Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Rankings Review: The UC-Irvine Problem

The complete 2016 U.S. News Rankings have come out.  Sardonically referred to as the "best law school rankings" the way one might refer to a list of "best totalitarian dictators" (Lukashenko?), the seriousness with which such list is taken in academic circles is the stuff of self-writing parody.  Every year, various well-meaning parties write a litany of criticisms of this thing only to be entirely ignored by the collective allure an eight-way tie for the 127th spot.

Despite the chidings of critics that comes like clockwork, people still give plenty of shits about this methodologically loose turd, so I find it necessary to post some sort of update here on the OTLSS site.

So here are the highlights from this years list:
  • The T-14 remains the same.  Stop arguing over one-spot shifts.  Your little club is still intact.
  • UC-Irvine debuts at number 30; I'd argue this was a controversial move to generate page views and discussion, except that it was totally predictable.
  • By my calculations, among the biggest losers this year were Seattle, Lewis & Clark, Louisiana State, Rutgers-Camden, Penn State, Wayne State, Wake Forest, Indiana-Indianapolis, and Arkansas.
  • By my calculations, among the biggest winners this year were St. Johns, Syracuse, Tennessee, Oregon, Hawaii, UNLV, SUNY-Buffalo, and Loyola-Marymount.
  • If you can find any rational explanation for the identified winners and losers, there's a law school on line two wanting to hire you as assistant dean.
  • Texas A&M makes the list in a tie for 149th, proving again that a new, more prestigious name can vault a school niceley.  Hamline and WM both dropped, but are poling their resources for a speed burst up the rankings next year.
  • By my calculations, among schools in the top 100 last year, the average school dropped down about 1.3 spots.  I'll let you figure out how or why that happened.
If you still wanted for proof that these rankings are utterly baseless hogwash, UC-Irvine's immediate insertion into the 2nd tier should remove the last bits of the emperor's clothing.  Here we have a law school whose oldest graduates are in their third year of practice.  The school has little to no name recognition outside of California.  Indeed, the entire venture seemed to have the express purpose of gaming the U.S. News methodology and jump-starting a "top" law school.

U.S. News surely knows UC-Irvine was such a project.  And yet it gobbled up the bait anyway like the laziest fish in the ocean.  It ranked UC-Irvine higher than either UC-Davis or UC-Hastings, schools that ostensibly have been serving the same basic function for considerably longer.  It ranked UC-Irvine above the state flagship universities of Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, Illinois, Utah, Maryland, Florida, and a host of others.  Were it to move, it would instantly be the 2nd-highest ranked school in Texas.

At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is overall student outcomes. For the class of 2013, UC-Irvine's employment scores were around 50th and on par with Oklahoma and Wyoming, and UC-Irvine costs twice as much as either of those schools.  Their LST "Underemployment Score" puts it in company with Pepperdine, Cleveland-Marshall, Case Western, and Lewis & Clark.

So basically you have a school that's tailor-made to rank well and have a good reputation among academics, but with no proven track record of landing students well in debt-paying employment or producing alumni that contribute great things to the legal world.  While I obviously believe 30 to be way too high (doesn't this piss off the remainder of the 2nd tier?), it's also obvious the school is already on better footing than many of the lower-ranked established schools.

The difficulty of trying to place a school like UC-Irvine on a ranked list (even one with a generous use of six-way ties) basically undercuts the idea of a ranking entirely, if said idea wasn't undercut entirely already.  The criteria of an objective ranking normally cannot address a well-crafted plan to explicitly game that criteria.

Law School Transparency partially addresses these problems with its various metrics.  It seems  obvious that U.S. News has no interest in addressing these issues seriously, instead annually rolling out its old standbys with just enough alteration to cause consternation among the industry, before it  retreats back under the bridge of law school relevance.

While it's said more than enough this time of year, it's truly sad that law schools continue to pay any heed to this thing while there are much better metrics of a law school's success out there.

One can only hope that the dwindling pool of aspiring law students will make it to places like LST instead of using the U.S. News rankings as simple bias reinforcement.  Unfortunately, history suggests that law schools will continue to view this publication as more noteworthy than its own students' employment scores or default rates, and that a school like UC-Irvine will be comfortably ranked in the 25-35 range for some time to come.

49 comments:

  1. Anyone want to make odds as to which dean is the first to "resign?"

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    1. Lewis + Clark took a huge hit this year, sinking into uncharted territory. Although if the Nora Demleitner case has any value as precedent, a school won't fire a dean until the rankings losses lead to financial losses.

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    2. Actually, in 2012 Dean Jeremy Paul of UConn law "resigned" at the end of the school year, i.e. shortly after UConn did a swan dive toward the depths of the rankings. They . . . I mean he . . . didn't wait for any financial fallout.

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    3. "Actually, in 2012 Dean Jeremy Paul of UConn law "resigned" at the end of the school year, i.e. shortly after UConn did a swan dive toward the depths of the rankings. They . . . I mean he . . . didn't wait for any financial fallout.

      Since most of these schools are likely to be in deep financial doo-doo already, the drop in rankings probably just triggered the - ah, 'pursuit of career opportunities elsewhere'.

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  2. If UC Irvine really wanted to game the rankings alone, they wouldn't have expanded their enrollment so much in 2012 and 2013. They were obviously trying to game their budget as well. Gotta pay for all those prestigious professors!

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  3. LOL at Wake Forest. From 31 to 47. Would love to be a fly on the wall in that Dean's Suite. Could it be the first "top" law school to close?

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    1. Why do you think the reason was for the drop for Wake Forest. I noticed their previous dean, Dean Morant, left and will be at George Washington this fall.

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  4. If Princeton opened a law school, the thing would start off in the top 5, solely because of the university's blue-blooded image.

    Chemerinsky's goal was to have Irvine start off in the top 20. Well, that didn't happen, even though the first three classes were bribed with free or heavily discounted tuition.

    Old Guy

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  5. Chemerinsky's "I want top 20" was pretty shrewd really. Debuting at 30 was no mean feat and by planting the idea, relentlessly, that UCI was top 20 he probably helped frame the issue.

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    1. Marketing 101. If you keep spouting something long enough, idiots will start to believe it. If you want to market a new luxury brand, and don't want to actually invest in the expertise and craft it takes to make something luxury, you talk the talk until it's true.

      There are tons of products on the market that are pushed as premium or luxury that really aren't.

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    2. Just think if the Chemical Dean had touted UC Irvine as a putative Top 10 law school. It might have appeared at #20 instead.

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    3. Dean Chem's academic fantasy team received a lot of help and publicity from Brian Leiter, of all people. Leiter published a "ranking" of law school publications, which was actually far more accurate than his corrupt and malicious philosophy rankings. In Brian's new scholarship derby, UC Irvine finished something like seventh. Of course, given the recent and well-deserved blows to Leiter's own reputation, his ranking had far less influence than he anticipated.

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    4. And I'm sure we can all agree that Brian Leiter is above petty squabbles and vindictive grudges, and only evaluates scholarship data as the rational, data-driven ubermensch that we all know him to be. He would never play favorites or engage in quid-pro-quo behavior.

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  6. US News changed their methodology: Now schools are penalized for hiring their own grads. How fast will this cause schools to fire all their 4L "associates"

    news.yahoo.com/u-news-changes-methodology-best-law-schools-rankings-040100168.html

    What they really should've changed is the "higher school spending/tuition = higher ranking" scoring.

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    1. 7.4% of 2013 Yale Law grads were employed by the school.

      For Harvard Law, the number is 3.8%

      McGeorge Law is only 1.6% ... Maybe they need to advertize their superiority over Harvard and Yale by producing a groundbreaking new ranking system that reflects the situation.

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    2. What are those people from Harvard and Yale doing? Shuffling papers in the admissions office or shelving books in the library for $9 an hour? I'd love to know.

      Old Guy

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    3. OId Guy- when I was a student at Harvard when the recession of the early aughts hit, HBS responded by temporarily hiring some of its unemployed recent graduates at $90k per year. Not sure what they did.

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    4. I know a few law schools who have their 4Ls work in the recruiting department. I'm not joking.

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    5. "Not sure what they did."

      Kept the employment percentage up in the 90's.

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  7. Wake Forest's dean left last year to GW and they have a search underway for a new one. The fall was predictable, having fallen in employment numbers last year and not placing in the Above The Law rankings. It will be interesting to see how they do in employment when this year's figures are released in a couple of weeks, although it is not looking good so far as the NLJ big law rankings did not have them in the top 50.

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    1. Are they going to keep Dean Reynolds?

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  8. What do you call a state law school with a 41K plus in-state tuition and a 25% LSAT score of 157 for the 2014 incoming class? If you're the University of Minnesota, you call yourself the 20th best law school in the nation. Too funny.

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    1. ...with the punchline of being in a fairly isolated and centralized legal market that is so saturated a law school just closed.

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    2. Aye. The T14 ain't that pretty either. Georgetown? GEORGETOWN?! What has Georgetown given of us of note lately? The PSLF ponzi scam and that girl who went to Congress to say birth control should be "free." Real employment rate of like 30%. LOL

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  9. I'm an Aggie, and I am still PISSED that Texas A&M went for the law school scam and decided to put it's good name on a faltering school.

    "An Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do...except where fat bank is standing to be made on legal education despite the student carnage gristmill, in which case we'll just look the other way."

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    1. But now they are probably stuck pumping cash into a white elephant and may yet lose their entire investment. Poetic justice.

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    2. Texas A&M actually bought themselves a fairly good location in Fort Worth. That and accreditation were the only valuable assets they acquired in the Texas Wesleyan deal. Given their metropolitan location, they could probably drive Baylor and Texas Tech out of business before going under themselves.

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  10. I agree with one big loser, Dickinson/Penn State ranked at 71 with 29.1% employment and $43.7k tuition. Why is in-state tuition the same?

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    1. Sounds like they're financially sodomizing several hundred young people every year. Somehow that doesn't surprise me.

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    2. Hmmm.... what unsolicited advice might I give to a student who entered PSU/Dickinson with full ride scholarship and whose on 1st semester class rank is only in the top third.

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    3. Not to expect a job upon graduation. Even if that student were at the top of the class, prospects for employment would be poor.

      That "scholarship" isn't for your colleague's benefit, but for the law skule's.

      Old Guy

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    4. Thanks Anon 7:58 Old Guy. I attempted mightily to dissuade her, citing the costs not covered by the scholarship & lost opportunity cost. Unfortunately, like so many, she graduated college with a humanities major & no obvious career path, so law school was of course the "obvious" option. She once said you don't have to practice just because you went to law school, which struck me as just wrongheaded. Why even pursue a professional degree without fully intending to practice in the profession. She views this as a "calling", thinks she can help low income people. At least her fiancee has decent career prospects.

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    5. "She once said you don't have to practice just because you went to law school..."

      Well, technically one does not, but there is that little rustling at night of 100 to 250 thousand little pictures of George Washington asking to be redeemed.......

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    6. I cannot understand the mentality of lemmings who enter law school with no intention of practicing law. (Of course, a large number of law school grads will never practice law even if they want to, because they won't find jobs, but that's a different story.) Law school is a professional program to train you to be an attorney. You don't go there for the "intellectual experience" or because your real interest lies in a different field but law school is the path of least resistance. Too many people treat law school like it's business, political science, sociology, social work, public affairs, fill-in-the-blank, by other means. It's not. If you really want to study one of those fields, then there are plenty of graduate programs where you can do that, and not be burdened with over $200,000 in debt when you graduate.

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    7. @9:08:

      This is why it's so pernicious that law schools advertise a "JD Advantage" where the law degree can lateral into other fields. That they utter this horseshit unapologetically shows just how ethically bankrupt these "non-profit" leaders are; when they see a cash cow, they milk it.

      I hope every last one of those charlatans winds up on the job market, suddenly understanding how non-transferable the legal profession credentials are to non-legal contexts. Of course, being a slippery law dean gives one sales experience, management experience, etc., which is considerably more than what a law school can give its victims.

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    8. 9:08 AM and 10:30 AM are both right, and this is why I blog with OTLSS.

      There were many other JD-Advantage types in my law school, both trad and non-trad. I would guess 10% of the class, if you believe what people talk about inbetween those who claimed they were going to be "international lawyers" or "sports lawyers" or "constitutional lawyers".

      The deluded lemmings were one thing, but there were also people iwho had no business being there, including myself.

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    9. Barry & Anon 9:08. The full scholarship mitigated the big debt issue but there's still the living expenses, books, etc. paid from savings, which could be put instead toward future home ownership or other better purpose. And opportunity lost in misspent time, foregone income from some kind of job / business

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    10. Her fiancée? Many an engagement, and even a marriage, has gone south because of unemployment and debt linked to law school.

      You're quite right about the high cost of attending law school, even when tuition is free. And you're right about the opportunity cost as well. Also consider how your acquaintance is going to account for those three years of law school on her résumé: report humdrum results at a fourth-tier law school, and leave every prospective employer to wonder why she isn't working as a lawyer? omit that period, and leave a three-year gap that is difficult to explain? Having graduated at the top of my class at an élite law school yet still sent out résumés omitting my law degree, I know whereof I speak.

      She plans to help low-income people? Tell her that she is almost certain to join their ranks.

      Old Guy

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    11. Old Guy at 4:59: Prior to my associate starting at PSU/Dickinson, I had written to and received a helpful response from Prof Deborah Merritt, co-author at ITLSS, which I forwarded to my associate, unfortunately without good effect. I guess some individuals can only learn the hard way. At the risk of alienating the young lady I may send her this blog / comments as well.

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    12. Well, consider what she thinks when you warn her: "I can't quit now. At least I'm not paying tuition. It's only two more years. Maybe I'll be one of the lucky ones. Besides, I don't know what else to do with my degree in the humanities. A degree in law could pay off in some unexpected way."

      I too think that she's going to have to learn the hard way. And you're welcome to tell her that I said so.

      Old Guy

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    13. @6:56 pm, you could tell your friend that I like my latte extra hot with just a hint of vanilla.

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  11. For those who don't know or don't remember:

    Irvine got it start just a few years ago with a pile of money from various public and private sources. It BOUGHT its first class with free tuition—and its second and third classes with discounts of 50% and 33%, respectively. Here's what Brian Tamanaha said about it in Failing Law Schools in 2012 (at 182–83, internal citations omitted):

    "With great fanfare, Irvine was rolled out and justified as a unique institution—one that will train skilled, ethical attorneys and imbue students with the spirit of public service.

    ………

    A wonderful opportunity it was. But what they ended up doing was chase a prestige ranking, spending their seed money to recruit top scholars and students with high LSAT scores, following the standard template for all top law schools: a research institution with a heavy dose of clinics. Any doubt about this was dispelled when Irvine announced its tuition going forward: $44,347 for residents and $54,192 for nonresidents.

    Adding expenses, law students who pay full price to attend Irvine will put out $200,000 for their law degree. To insure that its LSAT/GPA scores remain high, the law school will implement the standard reverse–Robin Hood scholarship arrangement to have the bottom half of the class subsizide the top half.

    ………

    In economic terms Irvine law school is nothing new. Avowedly progressive law professors with ample resources and a clean slate, setting out to build a school focused on public service, reproduced an institution that loads students with debt and channels them to the corporate law sector.

    ………

    Where they went wrong was in setting out to create an elite law school. This goal condemned the project. Affordability and elite status are mutually exclusive under current circumstances. Competition over US News rankings has warped law school economics, and Irvine jumped into it with gusto, doing its utmost to land high in the ranking sweepstakes."

    He goes on to say that an Irvine truly focused on public service would have been run on the cheap, with more modest salaries for professors and much more affordable tuition.

    But of course Irvine was not truly about public service; that was just the warm and fuzzy justification for opening yet another goddamn law school in a state that already had far too many. And the goal of starting out in the top twenty, as determined by a defunct magazine that unaccountably has come to be regarded as the arbiter of academic quality, left Irvine no more innovative than Indiana Tech.

    Old Guy

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  12. At 113th, Third Tier Drake remains firmly in the third tier.

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    1. No, it remains firmly at the bottom of the fourth tier, which starts around #17 and goes all the way to the bottom.

      Old Guy

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  13. And the mighty Santa Clara Law School roars back into the top 100!

    We're 94! We're 94!

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  14. Campos analyzed the financial's of the institution. http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2015/03/chemerinskys-folly

    Chem seems to have gotten his name-brand in quite some trouble.

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  15. Let's give Lukashenko a break. He renationalized the economy, wiped out hunger, unemployment, etc. What would you rather have, dictatorship by rotating committee--like Poland/Czech?

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  16. Burn them all. Burn them in their homes. Burn them in their beds. Burn them all!

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  17. UC IRVINE!! They are also a top 30 school for the general US News and World report ranking. Definitely a pretigeous school!

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