Student Quality as Measured by Lsat Scores: Migration Patterns in the U.S. News Rankings Era

43 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2005 Last revised: 12 Jun 2013

See all articles by William D. Henderson

William D. Henderson

Indiana University Maurer School of Law

Andrew P. Morriss

Texas A&M School of Innovation; PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

Date Written: 2006


This study examines the change in entering class median LSAT, a key input into the U.S. News & World Report rankings, between 1993 and 2004. Using multivariate regression analysis, the authors model several factors that can influence the direction and magnitude of this change. The study presents six specific findings: (1) the market for high LSAT students is divided into two segments that operate under different rules; (2) initial starting position is a strong predictor of the future gain or loss in LSAT scores; (3) the allure of the high-end corporate law firms appears to cause a significant portion of students to discount the importance of rankings in favor of locational advantages related to the regional job market; (4) students will pay a tuition premium to attend elite law schools but, when deciding among non-elite schools, are willing to forgo a higher ranked school for lower tuition, thus producing a measurable gain in median LSAT scores for lower priced, non-prestigious law schools; (5) there is little or no association between change in lawyer/judge and academic reputation and median LSAT scores, and (6) two well-known gaming strategies for driving up median LSAT scores appear to work.

Drawing upon these results, the authors suggest that the current rankings competition among law schools has all the hallmarks of a positional arms race that undermines social welfare. The authors outline the emerging equilibrium in which non-elite schools engage in costly strategies to boost their reputations while elite law schools are able to further leverage their positional advantage. Because this dynamic spawns rapidly escalating costs in the form of higher tuition, continuation of the ranking tournament threatens the long-term viability of the current model of legal education. The authors conclude with four specific recommendations to law school deans and the editors of U.S. News & World Report.

Keywords: LSAT, rankings, U.S. News, demography, Am Law 100, Am Law 200, law schools, legal education

JEL Classification: A12, D4, D7, I22, I21, R10, M51, L8, L1, J4

Suggested Citation

Henderson, William D. and Morriss, Andrew P., Student Quality as Measured by Lsat Scores: Migration Patterns in the U.S. News Rankings Era (2006). Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 81 (2006), IU Law-Bloomington Research Paper No. 17, Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-19, Available at SSRN:

William D. Henderson (Contact Author)

Indiana University Maurer School of Law ( email )

211 S. Indiana Avenue
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812-856-1788 (Phone)
812-855-0555 (Fax)

Andrew P. Morriss

Texas A&M School of Innovation ( email )

1249 TAMU / 645 Lamar St.
College Station, TX 77843
United States

PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

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United States

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