Law school deans (and many professors) like to complain about the influence of U.S. News law school rankings. My colleague Andrew Morriss and William Henderson think some law schools doth protest too much. In an interesting article in The American Lawyer they suggest that law schools themselves should share much of the blame for the rank influence of rankings.
If you listened only to law faculties and deans, you'd think that U.S. News & World Report's ranking of law schools was a terrible development. Virtually every dean of every law school approved by the American Bar Association annually signs a letter (173 of 194 deans in 2007), sent to everyone who takes the Law School Admission Test, enumerating the flaws in the magazine's "mathematical formulae" and concluding that any ranking system that purports to measure all law schools by a single yardstick is "unworthy of being an important influence on the choice you are about to make."
We're not convinced. U.S. News is influential among prospective students at least in part because the magazine does what the law schools don't: give law students easy-to-compare information that sheds light on their long-term employment prospects. Law schools could easily supply that information themselves, but they choose not to. In fact, as the collective head shaking about the rankings has increased, the growth of the large law firm sector—which pay salaries that justify the rapidly escalating cost of legal education—has made the rankings more important.
The article is based on a longer work forthcoming in the Indiana Law Journal available on SSRN here.