A Longitudinal Analysis of the U.S. News Law School Academic Reputation Scores between 1998 and 2013
Jones, Robert L.
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This article is a revised update to a previously released study of the U.S. News academic reputation scores (“peer assessment scores”). The revised study incorporates the results from the 2013 U.S. News rankings and encompasses the period between 1998 and 2013. The study reveals that there has been a significant downward trend in the academic reputation scores of law schools since 1998. While the academic reputation scores tended to be relatively stable throughout the sixteen year period, over 60% of the law schools in the 172 school data set finished the sixteen year period with academic reputation scores that were lower than the ones with which they began in 1998. In contrast, less than 20% of the law schools in the data set managed to finish the period with academic reputation scores that were higher (even by .1) than the ones with which they began in 1998. In addition, the study found that the declines in academic reputation scores tended to be inversely correlated to the strength of the schools’ academic reputation scores and U.S. News ranks. The schools that started the period with the highest academic reputation scores posted the largest declines as a group while the law schools that started with the lowest academic reputation scores experienced the most success in maintaining their scores. These trends strongly suggest that the U.S. News rankings themselves are influencing the way academics evaluate their competing institutions in the survey process, a fact which raises important normative questions about whether the academic reputation scores should figure so prominently in the U.S. News methodology. As part of the study, furthermore, the law school academic reputation scores for the sixteen year period were analyzed to determine whether there has been an “echo effect” between the law schools’ academic reputation scores and their overall U.S. News ranks. The empirical analysis suggests that a law school’s U.S. News rank does tend to influence its academic reputation score, particularly in instances where a law school is consistently “under” or “over” ranked relative to its academic reputation score. The article concludes with an identification of those law schools whose academic reputation scores have improved or declined the most during the sixteen year period, along with a brief discussion of some potential causes for those changes. The article includes appendices that catalog the U.S. News academic reputation scores for every law school between 1998 and 2013.