The Abnormal Use Informal Guide to Law School Rankings

Recently, U.S. New & World Report released its annual law school rankings.  After finding your alma mater on the list, we are sure you were left with a plethora of questions.  As a public service, we here at Abnormal Use are here to answer some of your most pressing questions.

Question 1: What do these annual rankings mean, anyway? Not nearly as much as U.S. News wants you to believe.  The publication ranks each of the 195 fully-accredited law schools based on a number of factors, including peer and judicial assessments, LSAT scores, bar passage rates, faculty resources, and employment rates for graduates.  Unfortunately for our own Nick Farr (UNC-Chapel Hill), success of each school’s basketball team is not among the criteria.

Most proponents of the rankings do not question the criteria itself, but rather, the weight each factor is assigned in the formula.  If the weight is manipulated, the rankings could easily be different.  For example, the peer assessment among law school deans accounts for 25 percent of the overall score, while the assessments of judges and legal professionals only account for 15 percent.  Apparently, the opinions of law school deans with a vested interest in the rankings are more valuable than the opinions of judges and lawyers who encounter alumni on a daily basis.  The employment rate of alumni is weighted a whopping 20 percent of the rankings.  Obviously, this is an important factor, but the rankings do not account for the numerous external variables affecting the employment rate.  By way of illustration, some states contain a disproportionate amount of law schools compared to their population.  While legal jobs are scarce, the overabundance of new lawyers in these states makes finding a job even more difficult.  When employment rates account for 20 percent of the criteria, law schools in these states surely took a hit in the rankings.

Question 2:  Oh, no!  My law school can’t possibly be ranked that low! Whatever will I do? First, don’t sweat it.  Most of you reading this blog are probably already gainfully employed attorneys.  Aside from the prestige of graduating from a top-tier law school, these rankings probably have little to no bearing on your legal career.  No deposition has ever been cancelled or trial continued upon the discovery that counsel’s law school slipped 8 places in the U.S. News rankings.  You have the same degree as your colleagues, and we are sure that you are just as competent.  If opposing counsel champions his or her law school’s U.S. News ranking, just smile and do on what the rest of us do – be a lawyer.

Second, if you are a recent law school grad looking for a job, take the rankings with a grain of salt.  Chances are most firms in your state are more interested in hiring from in-state law schools than they are those graduating from the U.S. News top ten schools. Sure, you don’t want to go head-to-head with a summa cum laude Yale graduate, but those are few and far between, especially if find yourself far from New Haven  Your difficulty finding a job has much more to do with the poor legal market than your school’s ranking.  Keep your head up.  Your time will come. This too will pass. You know the drill.

Question 3:  In light of these rankings, will I ever become a Supreme Court justice? Probably not, but to our knowledge, the President of the United States rarely consults with U.S. News before making appointments.  Unless you went to Harvard or Yale, you probably never stood a chance anyway.  Of the nine current justices, six graduated from Harvard and three from Yale.  Thirty-seven out of the 83 justices who actually attended law school graduated from schools ranked in the top-4 of U.S. News‘ rankings (Harvard-18; Yale-10; Columbia-7; Stanford-2).  Didn’t graduate from one of these schools?  Don’t fret.  The William Mitchell School of Law (No. 127 in the U.S. News rankings) produced the fifteenth Chief Justice, Warren Burger.

Bottom Line.  Take these rankings with a grain of salt.  If your school ranked highly, take pride in the fact that someone, albeit the U.S. News, acknowledged what you already knew – that you received a quality education.  If your school didn’t fare as well, who cares?  You have the same degree as each of our Supreme Court justices.

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