U.S News & World Report Professional Ratings Explained

The United States News and World Report, which is more commonly known as USWR is a trusted and well-respected resource that provides everything from attorney and doctor rankings to college rankings. Since the late 1980s there have been all types of ranking lists released by the media outlet. There seems to be virtually no way to determine just how persuasive these rankings are. No results are found when the quotations below are searched on Google.

  • “United States new and world report ranking impact”
  • “United States new and world report impact”
  • “Who reads United States news and world report”
  • “United States news ranking impact”

If you fail to use quotations in the search it will only result in USWR news that relates to colleges that have lost or jumped rankings in USWR in recent times. This by itself is an indication of the amount of influence this business has. When the rankings impact of USWR is researched, a specific venture of ranking becomes the focus. The USWR college rankings impact that are most commonly researched pertains to those that are trying to locate potential colleges.

The criterion in recent years that is used by USWR to decide its rankings is being questioned. While USWR states objective data is used to obtain their rankings, it seems that flawed and subjective data is the basis for rankings.

The college rankings of USWR seem to be the publications that are investigated most often. For example, on an ethical standpoint it will supply a way to comprehend the operation of the company.

In 2008 a Journal was released by the American Board Association Journal which reveals flaws in some of the USWR criteria used to determine ranks of colleges. As an example, misrepresented by the USWR and law schools was the criterion selectivity.

The results that are obtained by law schools when students’ potential is reviewed is what selectivity is based on. Undergraduate GPAs, students’ median LST scores, and the acceptance rate of law schools is the basis for 20% of USWR ranking. It was found by the Association of American Law Schools that many law schools were advising students to put their application in at their schools, even though their chance of being accepted was non-existent.

This was done by law schools to bump up their acceptance rates, which would in turn bump up their rank in USWR as well. This seems to be another hint of the influence USWR holds on people. In addition to this, though the GPA of undergraduates appears to be objective, they are actually subjective. When it comes to the difficulty level, grading scale, and required materials, there is a difference in all of the undergraduate courses that are taught. The difficulty level and the courses are different, even though it may be a requirement for course criteria of the same subject material. While it is not considered as part of the ranking process of USWR, the student’s GPA is the obvious affect.

Criteria Examination

So, the question arises, when it comes to ranking lawyers, what is the part of USWR. In September of 2010, a joint venture of USWR and Best Attorneys for the ranking of “Best Law Firms” was presented to the media. The most respected and oldest publication of legal profession peer-reviews is Best Lawyers, as alleged on their website.

It is claimed that it’s considered to be a huge honor by legal professionals and clients alike when an attorney is listed on Best Lawyers and discussed by their peers. Best Lawyers would like to make some factors clear to attorneys that plan to inform clients of their listing on the Best Lawyers’ site, even with the status it may carry to be listed on the site.

  • While it is fine for attorneys to include in ads that they are listed in ‘The Best Lawyers in America’, ‘Best Lawyers’, or in ‘The Best Lawyers in Canada’, they are not permitted to actually claim they are ‘best lawyers’, or to make suggestions that listings can guarantee clients the results they desire, or the listing deems them more experienced than attorneys that do not have listings in the publication.

Just like USWR, a similar process is used for businesses to rank attorneys on Best Lawyers. The rankings methodology behind the joint venture, according to the website of USWRs Best Law Firms, involved surveying clients of numerous law firms, marketing, associates, and recruiting officers, and the managers and attorneys of leading law firms. Each of them were asked the elements they deemed vital for clients looking to hire attorney firms, attorneys looking for employment, and attorneys selecting an appropriate firm to refer work to.

According to USWR, questions on the survey were mainly related to reputational information. Then, six different surveys were formed and sent to test subjects of the law industry. However, the answer to a relevant and basic question was not released, which was ‘how were these test subjects selected.’

Below are the six different surveys that were conducted, who the surveys were sent to, and related questions the USWR website left unanswered under the ‘methodology’ section.

  • 52,480 clients received client surveys.
  • What was the process these clients were selected?
  • Were any selected clients practicing law?
  • 43,900 attorneys received attorney surveys, which included all of the lawyers listed in Best Lawyers located in the United States.
  • What was the process of selecting attorneys not listed on the site Best Lawyers?
  • The report was released from Best Lawyers along with USWR. When a survey is sent to each attorney listed on the site, who clearly benefit from being placed on the Best Lawyers site, how does this not pose a conflict of interest?
  • 2,314 marketing officers and 2,322 recruiting officers received a survey.
  • How is the way an attorney is ranked related to recruiting and marketing officers?
  • Law firms hire each of these officers. Again, how does this not pose a conflict of interest?
  • The specific group other surveys were sent was specified. What is the reason each of these surveys are not categorized?
  • 8,597 firms that had no contact with recruiting or marketing offices received surveys.
  • What was the process in which these firms were selected?
  • What is the reason these surveys were not categorized?
  • 1,775 summer associates and 2,322 firm associates received surveys.
  • Again, how does this not pose a contact of interest? Associates have a direct benefit, both in terms of the success of their careers and financially from being employed by a firm that is thought to be great, and seemingly, they hold the responsibility of deciding which attorney firms are thought to be great.

It is obvious that just 5 survey types have been posted on their site. It brings to question if there was a 6th survey. If so, what kind was it, who received it, and what information did it hold?

In Summary

The process for deciding the rank of law firms’ was:

  1. Ask “prominent” (whoever this might suggest) citizens located in the law community what they believe the criteria of a good lawyer should be.
  2. Based on the responses received, generate and send surveys that are specific to certain groups in the law community. The determination of these particular groups is not stated. Also not stated is the fact that there is a clear conflict of interest with most of the people surveyed. There is also no suggestion to show the very same groups and individuals that decided the criteria did not then receive the actual survey they had a part in making.
  3. Use a combination of the following to rank attorneys:

a. Data from surveys that are completed.
b. Information Best Lawyers provided
iii. As stated by USNWR website Best Law Firms, on top of data gathered from the surveys, the rankings include evaluations from 39,372 well known attorneys which added up to 3.1 million and Best Lawyers collected the information from their latest yearly survey.

Subjective and quantitative factors are the basis for USNWRs rankings. While their information is misrepresented as objective, subjective information is not the issue. It appears that ranking an attorney without taking citizens law-related experiences into account is impossible. For example, a factor some people consider might be ethics, when they are deciding if an attorney is likable and good. Ethics cannot be objectively scaled, simply because it is subjective. In regards to the method USNWR articulates its rankings, it is clear that subjectivity is not what’s disputable.

What is disputable? The process rankings are decided by USWR.

  • What is the process used by USNWR to decide who will receive a preliminary and secondary survey?
  • What makes the opinion of these people more relevant than the people not surveyed?
  • Why are people with a clear invested interest in portraying their own firm to appear good, and possibly even better than they actually are the ones receiving a survey?
  • When one of two parties that are distributing the rankings uses information obtained as data, when it was obtained and understood in the precise flawed method used in distributing the USNWR rankings, how does it not pose a conflict of interest?