When one of my brothers was getting a PhD in chemistry back in the day, he had fellowship offers from a Midwestern university famous for its adjacent cornfields, and an Ivy League school famous for being famous. He chose the former. I was just getting into the law racket at the time and this choice naturally surprised me. He explained that Moo U happened to have a better chemistry department than World Famous University.
A glance at the current USNWR rankings of such things reveals that Illinois has a higher-ranked chemistry department than Yale, Princeton, Chicago, or Columbia. Of course this could never happen in law, for the simple reason that chemistry is a real academic field, while law is basically a bunch of prestige-obsessed bullshit resting upon enormous piles of money and power.
In law, the same three schools are always The Top Three, the same six schools are always The Top Six, and the same fourteen schools are always the T-14, ab aeterno, world without end amen. Law is all about maintaining hierarchy, and hierarchy is self-replicating and self-reinforcing. This makes reputation "sticky," as a social scientist would say, and since reputation drives everything else that affects the rankings, the rankings always stay the same, with two exceptions:
(1) There are ever-so tiny movements within the elite micro-tiers described above.
(2) There are comparatively large movements within the Outer Systems lying beyond the magic circle of the elites.
For example, this year in the Top Three Stanford jumped Harvard. Incredibly, people at these institutions actually care about this. They may, and they do, excoriate these imbecile rankings, which as many people have pointed out are based on a methodology which is absurd on its face (schools are rewarded for spending more money, i.e., for achieving maximum inefficiency; reputation is measured by surveying people who know nothing about the putative metrics etc etc), but you can bet your rising tuition dollar that this ever-so slight Disturbance in the Force has caused rejoicing in Palo Alto and much rending of garments in Cambridge. This would be merely amusing if it were not for the all-but inevitable fact that this meaningless event will cause all too meaningful amounts of money to be spent by those who deplore the metaphorically bankrupt proclamations of a literally bankrupt news magazine, while continuing to prostrate themselves before it.
Meanwhile, out in the provinces, one school this year fell from 23 to 35, while another rose from 30 to 20 (or something -- I'm not looking it up). Potential law students pay close attention to such movements, even though there's almost no evidence that this kind of thing makes any difference in regard to acquiring the jobs of which there are not nearly enough, especially the tiny percentage of jobs that pay enough to justifying going to any law school period. And because 0Ls pay attention to this nonsense, law school administrators and their university superiors do as well. (Although the former factor seems to be changing slowly. Even at a
A student at a Top Two law school makes the following observations:
Yes it is.The numbers are quite depressing. The top 6 have gotten closer and closer to each other, which seemingly suggests two possibilities (or some combo):
(1) Schools have been rat-racing based on the USN criteria to the extent that they're all pushing towards *precisely* the same goal.
(2) USNews is changing its formula to create greater parity at the top, arguably raising the incentive for (1).
One would hope that different law deans have their own independent thoughts/objectives [about what legal education ought to be]...but...oy. While we joke that it is a conspiracy, I sadly think it really, really is. And it's so, so wrong.