August 24, 2005
More on Ranking Law Schools
Posted by Gordon Smith

The Washington Monthly has just published university rankings that attempt to assess "service to society" by focusing on three criteria: (1) whether universities are "engines of social mobility," (2) whether universities "produce the academic minds and scientific research that advance knowledge and drive economic growth," and (3) whether universities "inculcate and encourage an ethic of service." Ann notes that this seems very high-minded, but she wonders about the methodology. Yes, the eternal problem of what to measure. Here is how they tackle Criterion #3:

We determined the Community Service score by measuring each school's performance in three different areas: the percentage of their students enrolled in the Army or Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps; the percentage of their students who are currently serving in the Peace Corps; and the percentage of their federal work-study grants devoted to community service projects.

I suppose that ROTC and the Peace Corps are intended to counterbalance? Whatever you think of these measures, it's worth remembering the lesson of U.S. News rankings: when we base rankings on a particular measure, schools will strive to improve their performance under that measure, shifting resources from things not measured. For that reason, I am all for having lots of different rankings, so that schools will not feel pressure to pursue a path chosen by the rankers.

Paul Caron uses these Washington Monthly rankings as a springboard for thinking about law school rankings. He mentions Russell Korobkin's call for a public service component to the current rankings:

The practice of public interest law is arguably a public good, and it is arguably within the special competence of law schools to either provide this good directly or to encourage its production by law school graduates. Consequently, either the number of public interest clients served by a law school's clinic, or its faculty, or the percentage of a school's graduates who pursue careers in public interest law might be appropriate for consideration in law school rankings.

The failure to consider "public interest" law was a frequent source of frustration at Lewis & Clark, where that was deeply ingrained in the culture. My hunch is that both Lewis & Clark and Wisconsin would benefit from including this in the law school rankings.

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