Is Your Law School Underperforming?

climbingWhich Law Schools Are Underperforming (and Overperforming)


Each year, U.S. News and World Report releases a report outlining how undergraduate programs are truly performing based on the differences between their overall ratings and peer ratings.

This week, Paul Caron, a professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, applied this same methodology to law schools. In a post on Taxprof blog, Caron found that law schools like Florida International, Campbell, Baylor, Penn State, and Alabama have far stronger programs than their peer assessments reflect. Conversely, law schools at Oregon, Pittsburgh, Miami, and Kansas may be relying more on reputation than results.

Like U.S. News, Caron divided programs into Overperformers and Underformers. Overperformers have higher overall rankings (based on statistical indicators like “admissions selectivity, financial and faculty resources, graduation and retention rates, alumni giving, and graduation rate performance,” along with assessments from academic peers) than assessment rankings given by their academic peers. Underperformers are the opposite: The deans and tenured faculty involved in ranking schools scored them higher than the quantitative data collected by U.S. News suggests.

Based on this criteria, here are the top 12 “overperforming” law schools:

 SchoolOverall RankingPeer RankingOverperformance
Florida International10515954
Penn State649026
Texas Tech10513025


And here are the top 12 “underperforming” law schools:

 SchoolOverall RankingPeer RankingUnderperformance
San Francisco14410935
Santa Clara966234


So where does this discrepancy stem from? U.S. News seemed to answer that question in its listing of overperforming and underperforming undergraduate schools: “An overperforming school’s undergraduate reputation among its academic peers has not kept pace with what it has achieved in the underlying academic indicators. This could be because academic reputation is a lagging indicator – it can take time for a school’s academic peers to understand the real progress of a university.”

Although the methodology that Professor Caron and U.S. News relies upon is useful, it fails to account for a key factor: U.S. News rankings weigh peer assessments, where deans and faculty measure performance on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding) at .25 on the ranking’s 1.0 scale. As a result, 25% of a law school’s ranking is derived from (somewhat) subjective analysis. In other words, peer assessments still act as a drag on the overall ranking of an overperforming law school while artificially boosting the overall ranking of an underperforming law school.

What’s more, the assessment scores of lawyers and judges, using this same overall scale, are weighed at .15 of the overall ranking. Although the assessment scores of lawyers and judges weren’t factored into the overperformer and underperformer methodology, it reflects just how much brand and reputation truly impact the rankings.

Bottom line: Using subtraction to show the difference between an overall ranking and a peer ranking is an elementary school answer, as the overall ranking still includes the 25% from peer assessment. It’d be interesting to learn what the overall rankings would be if U.S. News created a separate list that removed peer assessment altogether and relied strictly on statistical data.

Source: Taxprof, U.S. News and World Report