Reputation trumps reality. Perception masks performance. And style beats substance every time.
That’s the way of the world, fair or not. Whether you’re gunning for a promotion or clamoring for capital, you’ve probably faced people making assumptions about you. They presume you’re not as good, based off your name, education, connections, or looks. And it takes so much time and effort to get their attention and prove them wrong.
Many law schools in the U.S. News rankings face a similar dilemma. On one hand, some schools may have the name recognition and history to woo the general public, but generally lack respect among their peers. Conversely, other schools may be virtual unknowns, yet have earned the begrudging respect of their legal peers. So how do you separate the contenders from the pretenders?.
As part of the U.S. News rankings, law schools are measured according to peer assessments, which receive 25% weight in a school’s rankings. The peer assessment is based on 2013 surveys with “law school deans, deans of academic affairs, chairs of faculty appointments and the most recently tenured faculty members (who) were asked to rate programs on a scale from marginal (1) to outstanding (5).” According to U.S. News, 66% of this sample responded in their 2015 rankings.
Last year, our sister site, Poets and Quants, evaluated the quality of business schools based off peer assessments using a rubric established by U.S. News’ Bob Morse. After ranking schools from highest to lowest on peer assessment, U.S. News subtracts a school’s overall rank from its peer assessment rank. A positive number indicates that a school is an “overperformer,” while a negative number reflects an “underperformer.” In Morse’s words, an overperforming school has a “reputation among its academic peers [that] 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.” Conversely, an “underperforming” school’s ranking may be artificially inflated based on the subjective peer assessments of the academics who were polled.
Let’s start with the top 20 law schools. Here is how their legal academic peers perceive them:
(See next page for Top 20 rankings)