Incentives, Culture, and Change in American Legal Education

92 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2019

See all articles by Caleb N. Griffin

Caleb N. Griffin

Belmont University College of Law

Date Written: May 1, 2018


In theory, law school rankings merely describe law schools as they are, providing basic details about each school that may be relevant to prospective law students. In practice, however, law school rankings have a tremendous influence on law students and the legal profession. For better or for worse, the rank of a given student’s school will often have a substantial impact on the arc of his or her legal career.

Rankings also have a tremendous influence on law schools themselves. One source of this influence is that a high ranking draws strong candidates, and strong candidates reinforce the high ranking. This phenomenon of self-reinforcement has the effect of cementing law schools in a relatively static position and obscuring important changes relevant to prospective students and legal employers.

But is this a problem? The status quo might be acceptable if law school rankings were based solely on objective data that measured factors in a way that was truly reflective of the needs of students, legal employers, and society at large. Such an ideal ranking would provide a useful service for prospective students, and it would incentivize law schools to engage in socially beneficial behavior.

This Article sets out to explore what factors ought to be used in an ideal ranking system. It considers how various factors could be used to incentivize law schools to better serve the needs of law students and society at large. It argues that ranking systems can and should be used to serve the interests of law students and society and to propel legal education towards positive change.

Keywords: Rankings, Law Schools, Legal Education, US News & World Report

JEL Classification: I20, I21, K10, K40, I23

Suggested Citation

Griffin, Caleb, Incentives, Culture, and Change in American Legal Education (May 1, 2018). University of Cincinnati Law Review, Vol. 87, No. 325, 2018, Available at SSRN:

Caleb Griffin (Contact Author)

Belmont University College of Law ( email )

1900 Belmont Boulevard
Nashville, TN 37212
United States

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