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November 18, 2007

Law Students Want One Thing - U.S. News & World Report Wants Another - Law Schools Care More About US News

According to a recent study: (As reported by ABA Journal On Line)

Law students care about factors that aren’t considered or aren’t influential in the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings, according to a survey by The National Jurist.

The top factors named by law students were quality of teaching, bar passage rate, placement rate at nine months, practical skills training and faculty-student relations. But U.S. News doesn’t consider quality of teaching, practical skills training or faculty-student relations, while bar passage rate and placement have low importance in the U.S. News rankings.

In U.S. News, reputation among law professors and deans accounts for 25 percent of a law school’s rank, while reputation by judges and lawyers accounts for 15 percent. That is followed by placement rate at nine months after graduation (14 percent), median LSAT scores (12.5 percent) and undergrad GPA (10 percent).

The National Jurist quoted a study by Theodore Seto, a tax law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. His findings suggest that the rankings can be fickle. He says law schools can affect their rank by placing more emphasis on placement rate and GPA factors.

If you are wondering why your law school doesn't or didn't have a law office management class that can teach you how to actually function as a lawyer in solo practice this is the reason.  It doesn't rank with U.S. News and World Report.  Training you to actually be a lawyer doesn't fulfill their mission.  Nor does the quality of the teaching or whether or not your school has a high bar passage rate.   What does matter is your G.P.A. at entrance and the reputation of the professors (read: are they published)?

How does this help the law student who wants to go solo?  How does this help any law student.

I have friends in academia at a few law schools, little birdies who tell me the inside scoop on why law office management classes, practical skills classes with value to new students on the 'how to's,'  are not being offered.  Why? Because they dilute classrooms and draw students away from doctrinal electives.  If students have the option to take an elective practical skills course which is usually taught by an adjunct, a practicing attorney, they will opt for this rather than a doctrinal elective taught by a tenured professor.  If a tenured professor's class does not get taken, the class must be cancelled but the tenured professor is still paid.  And this tenured professor is teaching a class academia feels 'ought' to be taken by the students over a practical skills course, an overpraid tenured professor (compared to an adjunct) with 'reputation' that ranks with U.S. News & World Report.  Solution?  Just get rid of the practical skills course and the students will have nothing else to register for to meet their credit requirements but the doctrinal elective.  Problem solved.

Now, I'm not saying there aren't many excellent professors who care about their students, have a profound love of the law and enrich their students education immensely.  They, too, are under pressure to publish and build reputation for the sake of keeping their job and securing tenure.  But what rankles me is all of this is in pursuit of an artificial ranking?  It is not about the paying customer, the student.  So, students come out ill-prepared for actually functioning as a lawyer, fighting for limited high paying jobs saddled with back-breaking debt.  Is it any wonder 50% of all lawyers leave the profession? Or why law school admissions are dropping? (Some would argue this isn't a bad thing...fewer lawyers, etc.)

But imagine a law school which paid attention to it's paying customers, the students.  Created an educational experience comprised of doctrinal and practical skills classes in proper balance and at a fair price.  This school would have so many high caliber students they wouldn't have to artificially decrease the admitting class size to raise entering students' G.P.A's.  Or produce fewer graduates to have what appears then to be a higher placement statistic. The employers at their job fairs would actually want them and not dread another graduating class who know very little. Whether looking to be employed by another or to strike out on their own, these students would be well prepared and a credit to the profession. 

Well, if you are a frequent reader of this blog chances are you have the entrepreneurial spirit.  Would this imaginary law school's curriculum have appealed to you?  Or did you get the education you wanted at your law school and for a price you could deal with?  How much did U.S. News & World Report influence your choice of school? Inquiring minds want to know.


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Noah Clements

We spend our whole careers learning the practical skills, which frankly are best learned through practice. I think clinics and trial practice classes are great (and I took both), but law school is the last best chance to explore and discuss some doctrine. It is short-sighted to trade foundation for 3-month head-start on practical skills. Don't think an in-depth exploration of the Court's federalism jurisprudence is important? Sue a university.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Noah, your comments are well considered. But it assumes there are jobs for everyone after graduation to gain practical experience (and that everyone wants to be employed) and that law school has no obligation for this component. Law school does have an obligation to both in proper balance so a student is prepared for all realities, including economic ones.


I attend a small tier 4 (according to U.S.News) school where I believe we have a wonderful faculty and a very good program. The Alumni are very close and very cooperative and opportunities to connect with a variety of working attorneys in every type of practice are abundant. I promise that the about last thing anybody around here thinks about is the opinion of the U.S. News. Thank goodness. There are schools that have raised their rankings substantially by just controlling the GPA range of accepted students. It's strange to see otherwise very ordinary law schools without particularly prominent legal scholars in a very high ranking primarily because of heightened admissions standards. I can see why, but I disagree. They should be required to improve the program in order to get high rankings. It seems, though, that you have to get off the beaten path to get what you want these days or you will get the legal education that the U.S. News wants you to get.


The accreditation process has regulated legal training so that students receive a quality education and clients get competent lawyers. Given this framework of comprehensive rules and regulations, no law school has been able to pursue radical innovations without jeopardizing its accreditation, its reputation, and its future. In a world of highly constrained competition, schools have few ways to improve their standing through strategies that upset the prevailing wisdom about how best to deliver legal education. As a result, law school rankings largely remain stable over time, and different methods of ranking overall quality yield similar results. With full-bodied competition curbed by the accreditation process, schools rely on gaming to influence the U.S. News rankings rather than strike out in novel directions to gain prominence.

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