Monochromatic Oeuvre wrote:A school's reputation is a positive feedback loop. Schools get a strong reputation by having students, and you attract great students by having a strong reputation.
A school is more likely to have a great reputation if it is:
a) Old (not a coincidence that many of the nation's top law schools are also the oldest--it's much easier to "get the ball rolling" reputation-wise when you have few competitors)
b) Continuously operational
c) Part of a wider institution with access to significant financial resources
The only real way a school can strength its reputation is if one of its specialties becomes more important relative to before. For example, Chicago strengthened its reputation after Law and Economics became a highly relevant sub-field. UCLA's reputation strengthened as the Los Angeles market became the third-biggest in the country. It's either one of those factors, or a school above them makes administrative mistakes (as we are assuming Michigan did way back when).
Make no mistake, however: As much as we like to note the irrelevance of minor rankings differences, particularly outside the T14, each spot in the rankings is worth quite literally millions of dollars to a school. Keep in mind that most schools spend several million a year on merit scholarships essentially just so they can tread water, reputation-wise. If you were the Dean of Columbia and you could magically switch reputations with Stanford (Columbia was solidly #3 until the mid-'70s) so that it were instead YHC and SCN, how much would you pay for that? It would probably be worth $50 million, maybe more.
This is pretty spot on, except that I think you overestimate the importance of age as an elite factor.
1.) Age of academic institutions is in the US is not generally perceived as all that important outside of Ivy recognition (to which there are even younger exceptions like Cornell), given the youth of the country itself. Even H/Y are babies next to institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Heidelberg, etc., and in broad generalizing terms Americans tend to have a distrust suspicion of old traditions and institutions anyway.
2.) Stanford, Boalt, and all good west coast schools are pretty much golden counterexamples to the age=influence and youth=lower status argument.
3.) Many of the oldest law schools in the US have little influence or prestige today, even if their undergraduate institutions do. See: William and Mary (oldest LS in USA), Penn State, St. Louis, UNC, Rutgers, etc., and that's not even taking into account the many very old schools that ultimately closed down, e.g. Litchfield. Just looking at H/Y and drawing an age-based conclusion of prestige is a little bit of a post-hoc error.