Uncivil Procedure: Ranking Law Students Among Their Peers

This Article does not argue against evaluation, testing, or assessment within law school or outside of it. Nor does it argue against the use of standardized assessment procedures. This Article attempts to discredit the institutional practice of ranking law students among their peers. Part I presents a brief overview of the present system of testing and ranking, its impact on law student careers and the present justifications for these practices. Part II evaluates ranking, and the single end-of-term essay on which it is based, according to psychometric theory, learning theory, and statistical theory. Part III justifies abandoning the system by showing some of the detrimental effects that ranking has on students. Part IV suggests performance assessment as a preferable alternative. Part V concludes that whatever “new” method is chosen, the current practices of law schools cannot continue unaltered. The system’s quasi-religious adherence to ranking devalues human beings, distorts the legal system into a cultural compactor, and diverts scarce resources from truly legitimate educational goals. In short, ranking students on the curve, arguably once a useful technique for screening unprepared students, deserves a quick administrative death.