A Revealed Preferences Approach to Ranking Law Schools

Brian L. Frye, Christopher J. Ryan Jr.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The U.S. News & World Report (U.S. News) “Best Law Schools Rankings” defines the market for legal education. Law schools compete to improve their standing in the U.S. News rankings and fear any decline. But the U.S. News rankings are controversial, at least in part because they rely on factors that are poor proxies for quality, like peer reputation and expenditures per student. While many alternative law school rankings exist, none have challenged the market dominance of the U.S. News rankings. Presumably the U.S. News rankings benefit from a first-mover advantage, other rankings fail to provide a clearly superior alternative, or some combination of the two.

In theory, the purpose of ranking law schools is to provide useful information to prospective law students. Rankings can provide different kinds of information for different purposes. Existing law school rankings seek to provide information that will help prospective law students decide where to matriculate. However, objective rankings can provide useful information only if they measure factors that are salient to prospective law students, and different factors are salient to different students.

This Article provides the first subjective ranking of law schools. It describes a method of ranking law schools based on the revealed preferences of matriculating students. Law school admission depends almost entirely on an applicant’s Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) score and undergraduate grade point average (GPA), and law schools compete to matriculate students with the highest possible combined scores. Our method of ranking law schools assumes that the “best” law schools are the most successful at matriculating the most desirable students. Accordingly, this Article provides a “best law schools ranking” based exclusively on the LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs of matriculating students. In contrast to objective rankings of law schools, which attempt to tell prospective law students which law school they should attend, this Article provides a subjective ranking of law schools by asking which law schools prospective law students actually choose to attend. This “revealed- preferences” method of ranking law schools may help identify which factors are actually salient to prospective law students.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)495-531
JournalAlabama Law Review
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


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