American Bar Association / ABA, Biglaw, Media and Journalism, Rankings, U.S. News

U.S. News to Rank Law Firms, and Now the ABA Is Concerned

US News logo.JPGBack in July 2009, U.S. News & World Report announced that it would pimp out its prestige whores to the law firm audience.
For years U.S. News has dominated the thoughts of prospective law students and the actions of law school administrators. For years the ABA has stood idly by while a magazine has distorted the incentives of legal educators.
But now, now that U.S. News is poised to talk directly to law firm clients — large corporate clients, who might want to tell their boards that the #1 law firm in the country is working on their matters — the ABA suddenly gives a crap.
The ABA passed a resolution to “study” the new U.S. News rankings methodology. The National Law Journal reports:

“[The U.S. News] rankings have a profound impact on the law schools. The deans hate it,” said past New York bar President Vincent Buzard, citing reports that law school leaders juice administrative data to boost their schools’ rankings. “It seemed to us that the ABA should look into the methodology of these rankings and ensure that they are reliable and aren’t based on inadequate data.”
While numerous publications and Web sites offer attorney ratings, sitting New York bar President Michael Getnicks worried that the magazine’s plan to numerically rank firms could prove problematic and misleading.
“What considerations do you take into account when you go out and say somebody is No. 1 and somebody is No. 10?” he said.

Haha. Welcome to the suck, ABA.
More details, after the jump.

The ABA is right to be concerned. Who is going to hire a firm that is officially in the third tier (according to U.S. News), when a first tier firm is available for a similar price? Law students who get into NYU don’t typically go to NYLS; why would clients behave much differently?
And what kind of crazy, useless initiatives — initiatives that have nothing at all to do with the quality of legal services — will firms adopt to artificially rise up in the rankings? What if U.S. News decides to rate firms by the number of lawyers they have from law schools highly rated by U.S. News? That sounds like the kind of circular, self-fulfilling logic that would help sell magazines.
In short, the U.S. News law firm rankings could destroy the Biglaw world as we know it, if clients take the rankings seriously. How do we know this? Because U.S. News has already done it to law schools.
Of course, the ABA has shown that it doesn’t really have the stomach to stand up to the magazine on the law school front. But on the law firm front, that’s their bread and butter. They have to care. They have to try and do something.
But give ABA President Carolyn Lamm points for intellectual consistency. She’s concerned about antitrust issues should the ABA do anything to stop law schools from dancing to the U.S. News beat. Similarly, she’s concerned about the ABA even studying the issue of law firm rankings. The ABA Journal reports:

ABA President Carolyn Lamm urged the House to table the measure, saying it may violate existing law, such as the First Amendment and laws against restraint of trade. “If we pass something that is legally incorrect, we will all be exposed. This is a matter for the press, and I’m sure they won’t let it lie if the ABA takes a legally incorrect position,” she said.
“Just because you’re irritated about what some new ratings agency should do, that doesn’t mean we should dash off and take a position,” she added.

Perhaps. But the media also won’t let it rest if the American Bar Association allows client services to become subject to the whims of a for-profit magazine.
I guess I should ask Future Elie to start writing some content for Above the Law, 2012.
Magazine’s Planned Law Firm Rankings Raise ABA’s Hackles [National Law Journal]
ABA to Study How Law Firms & Schools Are Ranked [ABA Journal]
U.S. News Will Rank Firms; But Not Before the ABA Asks Questions [WSJ Law Blog]
Earlier: U.S. News to Rank Law Firms: Will Give Legal Prestige Whores ‘Cradle-to-Grave’ Service
ABA Defends Itself — and Explains Why It Can’t Stop New Law Schools
New Villain in Law School Debt Tragedy

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