The relationship between 1L class size and USNWR peer score

Professor Robert Jones has tracked the peer scores for law schools as reported by USNWR over time. That is, each year, each law school receives a peer score on a scale of 1 to 5, and we can see how that score has changed over time. He’s also tracked the average of all peer scores. That gives us an interesting idea—what do law professors think about the state of legal education as a whole? Perhaps schools are always getting better and we’d see peer scores climb; perhaps schools increasingly rate each other more harshly as they compete to climb the rankings and we’d see the peer scores drop. (There’s some evidence law faculties are pretty harsh about most law schools!)

At the risk of offering a spurious correlation, I noticed that the average score appeared to rise and fall with the conditions of the legal education market. The easiest way to track that would be to look at the overall 1L incoming class size the year the survey was circulated.

You can make a lot of correlations look good on two axes if you shape the two axes carefully enough. But there’s a good relationship between the two here. As the legal education market rose from 2006 to 2010 with increasingly large 1L class sizes, peer scores roughly trended upwards. As the market crashed through 2014, peer scores dropped. Now, the market has modestly improved—and peer scores have moved up much more quickly, perhaps reflecting optimism.

All this is really just speculation about why peer scores would change, on average, more than 0.1 in a single decade, or why they’d move up and down. Intuitively, the fact that peer scores may improve as the legal academy feels better about the state of legal education, or worsen as it feels worse, seems to make sense. There are far better ways to investigate this claim, but this relationship struck me as noteworthy!