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US News Cancels Plans For New, Controversial Scholarly Impact Ranking

US News is reportedly putting its new scholarly impact law school ranking on hold.

In an op-ed for Bloomberg Law, two University of Virginia Law School professors discussed the current status of the US News ranking and the type of influence that a scholarly impact ranking could have on legal education.

Bloomberg Law received an email Aug. 19 from U.S. News stating that in June 2021 it decided that it would not proceed with its previously proposed law school scholarly impact ranking,” Joshua Fischman and Michael A. Livermore, both professors at the University of Virginia Law, write. “However, we feel it is important to discuss concerns legal academics have about such proposals.”

In 2019, US News announced plans for a new ranking of law schools that evaluates scholarly impact. The new ranking would measure each law school faculty’s productivity and impact using citations, publications and other bibliometric measures.

The new ranking was immediately met with criticism and raised questions around the validity and bias of the ranking’s methodology. Supporters of the scholarly impact ranking argue that ranking could bring a new approach to a current system that favors the big name law schools.

IMPACT ON FACULTY RECRUITMENT AND PROMOTION

In their op-ed, Fischman and Livermore highlight that the scholarly impact ranking could pressure law schools to recruit and promote faculty who have the highest number of citations—an impact that could influence law education for years to come.

“In particular, law schools will likely focus on professors with the most citations, instead of interdisciplinary credentials, peer-reviewed publications, or diversity,” Fischman and Livermore write. “Ultimately, this affects who trains the next generation of lawyers and which ideas are circulated to courts and other legal decision-makers.”

Particularly, Fischman and Livermore warn of the dangers around placing too much emphasis on citation-count as a metric of impact and quality.

“One could argue that the top law schools do not always hire the best people,” Fischman and Livermore write. “But hiring a new professor for a lifetime appointment is a major investment for a law school, one that is given serious consideration by the entire faculty. We should be cautious about rejecting this collective wisdom for a citation-counting metric.”

With less diverse faculty, Fischman and Livermore argue that legal education and the law industry, as a whole, would suffer as the focus turns to citations as the key symbol of quality.

“The result would be law school faculties that are less intellectually diverse, law students who are less prepared for the complex social and economic realities of practice in the 21st century, and legal scholars who make fewer useful contributions to broader public conversations about the law,” they write.

Sources: Bloomberg Law, US News, Inside Higher Ed, TaxProf Blog

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