« on: March 03, 2010, 11:46:15 AM »
You are right rankings have some merit, certainly Hastings is more respected than GGU in the Bay Area and University of San Diego is more respected than California Western in San Diego. The rankings mean something, but once you get concerned about rankings and attending a slightly higher ranked school outside of the location you want to work in you get in trouble.
If you take my situation last year I nearly made a HORRENDOUS decision based on U.S. News rankings. I have always wanted to live and work in San Francisco and for some idiotic reason I thought going to Michigan State would give me a better chance of accomplishing that than going to Golden Gate. Michigan State was t-3 and GGU was a t-4 so the ranking was technically higher. However, had I gone to MSU I would have created a massive hurdle for myself and nobody in San Francisco would be that impressed at the distinction between 110 and 132 or whatever the difference between a t-3 and t-4 might be.
I do want to say I am shocked at how ridiculous the formula for the rankings is. To have 40% based on completely subjective opinions of unidentified agents of a private company is shocking. In reality the only two objective ranking things that are measured in the ranking formula are LSAT score and Bar Passage and they only make up only 12% of the schools rankings, which is baffling to me. The other factors can be toyed with and manipulated and it really does surprise me that such a horrendous formula carries so much weight in student's decisions to attend law school.
This is a good example of how rankings can be misused, and you're quite right about both the intra-regional prestige of various schools, and also the very different calculus that applies across regions. The more different these factors are, the more one's personal circumstances should be considered, even over a raw rank.
This is why it's useful NOT to think of rankings as linear--as we tend to do (T14, etc...). Were you looking at, say, Golden Gate and the University of Michigan, there the difference would be obvious. (Not a terribly fair comparison, of course, but this is what makes the point.) Anyone from the University of Michigan is likely to have a better time finding a job in California than anyone in California in a significantly lesser-ranked law school. Narrow that gap, and other factors (should) start to weigh more heavily. Within any tier, a difference of a half-dozen is all-but-irrelevant. Within the top two tiers and within a few dozen places, other factors are more important. And below that, the range gets even wider, as you state. The reason, however, is that we're talking about the lower two tiers. Were this between a T14 and low-T1 school, or mid-T1 and mid-T2, the answer might change.
To all, Big's point is quite right: rankings should not make the decision, usually, and especially not if other factors (such as a clear desire to live in a certain place) are more relevant to YOU. "You" is in caps because this really should be a personal decision, based on factors unique to your own preferences, circumstances, and finances.
However, rankings ARE important. This might ruffle feathers, and it's certainly an uncomfortable truth. But, depending upon what one intends to do, be very, very wary about the tendency to dismiss rankings. Even if based entirely on fluff (which they're not, not even as to the 40% quasi-subjective component mentioned), they are still important, because they're taken as important.