Sunday, March 10, 2013

How Prospective Law Students Should Use The U.S. News Law School Rankings To Help Them Decide Where To Go To Law School

Since the new U.S. News law school rankings are supposed to come out this week, I thought I would provide detailed guidelines on how prospective law students should use the U.S. News law school rankings to help them decide where to go to law school.  Prospective law students should not use them at all.  As I said earlier,  a ouija board is as accurate.

As I stated in a post last year, the rankings have no value in helping prospective law students decide where to go to law school.  None!  They are meaningless.

Here are some of the problems based on earlier ranking years: The assessment score by lawyers/judges constitutes 15% of the score.  However, only about 12% of those surveyed responded, and, more importantly, I question how these legal professionals can have knowledge of the approximately 200 law schools in this country. Likewise, the peer assessment score (by deans, most recently tenured faculty member, etc.) constitutes 25% of the total, but these are based mainly on scholarship, which tells students little about which law school is best for them.  

Selectivity (25%) can be misleading. G.P.A.s are not uniform because colleges are of different quality and have different grading policies (i.e., grade inflation). As U.S. News has admitted, "The difficulty level of college courses is much less important than the grades received in those classes, because law school admissions committees do an initial sort of applicants based solely on GPA and LSAT scores."  (here)  As Brian Leiter has noted, student-faculty ratio are manipulable because it depends on how schools "count" their faculty. Finally, acceptance rates are also misleading because they often indicate how good a law school is at getting applications (such as using free online applications) rather than selectivity. 

I am not the only one who believes that the U.S. News law school rankings are meaningless.  Brian Leiter has recently stated: "You all know the overall rank assigned to a school by U.S. News is meaningless, often perniciously so." (here) A number of years ago, Leiter pointed out that some of the ranking categories are highly manipulable and some of the categories favor smaller schools and penalize larger schools.  Likewise,  Lynda Edwards has written, "Critics of the U.S. News rankings say the magazine exercises too little control over the quality of the information submitted; several of the self-reporting factors utilized in the methodology, they say, actually reward those law schools willing to cheat." (here)  (see also herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.) 

Professor George Critchlow has elaborated here:

"Surely there is a lesson here for law schools that hope also to become famous. While many legal educators occupy their time thinking about how to attract students, establish goals and allocate resources based on a mission defined by things such as public service, ethics, professionalism, good teaching, or preparing students to be "practice-ready," it may be that the only mission statement necessary for less famous law schools is: 'Our mission is to become famous.' Once formulated in that way, the benefits are immediately apparent and the strategy for implementing the mission becomes clear and concrete."

He continues, "A former law school dean who moved on to be President of Reed College -- a college that refuses to participate in USN rankings as a matter of principle -- has this to say about getting out of the rankings game: 'By far the most important consequence of sitting out the rankings game, however, is the freedom to pursue our own educational philosophy, not that of some news magazine.'" 

"The legal profession is of such value and importance to society that training people for the profession requires law school to be more than just another competitive business. Law schools should not exist only to provide jobs for law professors who desire job security and do not want to practice law. Law schools should not pursue recognition solely for the sake of recognition and attracting tuition; rather, they should have a purpose, a mission that is realistically designed to make a difference in the world. They should follow that mission so long as it is practicable and worthwhile -- even if the effort escapes the attention of those who keep lists of the 'top' law schools. Who knows -- maybe a law school could become famous by doing the right thing?" 

In sum, the U.S. News law school rankings are of no value to prospective students in choosing a law school.  Equally important, when prospective law students use U.S. News to help them decide where to go to law school, they are encouraging law schools to waste money on things that help raise their U.S. News rankings but do not help their students' education.  It is your tuition; how do you want your law school to spend it?  Finally, Dean David Yellin has recently demonstrated that law schools' quests for higher ranks have driven tuition increases.  (here)  Ignore the U.S. News rankings.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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