Top Ten Ranking Brian Leiter's Law School Rankings

 ¶  How Brian Leiter's 2003-04 Results Differ from U.S. News
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The overall U.S. News rankings are based on a host of factors-expenditures on staff salaries and utilities, library size, employment rates self-reported by the schools, and so on-that have little or nothing to do with faculty quality.  As a result, the overall U.S. News ranking of law schools will differ quite a bit from the results here, and for a simple reason:  U.S. News is not ranking schools based on faculty quality--indeed, U.S. News is not really ranking schools based on academic criteria.

The one component of U.S. News that has some relationship to faculty quality is the academic reputation survey conducted each year (which accounts for only 25% of the overall U.S. News ranking of a school).  Even with respect to these results, however, there are some striking differences.  For example, the following schools rank at least 40% more highly in the 2003-04 Educational Quality Ranking (2003-04 EQR) survey than in the U.S. News academic reputation survey:

  • University of Chicago (4th in U.S. News, 2nd in the 2003-04 EQR)
  • University of San Diego (63rd in U.S. News, 22nd in the 2003-04 EQR)
  • George Mason University (63rd in U.S. News, 26th in the 2003-04 EQR)
  • Cardozo Law School/Yeshiva University (55th in U.S. News, 28th in the 2003-04 EQR)
  • Rutgers University, Camden (71st in U.S. News, 37th in the 2003-04 EQR)

Another set of schools rank roughly 25% more highly in this survey than in the U.S. News survey of academic reputation:

  • New York University (8th in U.S. News, 5th in the 2003-04 EQR)
  • University of Texas, Austin (12th in U.S. News, 8th in the 2003-04 EQR)
  • University of Southern California (18th in U.S. News, 12th in the 2003-04 EQR)
  • Boston University (25th in U.S. News, 19th in the 2003-04 EQR)
  • Fordham University (36th in U.S. News, 26th in the 2003-04 EQR)
  • Chicago-Kent College of Law (55th in U.S. News, 37th in the 2003-04 EQR)

And a large set of schools rank at least 10% more highly in this survey than U.S. News, including:

  • University of California, Los Angeles (16th in U.S. News, 14th in the 2003-04 EQR)
  • George Washington University (25th in U.S. News, 22nd in the 2003-04 EQR)
  • Arizona State University (51st in U.S. News, 40th in the 2003-04 EQR)
  • University of Miami (44th in U.S. News, 40th in the 2003-04 EQR)

By contrast, other schools rank at least 50% more lowly in the 2003-04 EQR survey than in the U.S. News academic reputation survey--for example, Duke University (11th in U.S. News, 17th in this survey) and the University of Washington, Seattle (31st in U.S. News, not even a runner-up to the top 40 in this survey).

There appear to be several reasons for these differences:

  1. U.S. News does not provide evaluators with any information about the schools to be evaluated:  evaluators receive a list of about 180 school names, and that's all.  This survey provided evaluators with current faculty rosters for all the schools being evaluated.  As evaluators completed the evaluation, they did so with the faculty roster right in front of them.  This might explain why schools like NYU and Michigan essentially trade places in the 2003-04 EQR survey as compared to U.S. News:  NYU has strengthened its faculty significantly over the last decade, while Michigan's overall faculty strength (while still quite considerable) has eroded from its previous lofty heights.  But because for many decades Michigan was one of the top five law schools, while NYU was not, evaluators presented only with school names rank Michigan more highly than NYU; evaluators presented with current faculty lists reverse that evaluation.

  2. U.S. News sends out their surveys to four faculty at every school in the country:  the Dean, the Associate Dean, the chair of the hiring committee, and the most recently tenured faculty member.  (Based on our experience at Texas, it appears that instead of sending the survey to the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, usually a faculty member, U.S. News often sends the survey to a non-faculty Associate Dean like the Dean of Admissions!)  We have no idea who among these recipients actually completes these surveys, and what their competence is to do so.  By contrast, this survey was completed exclusively by leading scholars, junior and senior, in a diverse range of academic specialties.  The list of evaluators appears below, and its distinction and credibility speaks for itself.

  3. U.S. News asks not only about the "reputation" of the faculty, but for the reputation of the school, mentioning faculty, programs, students, and alumni as possibly pertinent considerations.  This survey is exclusively about faculty quality.  It is striking that most of the law faculties underrated by U.S. News are part of institutions that fare relatively poorly in the well-known U.S. News rankings of colleges, rankings which do much, one suspects, to shape the "reputation" associated with a school's name.  (The U.S. News rankings of colleges, needless to say, bear little relation to faculty quality either, as a comparison with the National Research Council reports quickly demonstrates.)  Yet when evaluators confront actual faculty lists--as opposed to merely school names--they assess these schools rather differently.

Do not confuse, of course, the U.S. News "academic reputation" survey with the U.S. News survey of practitioners.  The latter has all the methodological flaws of the former, and, on top of that, is so geographically skewed as to be worthless:  for example, one-third of the law firms surveyed by U.S. News are in New York City, while U.S. News surveys no law firms at all in half the states in the country!  The response rate to the practitioner survey is also under 30%.  A list of what legal employers interview on campus will give a prospective student a far better idea what lawyers actually think of a particular school.

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