FORUM: HOW I RATE RANKINGS: HIGH IN CONSUMER VALUE; SURVEYS HELP KEEP SERVICE INSTITUTIONS COMPETITIVE

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Since when is more information a bad thing for consumers?

The Association of American Law Schools and the Law School Admissions Council seem to think law school candidates would be better off with less information as they make the very important decision of where to get their law degree.

In a recent letter mailed to 93,000 prospective law students and in a subsequent press conference, the groups attacked U.S. News & World Report's influential ranking of law schools, asking the publication to cease and desist. One dean publicly characterized the data as "misleading and dangerous."

This is going too far.

NOT THE FIRST COMPLAINTS

Ever since publications have been publishing survey data, the companies and institutions on the low end of the tallies have complained about the rankings.

Attacking the message is a classic marketing maneuver that plants seeds of doubt in the minds of consumers. It's fair game on any playing field.

In fact, attacking the message is exactly how administrators at Harvard Business School responded back in 1985, when Business Week's first ranking of MBA programs placed the highly esteemed Harvard in a humble third-place position.

Soon after the study was published, a Harvard administrator was quoted as criticizing the study's methodology. Other schools have been following that same tactic ever since.

The Association of American Law Schools and the Law School Admission Council have taken their uneasiness with published surveys too far. Instead of merely attacking the methodology, they attacked the very existence of published rankings.

Their thinking is entirely self-serving. How would prospective law students be better served without access to an annual ranking of law schools?

Why would reliable rankings place consumers of any product or service at a disadvantage?

The number of published surveys definitely is increasing, helping consumers make important, educated decisions. The reason is simple: The supply of published rankings is rising to meet the demand. Consumers want -- in fact, need -- this kind of information to make educated decisions about everything from where to go to law school to which doctor to choose for heart surgery.

And clearly the rankings make a difference.

INFLUENTIAL NUMBERS

Education rankings influence everything from the number of applicants to the amount of money alumni donate to their school. Healthcare rankings are so influential that hospitals and healthcare providers spend millions of dollars in ads touting their placement in the standings. The same goes for marketers of cars, household products, vacation resorts -- even towns and cities.

Whether consumers are going to law school, relocating to a new city or choosing a heart surgeon, chances are someone has published a survey that can help them make the decision.

INDEPENDENT ASSESSMENT

For consumers, published rankings provide an independent assessment, a tool to be used alongside other important factors. Rankings should not be consumers' only source of information, or even their main source. They merely are an important piece of the decisionmaking pie.

Surveys and polls may not be perfect, but they offer consumers more information than they ever had before. And surveys keep the providers focused on their customers' needs, where it belongs.

Best of all, they keep our service institutions competitive, something they sorely need and shouldn't fear.

Mr. Krauss is a principal at OmniTech Consulting Group, Chicago, a consultancy specializing in assisting companies and organi- zations with strategic issues.

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