Law Schools' Academic Reputation Drops

A class at the University of Alabama School of Law

A class at the University of Alabama School of Law

Numbers Drop For Third Straight Year

Ever wonder what it would be like to have your reputation measured by your peers? Unless you are going into politics it’s probably not something you think about much. But if you are a law school, U.S. News & World Report measures your academic reputation every single year. And then Robert Jones, a professor at Northern Illinois University, takes your measured academic reputation score from every year and combines it with other schools to compare and contrast.
His latest report came out earlier this month and continues to show dropping levels of academic reputation. The study combined data from the past 18 years and all 172 law schools included in the U.S. News rankings. The average academic reputation score for all schools was 2.630 in 1998—the highest it’s been in the last 18 years. After a peak in 2009 of 2.610, the scores have done nothing but tumble to the 2.484 score this year. The schools are graded on a five-point scale by other law schools.
During the period, 127 schools finished with a lower score in 2015 than in 1998. At the same time, 24 schools stayed level and 21 schools gained in academic reputation. That means 73.8 percent of schools are seemingly not as academically esteemed as they were 18 years ago, based on what the schools reported to U.S. News. Nevertheless, brand name matters. Traditionally top schools saw minimal change in either direction.
The school with the largest plunge was Wayne State Law School, which dropped .7 points from 2.6 to 1.9. Case Western School of Law had the second largest decline, dropping .6 points from 3.1 to 2.5. Meanwhile, the University of Alabama School of Law saw a .7 point increase, elevating the school from 2.5 to 3.2. Michigan State College of Law had a .5 increase from 1.8 to 2.3.
As to be expected, many top ranked schools saw little or no change. Columbia (4.6) for example only changed -.02 from 1998 to 2015. Likewise, Harvard (4.8) only changed by -.01 while Yale (4.8) had the exact same -.01 change. It was the same story for top public schools. The University of Texas-Austin, for example, had a -.02 change to 4.0 in 2015. Similarly, the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (both 4.4), had -.02 and -.03 changes, respectively.
The schools with the highest academic reputation gains:

Law School 1998 Score 2015 Score Change TTS Ranking
University of Alabama School of Law 2.5 3.2 .7 22
Michigan State University College of Law 1.8 2.3 .5 NR
Pepperdine University School of Law 2.2 2.6 .4 NR
Texas A&M University School of Law 1.5 1.9 .4 NR
Florida State University College of Law 2.6 2.9 .3 NR
Georgia State University College of Law 2.2 2.5 .3 NR

And the lowest:

Law School 1998 Score 2015 Score Change TTS Ranking
University of Wisconsin Law School 3.8 3.3 -.5 46
University of Illinois College of Law 3.6 3.1 -.5 NR
Columbus School of Law (Catholic) 2.6 2.1 -.5 NR
New York Law School 2.3 1.8 -.5 NR
Albany Law School 2.2 1.7 -.5 NR
Case Western School of Law 3.1 2.5 -.6 NR
Wayne State Law School 2.6 1.9 -.7 NR

According to the study, this year “constituted the second worst decline for academic reputation scores” since the U.S. News began its measurement. Moreover, four of the five most drastic declines have happened in the past five years. Perhaps even more concerning, only 11 schools have seen their academic reputation stock rise over the past five years.
All is not lost, though, according to the study. The author points towards an increased competitiveness between schools for the top candidates leading to harsher grading of their peers. It could also be contributed to a low response rate of 58 percent, the lowest it’s ever been in the history of the measurement.
Source: Tax Prof Blog

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