Law School Discussion

U.S. News & World Report may expand their numerical rankings of law schools to i

U.S. News & World Report may expand their numerical rankings of law schools to include third tier schools, U.S. News research director Robert Morse announced during the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting.

“It's something that we're looking into,” Morse said. “ We do have ranking scores for all law schools but, editorially, we didn't want to say, ' This is the 188th law school.'”

If the publication goes through with the plan, the extended numerical rankings would be published in the next edition, which comes out on March 15.

While some third tier schools are pleased with the idea, others feel that the rankings are misleading and are actually calling for a reduction in the number of schools ranked, rather than an expansion.

“How they do the ranking right now doesn't make sense,” New York law School Dean Richard Matasar said. “The difference between No. 6 and No. 9 or 100 and 101 is minimal. You're really taking things that are essentially identical and treating them as tough there is a difference.”

Despite some negative feedback, Morse noted that the public understands numerical rankings more easily, which is why they would like to include their third tier schools. In the new format, 142 schools would be ranked, while the bottom 25 percent would still be listed alphabetically.


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Bigs has repeatedly echoed all over this site what NYLS Dean Matasar said in the article.  Is there really a difference between #72 and #77?  Should you attend #47 over #54?

IMO, the USNWR rankings are really only relevant when either:
a)  assembling the Top 25 (top half of T-1)  The T-14 could arguably be considered our "national" institutions.
b) considering a T3 full scholly offer against a possible partial ride at a T-1 

Other than that, I think local concerns (lifestyle/housing, networking/connections, reputation) and debt aversion govern most of the choices that should be made by aspiring 0Ls.

Just my opinion.   

I have to disagree w/ louiebstef.  T3 covers a lot of ground--from 100 to 142 or so.  That's a huge range.  Would you tell a prospective law student that there's no difference between a school ranked 20 by US News, and one ranked 62?

In many parts of the country, 0Ls are choosing between 2 or 3 different T3s.  I'm pretty disappointed (tho not surprised) at the quality of information given to 0Ls by admissions depts.  The admission staffs at T3s in a competitive market will tell potential students that 1) their school has a better reputation among local practicing lawyers than the other local T3s, and 2) they are just about to break into T2.  (How do I know?  B/c I'm a former lawyer who teaches undergrads, and that's what all of them tell me).  Students have no way to judge the reliability of these competing and contradictory claims.   Given that schools are already fudging their employment numbers (and they are!), and that students are making $100K+ investments to go to law school, I think they deserve to see some objective measure of differences between T3s (even if that measure is imperfect).

I'd agree that there is little difference between a school ranked 105 and one ranked 109, but students are smart enough to know that, which makes it harmless to publish the rankings of closely-ranked schools.  But there is a real difference in reputation and job prospects between schools ranked 107 and 130 in the same market.  Students deserve to know if the gap is that large.

I think continuing the rankings could provide useful information.  The danger is that students tend to rely too heavily on the ranking system to their detriment.  I agree with WSU that it could provide useful information within a market if there was a large difference.  Most of the time, however, a quick search among the alumni at local firms will identify these large differences.  (a T4 example is South Texas vs. Texas Southern; search Houston firms and you will find very few TSU grads)  On balance, I would rather have the information than not.  I tend not to be very maternalistic towards students; if they screw themselves so be it...


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Would you tell a prospective law student that there's no difference between a school ranked 20 by US News, and one ranked 62?

No, but I would tell a prospective law student there's not much of a difference between a school ranked 52 and 72.

Would you tell a prospective law student that there's no difference between a school ranked 20 by US News, and one ranked 62?

It depends.  Where do you want to work and live?  There are 4 schools ranked 62 this year.  If you want to live in any four of those cities (San Diego, Miami, Houston, Cincinnatti) my humble opinion is that you would have better job opportunities going to the local school than George Washington. GW has much more regional influence, so the answer would be different if your choice was between GW and William & Mary (#30). 

Rankings are just a start.  They are a factor in your decision, but they are not determinative. 

Thank you for posting this.


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I would like to hear some discussion about whether or not these rankings actually cause good behavior on the part of the schools.   Perhaps a school ranked hopelessly deep in a generic T3 would not make any changes unless they were easy and cheap to implement.  However, if that school was ranked 155 and they could reasonably move up to 125 if they invested money in various programs, they might do it.
The counter argument would be that the U.S. news criteria does not actually encourage schools to do much of anything other than kiss up to the "voters," and applicants with high LSAT/UGPAs.

My school basically panicked when they realized that bar passage rates went down and employment numbers dropped significantly.  They responded by introducing free bar prep courses on the weekends and more training on "how to find your own job." 
I don't know if these programs will work, but it's nice to see the effort.    On the other hand, I guess it's possible that these rankings could also compel a school to fudge the numbers.

There is no doubt that the rankings greatly influence their behavior.  Otherwise, admission wouldn't be so easily predictable by your LSAT/GPA. 

The question I have is whether there could be different factors considered that would actually make the student's life better if the schools emphasize them. 

It would be nice if there could be a different--more meaningful--way to rank the schools (that catches on).   

I'm with Louis and Bigs on this.  Rankings are given far too much weight in general, and this is increasingly true further down the ranking lists.  Does it make sense to choose Michigan law school over San Diego law school?  Sure.  But as between #35 and #45, or #50 and #75# - not that much of a difference, frankly.  Employers just won't care.  Factors other than ranking should drive the decision at that point.

So adding more ranked schools strikes me as a waste of time for everyone, except for the folks who are in the business of selling school ranking lists.

(Big giant caveat:  I have said before, and will say again, that if you get a chance to go to a really, really top school - YHS, basically - you should absolutely do so, at almost any cost.  But this is because of the tremendous value of those schools, not because of their ranking.  The value of a YHS diploma exists independently of their ranking.)