Of Rankings and Regulation: Are the U.S. News & World Report Rankings Really a Subversive Force in Legal Education?

17 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2005

See all articles by Rachel F. Moran

Rachel F. Moran

University of California, Irvine School of Law


The description for this symposium on The Next Generation of Law School Rankings begins with the following statement: "The U.S. News & World Report annual law school rankings are the 800-pound gorilla of legal education . . . affect[ing] virtually all aspects of law school operations." The image is one of vigorous, even ruthless, competition among law schools to be number one. Although the symposium participants disagree about whether this competition is healthy or destructive, they all largely accept that it is a robust phenomenon. There is an occasional reference to the highly regulated nature of legal education, but these are mere asides, not the heart of the argument. By accepting competition as the dominant motif, a number of puzzles arise: Why are the rankings relatively stable over long periods of time despite vigorous competition? Why has a plethora of alternative rankings systems not emerged? Why do schools limit their strategies to gaming the U.S. News & World Report ("U.S. News") rankings, even when there are perverse consequences, rather than undertake bold reforms to gain prestige and value in the marketplace?

These puzzles become far less vexing when the dominant paradigm is one of cooperation rather than competition. In fact, norms of uniformity and standardization have dominated the world of legal education, substantially limiting law schools' ability to compete against one another. To advance law's professional stature, the accreditation process has regulated legal training so that students receive a quality education and clients get competent lawyers. Given this framework of comprehensive rules and regulations, no law school has been able to pursue radical innovations without jeopardizing its accreditation, its reputation, and its future. In a world of highly constrained competition, schools have few ways to improve their standing through strategies that upset the prevailing wisdom about how best to deliver legal education. As a result, law school rankings largely remain stable over time, and different methods of ranking overall quality yield similar results. With full-bodied competition curbed by the accreditation process, schools rely on gaming to influence the U.S. News rankings rather than strike out in novel directions to gain prominence.

Keywords: ABA Accreditation, Law School, Rankings, Legal Education, U.S. News & World Report, Rankings

Suggested Citation

Moran, Rachel F., Of Rankings and Regulation: Are the U.S. News & World Report Rankings Really a Subversive Force in Legal Education?. Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 81, 2006, UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 863032, UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2008-3, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=863032

Rachel F. Moran (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States

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