Measuring Outcomes: Post-Graduation Measures of Success in the U.S. News & World Report Law School Rankings
Law Review Article
legal employment, bar passage, law school rankings, US News and World Report
The U.S. News & World Report annual rankings play a key role in ordering the market for legal education, and, by extension, the market for entry level lawyers. This Article explores the impact and evolution of placement and post-graduation data, which are important input variables that comprise 20 percent of the total rankings methodology. In general, we observe clear evidence that law schools are seeking to maximize each placement and post-graduation input variable. During the 1997 to 2006 time period, law schools in all four tiers posted large average gains in employment rates upon graduation and nine months, which appear to result from a combination of competition and gaming strategies. In addition, Law schools in tiers 2, 3, and 4 have increased 1L academic attrition, which may be an attempt to increase the U.S. News bar passage score.
We also use multivariate regression analysis to model the employed at graduation and employed at nine months input variables. We find that the following factors are associated with higher employed at graduation rates: (1) higher 25th percentile LSAT scores, (2) more on-campus interviews (OCI), (3) higher percentage of part-time students, (4) location outside a Top 10 corporate law market, and (5) status as a historically black law school. All of these factors except LSAT and OCI activity vanish when examining the employed at 9 months data. The U.S. News Lawyer/Judge reputation score is associated with higher employment at nine months. Further research on the Lawyer/Judge survey instrument is needed.
After presenting our empirical results, we critique the specific measures of post-graduation success used in the U.S. News rankings and explain how each can be improved. We conclude that the best solution to law schools' complaints about the impact of U.S. News rankings is greater data availability and transparency, particularly on post-graduation outcomes and other factors affecting students' eventual employment prospects.