Posted: April 4th, 2016 | By: Bryce Clayton Newell
Wake Forest Law Review was listed as number 41 out of the 100 best law reviews in the country in the following article, “2016 Meta-Ranking of Flagship U.S. Law Reviews,” originally published on PrawfsBlawg on April 4, 2016.
I want to thank Howard for posting this to the blog for me. I have been an avid reader of the blog for a number of years now, and it is nice to have the chance to try something out with you all and get some feedback on an idea for a new way to rank law reviews.
(I realize I may have just scared some of you off If not, I appreciate your continued attention.)
I am a long-time Angsting Thread lurker and sometimes commenter/spreadsheet contributor (when I have something to add). This submission cycle, during my “free” time between repeatedly hitting “refresh” on the Spring 2016 Angsting Thread (to read updated comments) while waiting for two articles to get accepted, I put together a meta-ranking of general/flagship US law journals. Law journal rankings show up periodically on PrawfsBlawg (as well as on other popular law blogs), but the semi-annual Angsting Thread continuously includes comments and questions about how to compare offers, whether to use US News rankings (either the Overall Ranking or the Peer Reputation ranking), and how (or whether) to consider alternative, impact-based, metrics like the W&L Combined Ranking or Google Scholar Metrics.
As a junior academic and aspiring prof., I’ve also asked these questions of numerous mentors and former law professors of mine. The advice I’ve gotten generally mirrors the advice I’ve seen in the comments: generally use the US News Overall Ranking (or maybe the peer reputation ranking, although this is less frequently mentioned), and if you can find it, consider the average ranking of a school over the last X years rather than only the most recent annual ranking; the alternative rankings can be useful to e.g., compare a specialized journal with a flagship one or as a way to distinguish between offers from two closely ranked (by US News) general journals, but they should not replace the general consensus that (one of ) the US News rankings is the best gauge of journal prestige.
However, as an interdisciplinary scholar who publishes work in both peer-reviewed social science journals and law reviews, it strikes me as odd that we would discount measures of journal impact completely when choosing where to submit and which offers to prioritize. To be sure, the W&L ranking has some flaws (some described earlier on PrawfsBlawg here) and other citation-based impact factor rankings commonly used in other disciplines (like JCR/ISI) also have their limitations (including poor coverage of law journals). Google Scholar Metrics represents an interesting alternative way to measure impact (Google’s metrics description is here), but also doesn’t have full coverage of law journals and comes with a different set of concerns. Regardless, though, it appears important that some measures of citation or impact are taken into account, as direct correlations between US News rankings of law schools and law journal importance seem a bit weak as the primary (or only) measure to evaluate.
So, to get to the point, I decided to create a meta-ranking of the possible contenders for gauging the relative importance of journals and offers: US News Overall Ranking (averaged from 2010-2017), US News Peer Reputation Ranking (also averaged from 2010-2017), W&L Combined Ranking (at default weighting; 2007-2014), and Google Scholar Metrics law journal rankings (averaging the h-index and h-median of each journal, as proposedhere by Robert Anderson). I’ve ranked each journal within each ranking system, averaged these four ranks using a 25% weighting for each, and computed and ranked the final scores. I think this approach benefits from incorporating a couple different forms of impact evaluation (W&L + Google) while not disregarding the general sentiment that law school “prestige” (USN combined rank + peer reputation rank, each averaged over an 8-year period) is an important factor in law review placement decisions.
I would love to get feedback about whether you think there is any usefulness to doing this in this way, whether you would suggest alternative weightings, different combinations of rankings, or if I have overlooked something (entirely possible, as I was paying more attention to your comments on the Angsting Thread than anything else when I put this together), etc. If it seems that folks are interested and that this might be useful, I can also post full ranking (I’ve ranked 194 journals). I am also working on an attempt to evaluate equivalencies between specialty journals and general ones, and I’m happy to take suggestions or share my initial thoughts on doing that if you’d like to get in touch.
The big movers here (in this ranking versus the average US News Overall Rank from 2010-2017) seem to be (but there are quite a few others who moved around):
- New York Law School moved up a whopping 38 places (to #99);
- Vermont moved up 31 places (to #91);
- UC Irvine dropped 30 places (to #59);
- Akron moved up 28 places (to #99);
- Albany moved up 27 places (to #96).
Journals like Fordham (#26, up 10 places), Hastings (#36, up 12 places), Cardozo (#42, up 18 places), American (#46, up 11 places), and Lewis and Clark (#53, up 23 places) that have been frequently referred to in Angsting Thread comments as “hitting above their weight” all also improved at least 10 places (as did Missouri, Connecticut, Denver, Brooklyn, Chicago-Kent, Seattle, Oregon, Buffalo, Santa Clara, Indy, DePaul, South Carolina, St. Louis, Hofstra, Marquette, and Howard). Other journals dropping 10 or more places include: Arkansas-Fay., Kentucky, Georgia State, Temple, SMU, Arizona State, Georgia, and Alabama.
Other sizable moves in the top 20:
- Chicago (#12) drops 7 places (Google’s ranking moderated the even more drastic difference between Chicago’s US News rank and W&L rank);
- Iowa moved up 5 places (to #20);
- Northwestern dropped 4 places (to #16);
- Michigan (#6), Georgetown (#10), Texas (#11), and Notre Dame (#19) all moved up 4 places.