In a sense, this makes it even more important to evaluate these data points well . . . as employers WILL.
The "customers" of law schools are not students, but firms; students are the product. And, for their own reasons, firms like the system as it is.
I came here to say this, and to add additional cynicism. From the employer side, rankings are useful, and have no downside. They provide several benefits to us, including:
- Basic information about the place in the world of an unfamiliar law school. We don't necessarily care about the quality of the education - that's pretty much the same everywhere.
- Basic information about applicants from unfamiliar law schools. We can use the ranking as a proxy for selectivity, and use that in turn as a proxy for candidate quality. Sure, it is a blunt instrument, but it is very helpful for triage. Helpful for the employers, that is, even if innocent students are harmed in the process.
- Resume-padding. If we can say that we only hire from "top law schools," that has value to us.
- Corporate shelter. A hiring partner will take little flak for hiring a recruit from a well-ranked law school, even if it doesn't work out.
These are all true even if we know that the rankings are a bit thin on substance. The rankings rely heavily on reputation, and reputation has real value in the real world. Also, because the firms all compete for graduates of the higher-ranked schools, the firms that has the most lawyers from those schools is the "winner," and that has local value as well. The rankings are, to a large extent, self-fulfilling prophecies, and that works just fine for us.
In fact, I would suggest that the USN rankings may actually near perfect, in a very real sense. It all depends on what the rankings are trying to achieve.
What is the difference between law school A and law school B? Not the professors, the curriculum, or the materials - it is well covered that the "quality of education" received from various law schools is essentially identical. Moreover, we all know that nothing much of value is actually taught or learned in law school. The real learning comes after - law school is just foundation-laying, and barely even that. A ranking system based on "quality of education" would be of limited value.
Instead, I propose that there are basically two substantive differences among law schools: the quality of the students, and the reputation of the school. For all the reasons I noted above and more, selectivity and reputation are very valuable to graduates and employers alike. And, as it turns out, those two factors (selectivity and reputation) are at the core of what drives the USN rankings. Perhaps the rankings actually create or define the reputation value of middle- and lower-ranked schools, but that isn't a weakness. Instead it is added value.
USN is like the popular kids in junior high who declare which bands are "cool" and which are not. The quality of music and legitimacy of the designations are irrelevant - the real subjects are coolness and social standing. The popular kids provide a valuable service by defining the social value of the various bands, as this allows the other kids to help define their own social standing in part by their choice in music. Without the popular kids' declaration, nobody would know which bands were cool, and chaos would ensue.
Arbitrary and unfair, perhaps? Sure - but the process still creates social structure, which has real value far beyond the choice of particular bands/schools anointed as cool.
To bigs, thank you. This is why we go to law school. = : )
Indeed. I always enjoy your posts, whether I agree or disagree. Perhaps even more when I disagree. I suspect you will make a fine lawyer - and you may even enjoy it!