Above the Law reports that Dean Van Zandt of Northwestern Law School believes we should have taken class size into account when ranking law schools. Our rankings are based on a simple count of lawyers selected to 2009 Super Lawyers. The Dean ran his own numbers using a weighted average method based on enrollment in 1999. Using this approach, Northwestern rises from our ranking of 18th to 8th in the nation.
Prior to releasing our rankings, we too prepared a test ranking using a weighted average based on the enrollment figures from the ABA for 2007-08 (we gave a 1/2 weighting to part time students). When we ran the numbers, Northwestern didn’t fare so well. In fact, they dropped out of the top 25.
The Dean’s approach sounds completely reasonable (although we’re not sure what numbers he used). And he is certainly not alone in believing that we should have employed a weighted average approach. But this also illustrates the problem of trying to apply a weighted average based on ever-shifting class sizes over the last 10 to 30 years. It’s not as simple and easy as it sounds. Change the enrollment year, change the weight you accord part-time students, and the rankings shift.
We are open to employing a weighted average approach the next time we release our rankings. One method we’re studying would be based on total living alums which I’m told is reported by law schools to the ABA each year. This might solve the changing enrollment problem.
As for our head count method– a straightforward outcome-based measurement of excellence – I maintain there is beauty in simplicity .