The following is story of what I believe to be the first ranking of all U.S. Law Schools. (If I am mistaken, please email me additional facts and I will post them.) As a service to the law school community, I have scanned and linked to the relevant articles. Otherwise, they would be hidden away in the stacks of most law school libraries. I hope readers find this account interesting and enjoyable.
The story begins with a magazine. In the early 1970s, the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar attempted to elicit a dialogue between the legal academy and practitioners by starting a periodical called Learning & the Law. Its editor was a law professor named Charles Kelso (now emeritus at McGeorge), a person of prodigious energy who served on numerous ABA inspection teams during the 1960s and '70s. Before ending its publication, Learning & the Law put out four terrific, interesting volumes (1974-77) that tapped many of the nation's leading academics and law school deans to write about of issues affecting law, society, pedagogy, legal education and the practicing bar.
In the summer 1975 , Charles Kelso drew upon data collected by the ABA to publish a rating of law school resources--e.g., faculty size, student/faculty ratio, volumes in library, etc. See Adding Up The Law Schools: A Tabulation and Rating of their Resources. The idea for the Resource Index emanated from Kelso's observation that schools with part-time programs tended to have fewer resources per capita and, in general, focused on training competent practitioners rather producing scholarship, championing social causes, or providing an advanced liberal education. The compilation of such a list, reasoned Kelso, could help ABA inspection teams evaluate resources vis-a-vis law schools' stated social and educational missions.
The first paragraph of the article explicitly stated, "[This list] is not a quality rating of law schools" (emphasis in original). But it didn't matter. The article listed all U.S. law schools in descending order of resources. Further, each school was placed in one of seven groups (you know, like law school tiers) and assigned a resource grade of A, B, or C. Groups 1 and 2 were designated an "A"; Groups 3, 4, and 5 were given a "B"; and Groups 6 and 7 were given an "C". Kelso also noted that a recent listing of top law schools [based on survey data from law school deans from Change magazine, Winter 1974-75] closely tracked the top of the Resource Index.
In the weeks that followed, Learning & the Law was besieged with letters, many from law school deans, complaining about the inaccuracies of Kelso's methodology. The Fall 1975 issue published several critical letters and a comprehensive defense by Kelso. See In Defense of the Mathematics of Law School Evaluation. For a summary of that provocative exchange, you'll have to read past the jump.