Sometimes law schools these days remind me of junior high school students. The want to dress like everyone else, act like everyone else, be seen with all of the other cool kids, be accepted, and spend a whole lot of their parents money doing it they do not need to be doing. It is all about the influence the peer group has on an impressionable student to change his or her attitudes, values and behaviors in order to conform to the groups norms. It is all about the clique.
A person affected by peer pressure may or may not want to belong to a clique, but they do not want to be scorn by their peers either. And, in trying to belong to the clique, a junior high student will typically recognize dissociative groups in which they would not wish to associate. As a result, they behave adversely concerning these groups.
What we know is that peer pressure can cause people to do things they would not normally do, such as take drugs and buy expensive things they do not need.
Well, law schools have gravitated in this direction. The drug is the U.S. News rankings. The expensive items represent almost everything that are causing tuition to monumentally increase. The former leads to the latter. It is a bad combination.
With the U.S. News rankings we are talking about negative peer pressure. It is the desire for law schools to spend a large amount of time trying to associate with a fixed group regardless of their opinion of that group. That group is the tier 1 group of law schools. Then within that group it is the top 10 law schools. Then within that group there is the top two or three law schools.
The problem with trying to be associated with the popular group or crowd is that research shows there are a number of risk factors that can result in deviant behavior. This deviant behavior is undoubted represented by run away tuition and fees, but it is also represented in the loss of the schools own identity as the lower tier law schools experiment with new identities, experiences and norms that are not always positive and beneficial to their law students. These law schools want so desperately to be accepted and recognized by, and join, the top, top tier that they ignore the bad aspects.
As reported by The National Law Center, the U.S. News annual rankings profoundly influence the way law schools manage, spend resources, perceive themselves internally, and are perceived by the outside world. The rankings affect so many aspects of the legal education. Trying to move up in the rankings nearly consume law schools and determine overwhelmingly how law schools distribute their resources. And, it forces law schools to exhibit the worst behavior in trying to find ways to game the system.
One way they have done this is to classify students as part time or probationary so their LSAT scores will not count in the ranking calculations. Although U.S. News is correcting this, other loopholes are bing sought out.
Law schools also tend to allocate more money toward merit-based scholarships in order to attract students with high LSAT scores, the factor that accounts for one half of the law schools selectivity score. Yet, the LSAT has never proved an indicator as to how someone will perform in law school. The students undergraduate GPA, the quality of the applicant, and other more important qualifications do not count as high.
Law schools also spend a significant amount of money on brochures and other marketing for the sole purpose of trying to improve the reputation survey. This costs, which law students pay for, does not benefit the law student much except to put the student deeper into debt.
And, talk about the dissociative groups. The study of rankings has found that as a consequence of all of the gaming many law school administrators report becoming distrustful of other law schools, believing that they will do anything to raise their rankings even if those strategies are unethical.
Then, there is another study performed by the Government Accountability Office that found that the race among law schools to boost their U.S. News rankings was the biggest factor in rising tuition.
The fall in print media might eventually take care of the U.S. News rankings and once again allow law schools to control their own reputations. Rankings can make things more transparent. They are just statistics after all. Whether the problem is U.S. News or the law schools, I think all of us are ready for the law schools in this country to just grow up and try to behave themselves.