The Right Coast

November 01, 2005
Leiter's law school rankings
By Tom Smith

Just because you're a socialist, doesn't mean you can't be an entrepreneur. This is a new and improved version, it appears, of Brian Leiter's well known law school rankings, being done in association with Cincinnati law prof Paul Caron. And those of us who have suffered under the US News regime, know this is long overdue.

If Brian makes millions on this, I fully expect to be invited to his ranch, so we can debate the evils of capitalism next to his pool.

I have at least one quibble, and will probably have more. It looks like the schools are ranked prominently inter alia in the form of per capita cites to faculty research. While this does give some idea of average faculty quality, it does not measure the intellectual faculty resources to which students will have access. It penalizes schools such as USD (and also apparently Yale) which have large faculties, and rewards schools such as Chicago, which are relatively small. But it does not necessarily hurt students that there are faculty members who don't publish or get cited much, as long as there are plenty of professors who do. So a ranking by total impact (measured by citations) I would think, should also be featured as prominently. And of course, I would bet USD would do much better under such a measure, not that this influences me in any way.

More technically, total cite counts can be misleading because some cites are a lot better than others. Being cited by the US Supreme Court is a much bigger deal than being cited by one of your junior colleagues. Your junior colleague may be smarter than several members of the high court, but the Court is much more prestigious. So in theory you should use some authority algorithm of the sort certain far-seeing legal scholars who happen to reside in San Diego are working on even as we speak.

In any event, congratulations and best wishes to Brian and Paul on their new venture.