Novelist Sinclair Lewis was not the first to observe that status-seeking was an affliction of life in the industrial age. But it was Lewis who gave it a name in the novel Babbitt. For Babbitt, the title character, the casual and uninformed impressions he made on his fellow citizens were all that he knew of himself. They provided the standard by which he judged the success of all his professional efforts.

Since Lewis wrote, Babbittry has undergone many changes of form, but its substance is still very much with us. All of us sometimes — and some of us all the time — judge ourselves by casual impressions we make on others whom we scarcely know. Nowhere is this more evident than in the attention given to the rankings of academic institutions by U.S. News and World Report. They are the direct product of our social disease and a means by which the infection is spread. The ranking of law schools is a particularly virulent manifestation, and, alas, lawyers seem especially susceptible to this emotional disorder.

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