In this episode of Status Check with Spivey, Mike has a conversation with Justin Kane, Spivey Consulting's Director of Business Intelligence and resident rankings expert, about recent developments in the U.S. News & World Report Law School Rankings.
If you haven't already heard, a number of law schools have recently announced that they will no longer be participating in the rankings. But what does that actually mean? Why are they doing it, and why now? What impacts might it have on applicants, law students, and legal education as a whole—both this current cycle and down the line?
You can find an up-to-date list of law schools that have announced they will no longer be participating in the rankings here.
Important Disclaimer: At this point, all of our forward-looking thoughts are purely speculation. We can't emphasize enough that we don't know yet what U.S. News is going to do—no one does, not even U.S. News itself. This is an actively-evolving situation in the short term, and the longer-term effects are even more difficult to predict. This episode is meant to provide an insider look into what law school administrations and other major legal education stakeholders are thinking about right now, but we can't predict the future.
You can listen and subscribe to Status Check with Spivey on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, YouTube, SoundCloud, and Google Podcasts.
Mike: Welcome to Status Check with Spivey, where we normally talk about life, law school, law school admissions. Today we're going to get a little bit outside of that paradigm and focus on the seismic change in these schools, not only unprecedentedly, but unbeknownst—in other words, there was no warning indicator that it was coming—dropping out of the rankings. There's more to come, by the way. And we'll talk about it at the end very deeply, our thoughts on the admissions implications, but first, we'll get into what's going on. And I'm joined by Justin Kane, who I'm going to quote a dean, “knows more about U.S. News law school rankings than anyone on the planet.” So I'm going to hammer poor Justin with some questions. Justin is going to give his best stabs. Some of this is going to get really nuanced and wonky, we might even talk about Z scores. Justin, is that okay?
Justin: Sure. Yes. I don't know how wonky that is, but...
Mike: What's going on with the rankings? What's sort of the history and the criticisms? Which might be a good place to start.
Justin: Sure. I mean, everybody knows that the U.S. News rankings have been subject to a lot of criticism over the years. One of the common issues that people have had with it, it is very input focused. By which I mean they give a lot of weight to things like median LSAT, median GPA, how much schools are spending, that sort of thing and less to the results. When you go to law school, you really care about getting a job, passing the bar. Law school is a professional school. You're going there to get the outcomes. And there's been a lot of criticism that U.S. News doesn't give enough weight to those outcomes. Bar passage, for example, it's a metric, but it only gets 3% weight in the rankings, which when you think about it, that's kind of crazy. You can't practice as an attorney if you don't pass the bar. And 49 states I believe, there's only one maybe two states that have diploma privilege, you’ve got to take the bar. So for years people have had, I think, valid criticisms about that focus.
Another issue that people have had with the rankings is concerns about the data that gets reported. I think we all saw the recent Columbia undergraduate issue where there were questions then I think there was proof that the data that Columbia was reporting was not accurate, not truthful, I suppose you could say.
Mike: You want to give me an example. You and I read all those articles, but the typical listener probably doesn't know any of that.
Justin: Well, sure. When Columbia was doing this, what they were doing was, for example, exaggerating the number of their faculty who had a terminal degree because apparently the undergraduate rankings care about that. They want more faculty with terminal degrees. They were exaggerating the number of small classes that they offer, by which I mean, you know, classes that were capped at 10-20 people, that kind of thing.
The good news on the law school front is most data that gets reported to U.S. News & World Report is also data that's collected by the American Bar Association and published. So median LSAT, right, that's an important factor in the rankings. And it would be really hard to believe that a school is going to lie to U.S. News about its median LSAT.
Mike: Yeah, at Illinois, yeah.
Justin: Yeah it did happen in the past but that was kind of before the ABA really started cracking down on this stuff. I mean, it's one thing to lie to U.S. News, it's another thing entirely to lie to your accrediting agency. I'm not really aware of any scandals in the law school world on that still.
Mike: You just nailed something important. So correct me if I'm wrong, but 16% of the data that goes to U.S. News comes from law schools. 74% comes from third party audited sources.
Justin: Yeah, it's like 16-17%, somewhere there.
Mike: One of the reasons why this sort of sea change that we're seeing might be good and we'll get into this, is because you're right. On that 73% that’s going to the ABA, we talk to law schools every day. You are very buttoned up about that 73% going to the ABA. But what you and I probably both speculate on is in that 17% that's coming directly from you to U.S. News, that U.S. News doesn't seem to care if it's way askew. That stuff is probably reported by different standards, by different law schools. Is that fair to say?
Justin: It really depends on the metric, debt is debt, right, how many of your students have debt. Expenditures, that one might be reported differently among schools just because the ABA used to ask about that, they don't anymore. They might again in the future. Those issues are really more prevalent on the undergrad side and other grad programs which mattered to U.S. News quite a bit, we'll talk about that. But the real question a lot of people have had is, why now? All these criticisms of U.S. News, you can pull up any one of these 12 schools’ statements, maybe more by the time you hear this and see what criticisms they have. But why now? And it all started with Yale. It had to start with Yale. Yale's the number one since the rankings began. Yale was really the only school that could trigger this. At least a lot of people think so. So why did Yale do this right now?
Well, for one thing, U.S. News is probably weaker right now than it has been in a while. It's been subject to increasing amounts of criticism across the spectrum. The various issues and scandals with different rankings, misreporting and things like that have weakened their credibility at that.
Mike: And even Columbia going from 2 to 18 I think.
Justin: Yeah, things like that. Right. There was a school in the education rankings, had a similar issue. An online business school had a similar issue a couple of years ago. The other thing, a lot of speculation that Yale might have done this now because Yale was worried about losing its spot. I don't think that Yale was going to drop from one this year. I think it's fair to say that this might have been the first year that Yale could conceivably have dropped from number one.
Mike: What was the raw score differentiation this year?
Justin: It's usually 2 or 3 out of 100 between them and the next ranked school, which is not a ton in the grand scheme of things. One of the speculation is they would have lost on peer assessment and lawyer/ judge assessment voters. Those are really heavily weighted. It doesn't take a whole lot of movement on those to cost you in the rankings, right. I'm going to reiterate, I think that it was unlikely that it would happen, but perhaps for the first time ever Yale felt the tiniest little shred of concern that motivated them to do it now while they're on top. Some people speculated it’s about the pending SCOTUS decision in SFFA versus Harvard, I have no idea. I don't know enough con law to talk about that, so I'll leave that one to the constitutional law experts of the world.
Mike: I will bring up the one interesting variable that a dean of admission sort of filled me in on. I think it's an interesting point to note that when Justice Kagan was Dean Kagan at Harvard, she was pretty heavily involved in admission at Harvard. I know this not from my conversation recently, but because I have four people on our team who worked there when Dean Kagan was at Harvard. So Kagan is probably going to understand that the SCOTUS’ decision does not need to be rushed during the admissions cycle. I think Justice Roberts has already publicly commented there's no need to rush this decision. So the SCOTUS thing probably is not going to impact this cycle but next, would you agree?
Justin: I think so. I mean, I think everyone expects Justice Kagan will be in the minority in this decision. But I think that the majority or plurality or whatever we get in this, I think they'll listen to concerns about disrupting things. This doesn't just have implications for law school, it has implications for all of higher ed.
Mike: It'll be in the summer, we'll say late June.
Justin: And that's typically when most of those cases from this term are released anyways. So we've had 12 schools now that have pulled out of the rankings as of this morning when we're recording, who knows how many will do so between now and when we put this out, if any. A couple of schools had said that they will stay in the rankings, interestingly enough, specifically putting out statements that they are committing to continue reporting data to U.S. News. And most schools have been pretty silent. So we're really just waiting to see what other schools are going to decide. It's been very top heavy so far. Schools in the whenever cut-off you want to use, right, top 14, top 10, top 20, right, have been the vast majority of those who pulled out today. But we have had some schools below that who have started pulling out and it'll be interesting to see if that starts to spread.
This is an issue for U.S. News. They have a lot of problems right now I think. One thing to sort of set the stage for this is most people in higher ed, most deans, they despise the rankings not just because they think they're methodologically unsound, but they don't like being judged by U.S. News & World Report. They don't like having their school be ranked by this organization that they think is completely unqualified to be doing so. They don't like it when U.S. News doesn't rank them where they think they should be ranked. This is something where a lot of the fuel for this is coming from the fact that U.S. News is not exactly popular with the people who are going to be making decisions about whether or not to continue participating.
Mike: And the biggest fine point to that is U.S. News & World Report costs schools substantial amounts of money. So when schools say they don't like the rankings, they mean it. I'm going to juxtapose this with LSAC. When LSAC says they don't like the rankings, they don't mean it because the rankings make LSAC a ton of money. And LSAC as you know, you're probably too smart to comment on this but I will, counts every penny they make.
Justin: You're right. U.S. News does cost the schools money. It costs them time. I mean, the rankings questionnaire is not short. It takes a lot of effort by a lot of people to fill that thing out every year. It's not a hard pitch for law school decision makers about whether or not they should stop participating in the rankings. Their main concern is just going to be what impact will that have on our ability to attract applicants, the reputation of our school for our graduates, and whether or not that will affect their employment prospects. I know, Mike, you talked to someone about the issue of whether or not not participating might have an impact on how employers perceive schools.
Mike: Yeah, actually, multiple high-level hiring partners now.
Justin: What did they say?
Mike: The general gist is, and this is something that I've discussed on the podcast with Jeff Chapman at Gibson Dunn before is they actually don't know what, they have no idea what the methodology of the rankings are. And at any given year, if a school drops, even if Harvard were to go from 4 to 12 or 4 to 6, in a given year, they actually wouldn't even notice that. What they said is, “Look, if I hired 20 Harvard student graduates in the past and 18 of those have killed it, I'm never going to pay attention to the rankings. If I have 20 of those and 16 have flopped then I'm going to again pay attention to my memory.” So the elderly hiring partners could not care less about rankings changes. The younger, eager beaver hiring partners are maybe a little bit more sensitive to it. Still, if you're a young hiring partner, you're still probably 40 years old. So you remember the rankings from when you were 22. This shake-up is great gossip on Twitter for faculty, but in the hiring world it's almost like, “What's going on you're telling me Spivey? I hadn't even heard.”
Justin: Right. Right, and I think that applies not just to the Harvards of the world, but to other schools. The reputation of the school, reputation of its graduates, it's not really driven by U.S. News among the people who are doing hiring. It's driven by their experiences with people from those schools. It's driven by personal connections with those schools. I went to this school and I want to hire graduates from this school, whether or not they're ranked 30th, 50th or not ranked at all. So I agree. I don't see that this is going to have much impact, if really any impact on hiring.
Mike: Well, I think of a story, it’s when I met with the CIA, when I was a dean of career services, to my knowledge, they had never hired outside of a T10 and I was in a T20. I love the story because we couldn't meet at Langley, we had to meet at the Mandarin Oriental Bar in D.C. and the person told me her last name was Lionheart, which isn't true. You know, as a lawyer for the CIA, they're all lying about their names and they hired a student of ours and that student killed it. So then they hired again. The person who visited our school didn't even give us her name, which cracked my Dean up. No-name person spoke at our school from the CIA. That's how guarded they are. They hire intellectual property pathway people. They have cutting edge intellectual property research going on there. So they had a good experience with our one tech STEM person and they start hiring more.
Justin: This is spreading and that creates issues for U.S. News in their methodology. There's some unanswered questions. Part of this is the assessments or surveys that U.S. News uses. When a school stops participating in the rankings, are they going to tell their voters not to respond to the surveys? Are the deans going to stop doing the surveys? Are they going to tell faculty to stop completing the surveys? That'll be interesting because like I said, that's a really heavily weighted category. And you could argue it's one of the few value-adds that U.S. News offers. Aside from just collecting data, they actually do these surveys that might reflect, help people think of the schools. So that's going to be interesting to watch.
And then you've also got the issue of the metrics that U.S. News can't get from the public data we talked about. They can get most of this from public data, but there are certain things that they just can't. One of them is the debt metrics. The ABA is collecting this information now, they haven't at least yet reported on that information. They might in the future. I'm just not sure if they did. U.S. News obviously could just use that. The employment and graduation information that's not collected by the ABA, that's furnished by the schools themselves. And then also the expenditures metric, again, not collected by the ABA, that's reported only to U.S. News from the schools. They can't get that information. So what are they going to do? Expenditures and debt are the two big ones.
Debt, they just recently introduced those metrics. It's about 5% of the rankings’ weight. It's not the biggest, but it is important. And it's also important to U.S. News because it reflects their increased focus on outcome-style metrics. Responding to that criticism that we talked about earlier, that they put too much emphasis on inputs, well, a couple of years ago, they sort of decreased the weight that inputs are given to introduce these new debt metrics, which are an outcome. How much debt are you saddling students with to get their J.D.? How many of your students are taking out debt? So I think it's important to U.S. News because they think this is an important and valuable metric.
And the other one and more important one is the expenditures metric. So about 9% for expenditures for instruction is the weight that that gets. And this one is a huge differentiator between the top ranked schools, the ones that have pulled out so far, and the schools that are ranked lower than them. Expenditures is the metric that's kept Yale ranked number one all these years. Other schools do better than Yale in the employment metrics as U.S. News measures them. Other schools do as well or better than Yale in the assessment scores, other categories as well. Expenditures is where Yale has made its difference and kept itself at number one. So to a lesser degree, the other schools that have pulled out, they all spend a lot of money and their ranking benefits from that. The problem for U.S. News is sure, they can impute values, they can put a placeholder in for the expenditures that are no longer being reported to them. This isn't the first time a school has not reported expenditures to U.S. News. Every year there are schools that don't report expenditures to U.S. News, and their usual approach is to impute a value that is one standard deviation below the national average of expenditures. They do that for debt too. The problem that U.S. News is going to run into is they really can't do that here and keep the rankings about what they were, by which I mean, have the schools that have pulled out still be pretty highly ranked. Because, like I said, these schools spend so much money that knocking them down to one standard deviation below the national average is going to be a huge blow. I don't know exactly how much and I probably wouldn't even be able to say if I did. But it's going to be really big. I mean, you're going to see a very large shake up in the rankings if they were to do that. So they could do that. They probably don't want to, because how seriously is anyone going to take the rankings when you've got schools that used to be 1, 2, 3, 7, 9, et cetera, ranked 15, 18, 21.
Mike: Just so you know, and I think you do know this, I probably talked to what, 30 deans in the last two days. The one thing we all agree on, well, other than U.S. News & World Report has some problems they're going to need to change quickly, is that they cannot shake up the T14, T20 dramatically, there can’t be high variability. That's the biggest threat to them right now.
Justin: Right. I mean, U.S. News has a business interest in people taking their rankings at least somewhat seriously. So something like this where people are going to look at the rankings and say, “This is stupid,” is a real threat to them. So they’ve got to do something. What can they do? You had heard someone say, “Well, maybe they'll take the existing data.” Yale reported $100,000 average expenditures last year, I’m making that up everybody. So we're just going to take that $100,000 from the last time that they reported and we're just going to adjust it for inflation going forward. Inflation was, I don't know what, 7% this year, making that up too. So this year we're going to say this $107,000. Next year inflation is 5%, so we'll add the 5% inflation adjustment to the number from this year, the 107 number. I think that that's just not tenable for a few reasons.
One, it creates bad incentives for law schools. When you think about it, if you're a law school and you're looking at your data and you're spending a lot of money right now, you have a really high average expenditures, that kind of approach makes it tempting for you to say, “Well, I'm going to go out on top, lock in my high rate of spending. U.S. News will adjust for inflation going forward, so I'll always have the benefit of that kind of high spending. And I can maybe worry less about needing to spend so much money just to keep up in the rankings. I can move some of that money around, reallocate it.” I think that creates a problem for them in encouraging some schools to just stop reporting data to benefit from the way that they are imputing values.
Mike: Or if they're not spending much, jerk it way up this year and then pull out next year.
Justin: Right, let's build a new building this year. Claim all that in expenditure. We're just going to rush construction.
Mike: It wasn't just a person, it was multiple people that had brought up the inflation fix. I think you and I have landed on that's not going to happen.
Justin: Well, yeah. And you know, there's other issues with it too. One, it's just fundamentally indefensible. You are literally stacking the deck in favor of certain schools if you were to do something like that. And I think there is a difference between people's criticisms of the methodology in that, “Oh, it weights certain things too much,” right, “Peer assessment is too heavily weighted.” There's a difference between that kind of criticism and a criticism of you are literally making up numbers to benefit specific schools in a way that you want to have them benefit. I think that that criticism is much stronger and much more dangerous for U.S. News. So that's another reason they might not do it.
And the third reason is it impacts the calculations for other schools, right? So what do you do? Are you going to use the fake, made-up numbers in calculating the scores for other schools? I mean, the way it works now is all schools are scored based on how they perform compared to the national average. So if you're including a bunch of fake, made-up numbers in the calculations for national averages, you're going to be affecting schools who are reporting their data. And a lot of the time you're going to be affecting them in negative ways. I think a lot of schools will be really justifiably pissed off if U.S. News were to adopt this kind of approach, because it's going to hurt them in the rankings. So we agree that's just not a tenable approach for U.S. News.
I think what's far more likely is they're going to have to eliminate this metric and move to using publicly available data. They were moving towards using publicly available data anyways, there are a lot of benefits to that. You can check the accuracy of the data that you are using. It also makes them less reliant on the schools. I mean, right now, I'm sure U.S. News was really wishing that more of their formula was based on public data.
Mike: I think for many years U.S. News has largely ignored law schools. As of yesterday, my understanding from multiple people is that Bob Morse, the guy who's been doing the rankings since before you and I were born, has been calling the schools that have not reported what they're going to do, and that's damage control.
Justin: A hundred percent. They would really love for people to stop announcing that they're going to stop participating. They would really love it. I mean, it's a danger for them, not just on the law school front, but they've got to worry that this is going to spread to their other business areas. What if some undergrad schools decide, “Hey, we should do that, let's stop participating.”
Mike: There's only 196 law schools that get ranked. Losing undergrad would crush them. This is why I agree with you, Justin. This is another variable about them using real data. They need to cabin this right now. They need to stop the bleeding right now. They have a beautiful out. They can say, “Hey, law school is unique,” because the American Bar Association does this great good of collecting public data. If I were the CEO of U.S. News, I would say, “We are going to use this publicly available data because we appreciate what the ABA does right now.” And I would say that today so that Princeton University doesn't pull out of the rankings tomorrow at the undergrad level.
Justin: Yeah, I think that that would be their best move. We'll see whether or not they do it. But I think it's the only thing that they can do that is going to leave them in a position to continue ranking schools in a way that's just not outright fake and laughable. I think that they would prefer not to do that. They would prefer to find an approach where schools that have stopped participating and will stop participating come back. They start participating, they start submitting data back to U.S. News again. But I think that's getting more difficult the more schools drop out because as you alluded to, different schools have different issues with the rankings. I mean, everyone kind of has general criticisms that they agree on. I think everyone would agree it's kind of stupid to have one metric that rewards you for spending more money on the expenditures and another metric that punishes you for spending more money in the debt metrics. So we want you to spend more money, but at the same time, we don't want you to have your graduates take out any debt. It's just diametrically opposed. I think everybody has general criticisms like that, but some schools are going to have more specific problems that other schools won’t share. I'm going to pick a random school, I don't think that Columbia, for example, is overly concerned with how U.S. News weighs graduates who are in school-funded fellowships to the degree that Yale cares about it. That's a big thing for Yale because they have a lot of folks in those types of fellowships. Columbia doesn't typically have nearly as many in those type of positions. So they just don't care.
It's going to be hard for U.S. News to please everyone that's pulling out, especially as more of them pull out. And I think that they're going to realize that and just say we're just going to have to go to an approach where we have control because we don't need the schools for the data. I think that's really the only thing that they can do to salvage this in the long term. And this year, maybe they keep things basically the same and they impute values for schools that are just equal to what they were last year, something like that. That might be kind of justifiable.
But going forward, you know, every year that you go out from this, it becomes increasingly untenable and you have to find an approach that leaves you less reliant on schools. So it's going to be really interesting. I don't think that even U.S. News knows what they're going to do yet.
Mike: I think that they're due January.
Justin: They're going to extend that. I think that they're holding off to figure out what they're going to do about this.
Mike: Rankings, they usually come up between March 8th and March 15th. I have the good fortune of usually getting to see them earlier. Do you think that they'll come out much later this year?
Justin: I think it, yeah I think it totally depends on U.S. News. I think right now they are waiting to see how much this spreads. And I think that the longer they wait, obviously, the longer they're going to have to wait to publish the rankings. So I don't think we know whether or not they'll be delayed from their typical mid-to-late March release yet. But I think that every week that we go without them starting to collect that information makes that more and more plausible. And U.S. News might need the extra time to figure out adjustments to their methodology.
Mike: And Justin you're a 3L and most of our listeners are aspiring lawyers. Let me ask you a legal question.
Justin: I am not a lawyer, I have to say that for professional responsibility reasons, I haven't taken the MPRE yet.
Mike: Okay. Is the considered opinion of the 6000 lawyers who I know because I've admitted many people to law school that if multiple deans of law schools show me the rankings when they were at least early, I have every legal right and, per an opinion piece in U.S. News, moral obligation to share those early leaked rankings with the population. Is this the best year ever for me to consider doing that? I had a long conversation with the General Counsel and Senior VP of U.S. News, and it was like the opposite of talking to LSAC. He was so chill and he was so gracious that we just haven't leaked them for multiple years. But is this the year to do it?
Justin: I'm going to decline to comment so that –
Mike: I’ll ask my lawyer.
Justin: -I can actually pass my character and fitness exam in a couple years.
Mike: Oh yeah I could talk.
Justin: But I will say this year, I would expect them to probably do something about the embargoed data. Yeah, they might just not even release it to schools this year before they release the public stuff for the exact issue that you just raised. So you might just not even have the opportunity to do that if U.S. News is smart this year. Also, I hope you've been putting aside money for lawyers.
Mike: They're all afraid of me. There's a lot of lawyers that don't owe me a favor that they think they do. They got themselves into law school, but they think that I admitted them, so we're good. We're good on that front.
Justin: We've kind of talked about the issues for U.S. News. And now I'm sure most of the people listening to this are tired of hearing me drone on about the methodology and they want to hear us talk about, mostly you Mike, talk about what this is going to mean for people who are applying to law school. So do you think that this is going to slow down the pace of admission decision-making this year?
Mike: The answer is multifaceted of course. I think for some schools, yes. And I think for some schools, particularly at the top, the answer is no. If you're sitting at the top, you're probably not worried about things changing much. You're not going to go from a T14 to a T50 school. The pace at the top schools is probably going to be business as usual. And I think the pace of admitting, Justin, is going to be business as usual, particularly given that a lot of deans of admission do not look forward to the dramatic change after this SCOTUS case this summer. So they'd rather have one more year of doing what they think is holistic and right as far as admissions, and do it now. I actually, I think I said the other day the pace might slow down, but I'm beginning to think it's not going to. If I were a dean of admission and I had $5 million from my boss, the dean of the law school for merit aid, there's no data that ever indicates that giving that merit offer in November, I mean I'm only talking about timing now, not how much.
If I'm Princeton Law School, there's no data that suggests if I'm ranked number 20, if I give $80,000 in November, that person is going to come to my law school if they get offered off Yale's law school's waitlist in August. Zero data has ever been produced that shows the timing of admit or timing of scholarship offers. So if I'm a dean of admissions, I may hold on to all my money. I'll make my admits, but I may hold onto my money to see if U.S. News, because you and I both are sort of in agreement. They need to use public data, and I think they need to say sooner rather than later, “At minimum, we're only going to use public data.” So I may hold on to my merit aid money. And this is going to be the part that everyone's here for, every applicant’s here for, what if they double the weight of the LSAT? What if they half the weight of the LSAT? What if they follow Chris Guthrie’s 2020, Chris Guthrie is Dean of Vanderbilt, and you and I have both read his paper. His mission-driven idea of getting rid of the GPA and LSAT and selectivity because the missions of law schools are to employ students and prepare them for employment and to create and disseminate information.
Justin: Yeah, I think it's unlikely that they'll increase the weight of LSAT and GPA, they've been moving away from that. They know that the ABA is moving towards a test-optional approach for admissions, which is sort of going to cancel against increasing the importance of LSAT in the rankings. If they go to public data and several times they've said they have to, they don't have to, they can do whatever they want. I'm speaking from the perspective of what they should do that's good for their business. If they want to use public data, I think they're going to want to use public data that sort of mirrors the things that they can no longer get from schools and increasing the weight of admissions metrics doesn't really mirror any of the things that they can no longer get from law schools. Right. So sorry to everybody out there with a 4.0 and a 180 on the LSAT, unfortunately for you, you will have to just make do with the fact that you have a 4.0 and a 180. I don't think U.S. News is certainly going to make you much more appealing to law schools.
And I don't necessarily think they're going to really decrease the weight of these metrics, at least not much. They're already going to have to deal with a lot of other changes to the methodology. I think it would be surprising for them to throw more changes on top of that that are unnecessary at the moment. And I say unnecessary from their perspective, not unnecessary from the perspective of people who think these are bad metrics.
Mike: Let me give the points one and two of the entire podcast for the applicant. There is not going to be much change in admissions this current cycle, at most maybe during the waitlist season, but that's even speculation. So I'll repeat it, every time there's big news and this is the biggest news that we're seeing, someone could say they're adding a margarita machine in every law school to ABA edict. They’re getting –
Justin: That would be a great ABA edict, I fully support that one.
Mike: If someone could say, “You can no longer use the word ‘dean’ in your titles,” and it's always the same questions. How does this impact splitters, reverse splitters? Whatever you are, you understandably want to ask that question. You're in the underrepresented minority population of applicants applying to law school, you want to know how this impacts URM, which by the way next cycle, that's the million dollar question with SCOTUS.
But right now, all the questions are the same, which are all the questions I've heard for 24 years. How does it essentially impact me? It's obviously what I would be asking if I were an applicant. And the answer is it doesn't. It's going to be business as usual. We went 40 minutes for me to tell everyone not to worry.
Justin: Schools, you know, they're trying to figure out what's going on too, just as much as applicants are. So as confused as applicants feel, well the admissions officers, they're feeling the same degree of confusion. Mike, you talked about how they might delay some of their financial aid decisions, their merit decisions, I think that's plausible. That could be an impact. They might hold off on some of that stuff until they know more and maybe that'll change how they hand out some of the merit aid this year. But they already have the budget for the merit aid. The money is going to be spent. They're going to hand out aid.
Mike: Yeah. Timing matters to applicants but at the end of the day, if you get that $80,000 a year scholarship in November or you get an $80,000 scholarship in March, you're still going to law school with the same amount of discounted tuition.
Justin: All it does is save you a couple of months of wondering. I agree with you. It's not going to have too much impact this year. I think going forward, it could have more impacts on schools that have had a chance to sort of digest what's going on and evaluate their plans. If you're not participating in the rankings, you are less incentivized to care about the rankings. So I think everyone knows and everyone who is being honest will acknowledge that the rankings are a huge, huge driver of the importance placed on LSAT and GPA in admissions. This even briefly, very briefly, came up in the ABA's recent meeting where they were talking about test-optional.
Without the rankings rewarding higher median LSAT and higher median GPA and without schools caring about how they do in the rankings, they are less incentivized to care about their median LSAT and median GPA. Now, will they still care? Absolutely. For a number of reasons. One, they want to admit a qualified class. They're not going to suddenly be okay with admitting a class of people that they don't think will succeed in law school and represent their institution well when they graduate. Another one is a bit of a point of pride. Schools are proud of their class, proud of how qualified they are. And you can debate whether or not LSAT and GPA are a good metric for qualified, but you know, schools care about it.
Mike: What would be a cool world I think and I've thought this for many years in admissions, is if you do care about entering metrics like GPA and LSAT, but you are able to take into the fact that a 165 might actually be a 163 or a 167, I don't know the margin of error. Then schools don't have to get into this hyper focus and stress out the world about retaking the LSAT, which as we noted, you and I the other day, every time someone retakes the LSAT that makes the LSAC a lot of money. So, you know, having super competitive LSAT scores and you noticed super high LSAT scores of late, favors LSAC’s revenue streams. But wouldn't it be cool in a world where yeah the LSAT was a predictor of first year performance, but it wasn't the end-all, be-all for which law schools have to worry about rankings at the margins. And the same with GPA.
Justin: Yeah, I think a lot of people would like a world where a one point LSAT difference isn't an almost automatic bar to admission at a given school. That said, there's a flip side to that coin, the importance that U.S. News puts on the LSAT and GPA, it can also benefit applicants. Because if you do well in those metrics, you are a more attractive candidate to law schools, not just for admission, but also for merit aid. I mean, I think we all know that schools basically buy high LSAT and GPAs in the form of their merit aid practices. They are using this to try and bump up those incoming class medians. If they care less about the rankings, there's a lot less incentive for them to care about handing out those kind of merit scholarships.
Now, sort of implicit in a lot of the statements that schools have put out thus far when they withdraw from the rankings is that critique that the rankings encourage them to do exactly that. To reward people with merit aid for high LSAT, high GPA, and don't reward them for handing out need-based aid. And that is correct insofar as it goes, but the implication seems to be that they'll just shift that money over to need-based aid. And I personally am skeptical that in a world without merit aid, all that money would magically flow over to be handed out in the form of need-based aid. Schools are handing out this money because it's in their business interest to do so. They are doing it as part of a competition to attract people. Need-based aid doesn't have the same urgency as merit-based aid for a school. So in a world where the rankings matter less to a school, the school has less reason to hand out financial aid. And that is a negative, a potential negative at least.
Mike: So yeah, we talked about the hiring, which is not going to change at all. We talked about admissions which this cycle I think everyone should not worry about. They can get this ranking stuff out of their head. There are going to be more schools that drop out. You and I don't know how many more. It could be 30% of the total population of schools, it could be 40%. We don't know. We think that U.S. News is going to have to rely on public data.
Let me end on this point. Psychologically speaking, the human mind craves ordered systems. We crave them in nature because we're getting hit by, you might know this better than I, but the amount of data and pixels that are flooding our poor brains in any microsecond in nature is overwhelming, and our brains have to organize things. We actually care about them even more when it comes to law school rankings. So I've seen a lot of tweets and some blogs, “Oh, ding dong. The witch is dead. Rankings are going away.” When I'm talking to someone on this podcast four years from now, the rankings themselves will be 0% diminished. Maybe a second player enters the rankings, maybe Spivey Consulting's My Rank takes off and that's free. So I hope it does because it doesn't cost anyone anything. But the rankings themselves will not be diminished.
Justin: I think I'm slightly more optimistic. They might be a bit more diminished, but I agree that there will always be rankings. And I think in an ideal world, there would be multiple of them. Competition is good. Competition drives improvement. A lot of the problem in the rankings that I think we have now is that they have no competition. They would benefit from it. And I think consumers would benefit from it. Applicants would benefit from it. So, you know, in an ideal world, this spurs some change, maybe a little bit less myopic focus on the rankings, maybe some new players in the market. But we're going to have to see. I mean, right now, we just, we don't even know how many schools are going to stop participating.
Mike: I do think we're going to have better rankings and more transparent rankings. But I think probably years from now, I'm going to be talking to people and telling them, look, it doesn't matter that the 12th school just became the 15th school. I know you think it matters, but it doesn't.