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:

 School Overall Ranking Peer Ranking Overperformance
Florida International 105 159 54
Campbell 126 174 48
Samford 113 152 39
Richmond 53 90 37
Baylor 54 90 36
Louisville 68 101 33
Tulsa 86 118 32
Penn State 64 90 26
Texas Tech 105 130 25
Arkansas-Fayetteville 68 90 22
Alabama 21 42 21
SMU 48 69 21

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

 School Overall Ranking Peer Ranking Underperformance
Oregon 94 51 43
Pittsburgh 91 55 36
San Francisco 144 109 35
Santa Clara 96 62 34
Maine 134 101 33
Indiana-Indianapolis 98 69 29
Suffolk 144 118 26
Miami 76 51 25
Howard 126 101 25
Idaho 134 109 25
Kansas 86 62 24
CUNY 132 109 23

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

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