[Andrew Morriss (guest-blogging), August 9, 2005 at 9:56pm] Trackbacks
The winners keep winning:

We found that within each segment of the market (i.e. the top quartile and everyone else), the schools that started out ahead in the 1992 U.S. News ranking (the first year the magazine published rankings) did better in terms of change in median LSAT. The data bears this out.

Variable

1992 U.S. News Rank

Mean

S.E. of Mean

Median

Std Dev.

Valid N

US News Median LSAT 1993

Top 16

166.50

0.57

166.50

2.28

N=16

Rest of 1st Quartile

162.00

0.32

162.00

1.70

N=28

Second Quartile

158.05

0.33

158.50

2.17

N=44

Third Quartile

156.59

0.32

156.00

2.15

N=44

Fourth Quartile

153.13

0.48

154.00

3.02

N=40

Change in Median LSAT 2004-1993

Top 16

1.69

0.42

2.00

1.66

N=16

Rest of 1st Quartile

0.46

0.31

0.50

1.62

N=28

Second Quartile

0.45

0.31

0.00

2.04

N=42

Third Quartile

-1.56

0.32

-2.00

2.12

N=43

Fourth Quartile

-1.34

0.35

-1.00

2.15

N=38

2004 Median LSAT

Top 16

168.19

0.48

168.50

1.91

N=16

Rest of 1st Quartile

162.46

0.36

162.00

1.90

N=28

Second Quartile

158.50

0.41

159.00

2.67

N=42

Third Quartile

155.09

0.45

154.00

2.93

N=43

Fourth Quartile

151.85

0.49

152.00

3.07

N=39

Our small sample size for the top quartile meant that we didn’t get a significant coefficient on being in the top 16 within the top quartile in most of our regressions, but we did find a significant and positive coefficient on being in the second quartile compared to being in the rest of the “non-top quartile” schools. Our best guess (and it I s just a guess, since we didn’t get conventionally significant results) is that the effect is likely real for the top quartile too and the top schools are likely to be pulling ahead. Testing again in a few years would give us better data that might prove or disprove that hypothesis.

This result is exactly what we would expect if students are sorting themselves according to their LSAT scores and the reported scores in U.S. News. And Russell Korobkin has argued that this sorting effect is the primary benefit of the magazine’s rankings. Russell Korobkin, In Praise of Law School Rankings: Solutions to Coordination and Collective Action Problems, 77 TEX. L. REV. 403 (1998) (Abstract here). Starting position isn’t everything (geography and strategy matter a lot too, as I’ll discuss later this week). And, as Brian Leiter has noted, there is evidence that students are paying attention to components of the U.S. News rankings rather than just to the overall composite ranking. But starting position does matter, at least in the second quartile and below.

We think this has important implications for the schools in Quartiles 2-4. Moving their LSAT scores up is going to be hard and these schools might question whether or not trying to do so is really the best strategy. If they want to compete for higher LSAT students, however, these schools are going to need to innovate, compete vigorously on the dimensions they can affect (such as numbers of employers interviewing on campus and tuition costs).

For several decades, American law schools have pursued a remarkably homogenous approach to legal education. Emory law professor George Shepherd attributes this largely to the ABA accreditation standards and says “[t]he ABA forces one style of law training, at Rolls-Royce prices.” (George B. Shepherd, No African-American Lawyers Allowed: The Inefficient Racism of the ABA’s Accreditation of Law Schools, 53 J. LEG. EDUC. 103, 105 (2003).) (A summary of a talk he gave on the subject is here.) Law schools in the fourth and even third quartiles may want to consider trying some different strategies. I’ll discuss some of Bill and my ideas about this in subsequent posts but one obvious one is to cut tuition prices by cutting faculty costs (more adjuncts, higher teaching loads). The ABA standards are a real constraint in this area (and kept the Massachusetts School of Law, one of the few recent real innovators in delivering legal education, from being accredited).