What do the Law School Rankings Really Mean?
Here is a link to an open letter written by Brian Leiter about the flawed methodology of the U.S. News Law School Rankings. Every law school applicant (in deciding where to apply and where to attend) should read it. If you do not read it, you are not doing your homework. Too many law school applicants make their decisions by the rankings; if you are going to stake such a big decision on what a magazine has to say then make sure you understand how law schools manipulate the rankings and why.
A lot of you have been asking me for my opinion about this year’s rankings. I believe that looking at only one year’s data provides an incomplete (and often overly dramatic) picture. After all, if the rankings will change a year from now then you made a very short sighted decision. And, of course, the rankings must change each year in order for U.S. News to continue to sell their magazine for $9.95.
The following is not a complete analysis of the 2009 Law School Rankings. This is the beginning of a continuing discussion about my observations, presented in no particular order. Also, keep in mind that I am not a statistician.
I decided to compare this year’s rankings with those from 2006 to see whether any of the notable rise and fall stories from this year had significant merit (as to both the praise of the rising and the panic of the falling).
Here are my general observations:
- The top 5 schools are exactly the same (Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, NYU). For the last 4 schools, the overall scores decreased – apparently because acceptance rates were higher.
- In groups of 5, the top 30 schools don’t change much over time. So if you limit yourself by applying only to Top 20 schools, you’re leaving out 3-5 schools that are in that group in any other year. Who is to say that #24 won’t be #19 by the time you graduate?
- The Tier 3 and Tier 4 Schools should not be looked at as “lesser”. They should be regarded as “Regional Law Schools.” Many of these schools have excellent reputations in their respective geographic regions and are at a disadvantage in the rankings since national reputation is a major factor relied upon by US News. Most lawyers practice law in a particular community for their entire careers. Going to law school in that community has distinct advantages not properly taken into account by the rankings.
Some of my readers have been asking me school-specific questions. I’ll address a few of those here:
- There is some panic about Cardozo’s ranking dropping this year. In 2006, it was #58 and in 2009 it’s#58. That is not a drop I would consider significant.
- Pepperdine has climbed from #77 in 2006 to #59, largely because of acceptance rates. (Bar passage also climbed from 60% to 65%). The school has been under new leadership, and -arguably- more Conservative leadership.
- UNC has dropped 11 places because of employment rates upon graduation. But don’t be quick to condemn. Reading Brian Leiter’s article may lead me to assume UNC-CH has been (perhaps) more ethical in their employment rate reporting and may be suffering as a result. Just a guess, with a “benefit of the doubt” mentality thrown in to the mix.
- U. Washington going from #24 to #19? Still within my 5-point rule. I’m not worried.
- U. Colorado has climbed from #48 to #32. Nothing substantive has changed except 9 month employment numbers.
- University of San Diego was #63 in 2006 and is now #82 (and in very good company with University of Miami and Loyola Chicago). Acceptance rate changed from 21% to 31% – that’s the only major difference in the numbers.
- Those of you deciding between Santa Clara and San Diego should keep in mind that Santa Clara is only ranked one school above San Diego. The difference is absolutely negligible. Don’t make this decision based on rankings. (However, in 2006 Santa Clara was Tier 3… it’s acceptance rate has doubled but employment and bar passage numbers improved). If you want to be a tax attorney, perhaps San Diego. If you want to practice IP, then perhaps Santa Clara. Do your research.
Those are my comments for now; I look forward to reading all of yours…..
Ann Levine is the author of the best selling law school admission guide book: The Law School Admission Game and made admissions decisions at two ABA-approved law schools. In 2004 she founded Law School Expert and has helped thousands of applicants navigate the tough process to get into law school.
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