Article on US news rankings in Law & Society Review March issue

An article published in the March 2006 issue of Law & Society Review provides evidence that the annual law school rankings produced by U.S. News & World Report affect both the decisions made by schools in terms of how selective they can be in filling their incoming classes and the decisions made by students on where they apply and which schools they choose to attend after they have been accepted.

The article, "Do Rankings Matter? The Effects of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on the Admissions Process of Law Schools," was co-authored by Michael Sauder, an assistant professor at the University of Iowa, and Ryon Lancaster, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. Sauder and Lancaster found that the U.S. News rankings have particularly strong effects on the decisions of students who receive high scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and these effects are greatest for schools ranked in the top 50, although schools of all ranks experience the effect to some degree. Furthermore, the authors found that USN ranks have effects on how selective schools are--that is, the number of applicants they choose to accept--in their efforts to fill their incoming classes. Again, these effects were strongest for schools ranked in the top 50.

In addition, the authors found evidence that rankings can become a self-fulfilling prophecy for some schools, as the effects of rankings alter the profile of the schools' student bodies and, in turn, change their future rank. This can result in a "negative spiral" that results in small differences becoming bigger over time because of the effects of rankings.

Cumulatively, the findings by Sauder and Lancaster suggest that the rankings help create rather than simply reflect differences among law schools through the magnification of the small, and statistically random, distinctions produced by the measurement apparatus.


Media wishing to receive a PDF, please contact [email protected]. For more information on the study itself, reporters may contact Michael Sauder.

Law & Society Review, founded in 1966, is published by Blackwell Publishing. The Review is regarded by sociolegal scholars in the United States and other countries as the leading journal in the field.

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