‘cause I’m going to:

I never got into Highlander. Feel like I missed nothing.

Say you want to rank 200 strawberry farms for investors (0Ls) and consumers (employers).  You draw up a given set of criteria, tastiness, size, overall output, what the strawberry farmers think of their competitors, share price, and cost.  This can be done quite easily, and even a half-effort should suffice.  Then you look at the reality.  Not only are the many strawberries that fall off the cart unsold, but also ones that are rated as valuable won’t be sold until next year (if ever); some strawberries are resold to the farm, replanted, and counted on the books as sold.  You’ve heard the analogous criticisms before.  Here’s what’s new:  The cost of planting half or more of the strawberries at 70 farms outweighs their market value.  Your farms’ rankings don’t take this into account though.  Instead, your rankings tell the readers that these are “third” or “fourth tier” strawberry farms rather than bad investments.  This is the problem I have with U.S. News.  It doesn’t care if a legal education is a cost-effective investment.  It’ll keep telling 0Ls that nonperforming law schools are still worth going to.

Okay, so I’ve found a new reason to heap scorn upon the rankings.  So what?  This: the ABA thinks it can’t do anything without the government filing an antitrust suit against it.  Congress has yet to act on student loans in bankruptcy.  Law schools have no incentive to change anything.  Banks can keep underwriting loans because they believe they’ll be paid no matter what.  Against this massive institutional deadlock, it would be easiest if 0Ls simply refused to go, but too few voices discourage them from abandoning the project after the LSAT.

You know what voice would influence them?  U.S. News & World Report via its annual law school rankings.  It sells the rankings to the public in the name of consumer choice, yet it clearly fails.  And how much would it really lose by calling the system out?  It’d be a collector issue, for one, but there’s no reason to believe it would be its last on American law schools.  Consumers would still buy it next year, and 0Ls might be deterred enough to not bother enrolling.  As for the law schools ranked as nonperforming, what’s the worst that will happen?  They won’t submit their vital stats next year?  Oooooh, I’m sure those law schools humbled even Law School Transparency with their 2010 responses.  U.S. News & World Report sits in a prime position to inform the public about the declining value of American legal education and make money while it’s at it, which is something that ain’t happening at this blog.  Instead, it dispatches Bob Morse to blame the ABA (and 0Ls, its core audience) for rising tuition and changes nothing.

In law school rankings as in strawberry fields, the Beatles were right: Nothing is real.


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