Sure, it's only 2011, but the new 2012 U.S. News rankings are out. The most surprising thing about this year's U.S. News law school rankings is that the magazine (if you can properly call it that) managed to embargo the list right up until its release on the web. They did so by deferrring sale of the hard copy version of the rankings until April 5 - thus denying thieves, snoops and other crafty characters a chance to score a photocopy of the new rankings prior to the moment of formal release. Unfortunately, while you can embargo the list, you can't silence the individual listees quite as well. Thus, at 8:36 pm this evening, David Bernstein reported the true fact that Arkansas is ranked 84th by US News.
In these days leading up to publication, commentators have been chit chatting about a few issues. First, there is the matter of how US News calculates a school's placement success. There were hints that the rankings would reflect a new method more reliant on date of graduation employment numbers. Not so much. This year, as last year, 4% of a school's total points came from its at-graduation placement rate, while 14% were derived from its 9 month rate. This year, however, US News is calculating these numbers a tad differently. This from their new methodology memo:
Next, there is the question of data reliability. Given the recent news about a law school submitting inflated LSAT numbers, some may be wondering both about the specific implications of the data adjustment for that institution and the continuing viability of deceit as a ranking manipulation strategy. As for the first question, new data caused the school to drop 17 places. As to the second, it appears there may be an LSAT decline overall this year, but I assume that it's related to market conditions rather than law schools scurrying to clean up their data.
Next, there were the bubbling rumors that US News might rank schools beyond the Top 100 - thus extending the mistaken impression that law schools are actually rankable in some qualitative sense that people would broadly agree upon. (There is no doubt that there are quality clusters, but as David Bernstein points out, a prospective student can probably gain greater insights simply by looking at LSAT medians. In effect, LSAT medians reflect an information market about law school quality, placement, and value. Since almost every student has at least a few choices, student decisionmaking - aggregated - probably tells us something about school quality....though given law school transparency, and the powerful effects of regional submarkets, this is clearly an imperfect proxy.)
So did US News rank beyond the top 100? Yes. All the way out to 143. This will benefit a bunch of schools just outside the top 100 who can now show how close they really were. And of course hurt those "third tier" schools that no longer can claim that they're on the cusp of the Rockin' Top Hundred.
Finally, there is the question of whether the schools included in the law-school-admissions-discussion board mythical T14 have changed at all. Remarkably (and one almost wonders if it was a bouquet to chief nemesis Brian Leiter), US News has admitted a new member of this club: UT Austin, tied at 14.
So, in the spirit of providing fairly useful information, without actually overpromising, here are the top 10 law schools attached to universities with men's basketball teams in the NIT:
1. Harvard; 2. UC Berkeley; 3. Northwestern; 4. Boston College; 5. Alabama; 6. Colorado; 7. Miami; 8. Nebraska; 9. Mississippi; 10. Dayton
Naturally, David Lat is all over this stuff.