The American Bar Association caused a minor stir in February when its House of Delegates voted to investigate U.S. News & World Report's law schools rankings and the magazine's new push to rate law firms.
The inquiry into the law firm rankings is still going on, but the committee charged with reviewing law school rankings has completed its work. Its brief report (pdf) isn't likely to tell critics anything they didn't already know about how the rankings influence legal education, however. It concludes that the U.S. News rankings have some negative effects on law schools, but that there is little to be done about it.
"We believe that, for better or worse, U.S. News rankings will continue for the foreseeable future to dominate public perceptions of how law schools compare, and that there is relatively little that leaders in legal education can do to change that in the short term," the report reads.
The committee charged with examining the law school rankings was made up of Judge Martha Daughtrey of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Giles & Lambert attorney Tracy Giles; University of Maryland School of Law Dean Phoebe Haddon; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe attorney Pauline Schneider; and Washington University School of Law Dean Kent Syverud.
They began work in March and concluded this month, said Syverud, who chaired the committee. ABA President Carolyn Lamm instructed the panel to review literature and research concerning the law school rankings over the past 20 years and report to the Council on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. The report, made public this week, has been submitted to the council, which is scheduled to consider the findings on Aug. 6.
Syverud declined to discuss what he sees as the committee's most important findings pending its approval by the council. He did say that the committee tried to do the most comprehensive review possible. The panel didn't discuss what the ABA or legal educators could do to improve the rankings.
"We didn't view our report from a reform agenda," he said. "We were not trying to reinvent the wheel."
The report cites three areas of concern that will sound familiar to those who have followed the controversy over the rankings -- that they increase the cost of legal education, discourage financial aid based on need and reduce incentives to increase the diversity of the profession. It blames the heavy weight the magazine gives to median grade point averages and LSAT scores, the student-to-faculty ratio and spending per student.
Although other law school rankings exist, U.S. News dominates the conversation, the report says.
"U.S. News rankings have assumed ever increasing importance to any law school that wished to attract student and faculty and to retain support from alumni and university leaders," it reads. "The criteria U.S. News uses [sic] for rankings now has a powerful influence over the management and design of American legal education."
The committee concluded that the best source of information about the merits of law schools is the Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools produced by the ABA and the Law School Admissions Council.