Live Coverage! Law School Rankings Defended by Robert Morse

Starting at 3 PM today, Fastcase will be hosting live coverage of the U.S. News and World Report’s head of law school rankings, Robert Morse, and his online discussion with deans and students at the ABA Journal’s website. In an effort to make peace with the disgruntled, and to shed light on the meaning behind his rankings, Morse will take questions and feedback from participants.

Click here for access to the online discussion.


3:00 PM: The first question given to Bob Morse asks why he puts such a high value on the rankings of law school deans and professors. Mr. Morse responds that he finds the input of academic experts the most helpful. While he values the input of lawyers and judges, he receives less response to those surveys.

3:05 PM: Brian at the University of San Francisco asks how students and alumni can help their respective schools attain better rankings. Mr. Morse recommends that students and alumni study how the rankings are tallied, and target the more important areas for improvement.

3:10 PM: Participant asks: “Is there a better way to represent employment statistics? A common complain amongst many schools is that the REAL starting salaries aren’t anywhere close to the USNWR figures.” Mr. Morse responds that salaries are not included in the rankings. Also, because USNWR publishes with a two year delay, the statistics on its website would be more in keeping with the current situation.

3:13 PM: Several participants ask specific questions about why certain schools rise and fall, in this case, Duke down by 2 spots and UC Berkeley up by 2. Mr Morse responds that it is often small and varied factors that lead to a change in the hierarchy.

3:14 PM: Another participant inquires whether there is a need to rank any schools after the top 14. Mr. Morse affirms that there is a need, that marked differences remain between the lower ranked schools as well.

3:22 PM: Sarah asks, “Where does the info on student expenditures and post graduate employment come from? Do you have any way to verify the info if the schools are feeding that info to you?” Mr. Morse responds that the law schools fill out a survey of budget stats for the ABA, and that USNWR also verifies graduation stats with the ABA.

3:25 PM: So far, according to participants surveyed, 33% believe rankings should primarily be based on bar passage, 36% on reputation, 24% on legal field employment, and 6% on diversity.

3:31 PM: One participant asks whether the criteria for reputation is reliable, citing the fact that the statistics for this ranking are from a limited pool. Mr. Morse responds: “Reputation is not limited to 5 choices. Respondents get lists of all 190 plus schools and are asked to rate each one of a 5 point scale. We get 70% response rate among academics (a very rate for any survey). Yes ,we could improve lawyer/judge. But generally speaking the two correlate (near the same score) this arguably means they both are valid. “

3:38 PM: Participant states that USNWR should remove “number of books in the library” from its ranking criteria. Morse agrees that it is an older ranking factor, and that the report should begin taking more into account internet accessibility.

3:42 PM: One participant asks why Morse does not measure employment in the best law firms, using statistics from the firms themselves. Mr. Morse responds: “I agree that employment at top 100 firms is important since they pay very well when law school debts are very high, but it would be a very narrow way of mearsuring quality. Some ( a federal judge) have recentluy suggested % new grads going federal clerkships as a new indicator.”

3:46 PM: Morse receives a question asking why lawyers and academics can change their rankings for reputation on a yearly basis, when reputation is factor that is developed over time. Morse agrees that there has been some volatility in the lawyers/judges catagory, and that he plans to studies ways to improve this.

3:52 PM: New Poll: Do you regret going to law school?
58% – Not at all
27% – Somewhat
15% – Absolutely

3:55 PM: Participant asks if schools try to “game the ranks” by admitting a more competitive student body. Morse responds: “Some schools are “gaming the rankings” in the sense they spending money to get in better LSATs and hire more and better more well known profs and with broader repuations and beefing up career offices to help with jobs. That all could help schools go up, but I think students would be helped-not hurt by those steps.”

3:57 PM: Mr. Morse, noting the polls of the participants, states that it looks like USNWR is under-weighting bar passage in determining rank.

3:58 PM: Participant asks Robert Morse to comment on criticisms of USNWR made by Brian Leiter, who also conducts his own set of law school rankings. Mr. Morse responds that he has planned a meeting with Mr. Leiter to discuss changes and his suggestions, but maintains that Leiter is “proposing very very significant changes in our ranking methodology, data collection and data used in the rankings.”

4:01 PM: Mr. Morse states that he would be willing to meet with law deans to discuss how to improve the rankings.

Thanks for tuning in to today’s live blog! We hope the discussion with Robert Morse has given you some insight into his often mysterious, and always constroversial, system of law school ranking.

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