Yesterday I was catching up on some of my television viewing and happened to watch Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN, whose guest was author and New Yorker columnist Malcolm Gladwell. Among other topics, they discussed the legitimacy of US college rankings. Gladwell maintained that, while not all rankings are bad, summarizing such complex analysis, and putting completely different organizations side-by-side in a simple ranking list oversimplified the information at hand.
Gladwell went on to talk about the Law School Ranking Game, a tool created by Jeffrey E. Stake at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. The introduction to the Law School Ranking Game explains:
What kind of game is this? You tell us.
We Americans love rankings. The creators of some rankings play to win your money. Law schools play ranking games to win your attendance.
The Ranking Game lets you make your own rankings of law schools based on your preferences.
How do you win
By learning how much play to give rankings in the “choosing a law school” game—a game of High Stakes, indeed.
I gave the Law School Ranking Game a whirl. I found that it did not work with all the browsers on my machine (not on Firefox or Chrome) which may have had something to do with the version of Java enabled. The third attempt was a charm (Safari on my Macbook). It popped open a little spreadsheet (left in the screen shot image) along with a list of weightings (right). I was able to click on the weightings and change them to suit me, and then hit the “ReRank now” button at the top to change the rankings. I think clicked on “Sort” to put the rankings in order.
I like that it shows what the original rankings are. Rankings can be created based on a number of factors (such as price, LSAT percentile, employment of graduates, student/faculty ratio, number of volumes in the library, budget for learning, and whether Tibetan food is available within 600 m from the law school) weighted however you like.
This is obviously poking fun at–and poking holes in–law school rankings. They call it a “game” I’m sure to avoid any liability in case of inaccuracies in the data. Still, it looks to be a useful tool.
Under the section How to Protect from Ranking-mania there is a discussion about the problems with rankings, and how to evaluate a law school. Some good advice:
Do your homework.What should you look to choose a school if rankings are so unhelpful? To determine which school should be tops on your list, read what you can about all the schools under consideration. Look for information on internet web sites and in libraries. Other sources you might consult include The University of Richmond Pre-Law Handbook, the Boston College Online Law School Locator, and the listserv at firstname.lastname@example.org. More important, visit the schools. Find out what courses are regularly offered in specialties you consider important. Talk to the students. Find out if teachers are accessible and committed to devoting substantial energy to teaching. Find out if faculty members have published in areas important to you. Talk to faculty members. Only by doing those kinds of things can you begin to tell where you will fit in well. Along with the Deans of more than 150 law schools, I urge you not to rely on published rankings. Instead, do your own leg work and find the school that best meets your needs. It will be worth it.