Entering the Fray: My Thoughts on the 2010 USNWR Law School Rankings
This is my least favorite topic, but I know it’s the one you all want to hear about, so I will share my thoughts (in no particular order) about the newly released 2010 USNWR Law School Rankings. The people who tend to panic most about the rankings are actually those who will be starting law school this fall, not those who will be applying to law school this fall. Unless a law school you’re planning to attend had a huge, absolutely unreasonable drop (with is very rare) this really shouldn’t impact your decision about where to attend. For those of you who will be applying to law school this fall (for the Fall 2011 admission cycle), remember that the USNWR Rankings are just one of many resources of information regarding law schools. The Rankings are not the end-all-be-all, and certainly no one should make a decision about where to attend law school based on a small difference in the rankings – that can change from year to year. As I discuss in my law school admission guide book, no one is really choosing between a T3 school and a Top 20 school. It’s not that easy. Take the nuances into account.
That being said, here are some of my observations following the release of the 2010 rankings:
1. All of last year’s top 10 also made the top 10 this year. New entries to the top 10 (which is really the top 12 schools) are Duke and Northwestern. So, this shows more schools are “tying” on the numbers. Last year, Duke and Northwestern tied for the #11 spot. So really, no difference between this year and last year except that students at Duke and Northwestern get to say they go to a Top 10 school. Of course, by the time they graduate those bragging rights might be embarrassing; if these schools didn’t shift a bit from year to year, US News wouldn’t be able to sell magazines (or get publicity from having their magazine’s contents leaked early on the Internet).
2. I always think it’s suspicious that Georgetown is ALWAYS #14 (2010, 2009, and practically every other year too) and we call it “Top-14” rather than “Top-15″…. suspicious, right?
3. The Top 20 hasn’t really changed much. Of course, since there was only room for 8 schools (without multiple ties) in slots 10-20, the last three fell a bit, but not in any way that anyone should find meaningful. GWU moved up 8 spots to the Top 20. It’s become a very popular law school in recent years. They brought up their GPA numbers slightly, lowered their acceptance rate, and improved their employment stats for 2008 grads. Of course, these are not the most recent graduation stats and are from BEFORE the near-collapse of BigLaw so watch for this to catch up with them in the 2011 rankings if this is the main reason for the increase in the overall score.
4. There’s really no major movement in the Top 30, although my former clients at UCDavis are THRILLED to have jumped from 35 to 28 (but there are 30 schools in the top 28 this year, just so you know). The LSAT percentiles went up, but the employment rate for 2008 grads at graduation was 97.3 (ten percentage points higher than the 2007 grad figure of 87.9!!!). Really? That’s a big jump in one year. That’s a LOT of grads employed before even taking the bar exam, let along passing it. Again, it’s going to be difficult for any school to legitimately keep these numbers up in next year’s rankings. But of course, all the schools will fall so the school that falls the fastest (and/or is most honest in its employment reporting) will bear the brunt next year. I just use UCD as an example: I love UCD. I love that they’ve always taken good people with mid-150s LSATs and (from watching my clients who were admitted in the Fall 2010 admission cycle) they are still doing that, so I don’t want to pick on UCD too much. Plus, I grew up in Davis and it’s still one of my favorite places on earth.
5. Last year, both Loyola Marymount and the University of Miami were ranked at 71. Now, these are two law schools that are remarkably similar to each other, just on opposite coasts. Plus, I have ties to each (both my degrees are from UM, and I was director of admissions at Loyola). So, I immediately noticed that University of Miami jumped up this year to #60 and Loyola is at #56 (along with three other schools!). It’s worth pointing out that NONE of the University of Miami’s numbers changed significantly from one year to the next, except for its bar pass rate (from 86.4 to 90.5%). Oh, and same goes for Loyola (from 77.7 to 85.5%). The quality of education didn’t influence those numbers. I’m not telling you these schools did this, but there are lots of ways to increase bar passage rates from year to year – special tutoring for those most at risk of failing, encouraging people to take the exam in other states first…. tons of tricks. Did the quality of education at the schools change? Did the job prospects change? Is Loyola or Miami a better pick this year than it would’ve been last year? Only for ONE reason – because it is ranked more highly. C’mon, am I the only person who finds this silly?
Look, you should never choose a T3 or T4 school when you have the option to go to a Top 50. Unless, of course, you want to stay in your hometown or you need to attend part time or you’re relying on a really amazing scholarship. So, huh, I guess it’s not “never” but it is “seldom.” Of course a school’s reputation matters. But so do other things. The key is not to take the rankings literally: a school that is consistently in the Top 10 is no less appealing of an option simply because it’s #12 this year. Never choose #22 over #23 just for that one reason. Take all this with a grain of salt.
Here are some previous posts on the Law School Expert blog dealing with the rankings:
Now, of course, the crowd that loves to slam anyone who encourages anyone else to go to law school is likely to stumble upon this post. For those people, I say this: I do not create the dream of attending law school. I do not even encourage the dream. If someone contacts me and is unsure about attending, I encourage them to do their research. If someone has made the decision to apply to law school, my job is to help maximize their opportunities. I encourage all of my clients to (1) do their research about schools and job prospects and what a lawyer really does every day, and (2) to apply to schools where they are likely to receive scholarships so they can be in the enviable position of choosing whether to attend a lesser ranked school for free over a more highly ranked school. I welcome comments to this post, but will only respond to legitimate questions from law school applicants.
Also see this very encouraging article (he was, of course, completely slammed on discussion forums by disgruntled law students, lawyers, and others so the dissent itself should prove quite educational): “Why Law School Is For Everyone”