Law Schools, Rankings, U.S. News

Can Stanford Become the #1 Law School? Outlook Not So Good.

Late last month, we posed a question: Can Stanford overtake Harvard and Yale and become the #1 law school? We consulted our Magic 8 Ball, which gave this answer: “Outlook Not So Good.”

And it’s not just the Magic 8 Ball. Professor Bill Henderson, one of the leading academics studying the legal profession, constructed a simulation model of the U.S. News rankings. He used this model to figure out what Stanford Law School would have to do to top the list.

For starters, it would need to get its hands on at least $350 million dollars….

Professor Henderson’s post appeared quite some time ago. It came to our attention this week, when an email sent out by Professor Scott Bauries to his colleagues at the University of Kentucky College of Law made its way into our inbox. Professor Bauries summarized the analysis:

The Reader’s Digest version is that, even if Stanford’s scores on academic and judicial reputation, GPA, and LSAT were perfect (which is impossible because that many 180 LSATs do not exist in the applicant pool), the school would still be number 2, behind Yale. The principal reason for this is that Stanford spends “only” $80 thousand per student, per year, while Yale spends more than $100 thousand per student, per year….

Sounds crazy, but seems sound. Let’s take a closer look at Professor Henderson’s post (to read it in full — some of you are math nerds — click here):

Andy Morriss and I annually construct a simulation model of the US News rankings. It routinely explains 99.5% of the variance in the actual rankings, and it enables us to test endless “what if” scenarios. So let’s load the dice and make some really extravagant assumptions:

* Academic Reputation (25% of the input formula). Increase Stanford’s Academic Reputation from 4.7 to a perfect 5.0 (surpassing Harvard and Yale, who languish at 4.8).

* Lawyer/Judge Reputation (15%). Increase the Lawyer/Judge Reputation from 4.8 to a perfect 5.0 (breaking their current 4.8 tie with Harvard and Yale).

* UGPA (10%). Increase median UGPA from 3.88 to 4.0 (Harvard and Yale are at 3.89 and 3.9 respectively).

* LSAT (12.5%). Increase the median LSAT from 170 to 180 (blowing past the 173 medians at Harvard and Yale). This assumption is somewhat absurd because there are not enough perfect 180 scores to produce this median at any law school.

Surely, giving Stanford a perfect score on 62.5% of the US News weighting formula will make Stanford #1, right? It turns out, the answer is no. Yale still beats out Stanford by a hair. Stanford would, however, finally muscle ahead of Harvard for #2.

That’s interesting. As some commenters on our original post noted, Stanford has finished ahead of Harvard on several occasions since the start of the rankings.

The reason for Yale’s domination is that it spends much more money per student than Harvard and Stanford. In other words, it’s all about the benjamins, baby. Professor Henderson crunches the numbers in his analysis and reaches this conclusion:

My back of the envelope calculations suggest that a check for $350 million ought to be enough to produce enough endowment income [for Stanford] to eclipse Yale in the US News rankings. This assumes that the money is used for things like books, more faculty, and higher salaries for everyone. If the money is spent on student scholarships, however, Stanford would need a check for roughly $1.8 billion to be #1. Again, these are the idiosyncrasies of the dominant method of law school rankings.

Stanford alumni are well heeled. And, like all of us, they want to be #1. But here is my my advice: Before you write your check to give Stanford faculty a big pay raise and a lower teaching load, or give some rich kid with a 180 LSAT a free legal education, including living expenses, consider other investment opportunities. $350 million would go a long way to solving the AIDS epidemic an Africa. $1.8 billion could provide life-altering educational opportunities for children mired in poverty.

That last paragraph has given you something to say when your law school’s development office calls you on the phone to hit you up for money.

Professor Bauries of Kentucky Law finds this a bit depressing:

I do not think it has sufficiently entered the common wisdom in legal academia that spending (divorced from measurable quality or even efficiency) is largely driving the rankings each year. However, I also think this is relevant to our ongoing discussion of our rankings, mostly because it presents a very clear illustration of the challenges facing low-spending schools.

Perhaps U.S. News needs to rejigger its rankings. Should spending by a law school really count for this much? And it might make for more drama — and better newsstand sales — to see Yale fall from the #1 spot (not that I want to see that happen to my alma mater; but it would probably be in the interests of U.S. News to shake things up).

In the meantime, while waiting for that $350 million check, Dean Larry Kramer and his Stanford colleagues can console themselves with the knowledge that they enjoy much better weather.

Can Stanford Be #1 in the US News Rankings? The Data [Empirical Legal Studies]

Earlier: Can Stanford Overtake Harvard and Yale and Become the #1 Law School?

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