Gaming the system

The WSJ, August 26th, front page, discusses law school rankings … and the ability of school deans to "game" the system used by U.S. News & World Report to rank law schools. This reminds me of the accounting adage, "Figures don’t lie, but liars figure."

The "how" they do it is not so important because there will always be those clever enough to understand any system and seek to manipulate the system.Unfortunately, it is always the "few" gamers who spoil the system for the others, those with legitimate interests and procedures.

The "why" is important, in my opinion. The conclusion of one dean, and I’m sure many others, is that if it’s not illegal, it’s not immoral. This is not the same, again in my opinion, as the tax code that urges taxpayers to seek tax "avoidance," but not tax "evasion!" A very large difference.

The problem in this case is that we are dealing with the law, with lawyers, with the very foundation of our society. Somehow, it seems o.k. to do what is legal, though not traditional, to defend an accused — this is part of our history and Constitutional guarantees. But, it’s not o.k. for the very law schools that are training our future defenders and leaders to mislead applicants to get them to their schools via higher school rankings. There is something unseemly about the process.

The practices at universities and law schools are merely precursors to students’ future actions. Many of those who were accused and convicted in the Watergate scandals had similar records in school. Then, they were pranks; in Watergate, they were illegal!

Law school teaches how to read the word, and argue both sides of an issue. After all, our system provides for two advocates, neither of whom is the trier-of-fact, the decision-maker. Are the law school deans merely reflecting what is legitimate to teach, to read the word, interpret the words for their benefit and let the third party make the decision?

The difference is that there is only the decision-maker (the applicant, this case) and the advocate for the the law school (who submits the statistics to U.S. News & World Report). There is no other advocate to highlight the methodology being used by the law school so that an appropriate evaluation of the statistics can be made.

It’s not illegal; by most standards, it’s not immoral. But, it does seem wrong nevertheless for the teachers of our defenders and future leaders to be "gaming."



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