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December 07, 2007

Do You Really Know Why Your Law School Ranks Where It Does?

Law School Groupie, a soon-to-be law student blogging about the process, resurrects a New York Times archival piece exposing the real truth about law school rankings and how law schools can distort the rankings through tricks and maneuverings which mislead students.  Groupie analyzed the NYT piece so well I will give him or her the honors.  You can read the blog post here. Or if you want to go right to the New York Times piece it is called The $8.78 Million Dollar Maneuver.

Some highlights:

I had no idea that U.S. News & World Reports' (USNWR) rankings had anything to do with the school's expenditure per student, but this NYT article breaks it down for us.

These student expenditures affect only 1.5 percent of a school's U.S. News ranking, but this is a competition where fractions of a point matter.

The University of Illinois College of Law provides students with access to Westlaw and LexisNexis, paying $75,000 to $100,000 for those services. But when reporting to the bar association and USNWR:

...the school put that figure at $8.78 million, more than 80 times what LexisNexis and Westlaw actually charge. This inflated expense accounted for 28 percent of the law school's total expenditures on students...

Expenditure on students only account for 1.5% of the ranking - still, wherever you can come out ahead it's going to help. And the schools aren't stopping there:

In addition to student expenditures, there are ways that law schools can affect the 11 other ''measures of quality''* that U.S. News uses in assembling its rankings. When they hire their own new graduates as temps, that pumps up their employment figures; when they admit weaker applicants through backdoor mechanisms, that makes their admissions standards look stronger.

There are many other great quotes pulled from the NYT piece (including how a high LSAT score will always trump a high GPA or real life experience).

In spite of the notion that life experience plays into the admissions process, it seems all but the top 4 (Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia) really care about that.

Among the various rankings criteria, undergraduate grade point averages (10 percent) and scores from the Law School Admission Test (12.5 percent) play a crucial role. That compromises student diversity, says Jeffrey E. Stake, a co-organizer of the symposium and a law professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. ''Service to the country in Iraq or in the Peace Corps goes out the window,'' he says. ''Starting your own business goes out the window in favor of LSAT's and grades. The question 'Is this person going to be a good lawyer?' is being displaced by 'Is this person going to help our numbers?'''

In fairness, this article is more than two years old and I'm sure some investigation has been done.  But I question how much has really changed.

Now do you understand why I despise rankings?

Additional Reading:

Law Students Want One Thing.  USNWR Wants Another....

Law Students are Spoonfed Sunshine and Lollipops...

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» Show Me A Ranking System And i Will Show You Folly from Chuck Newton
Like a dead skunk in the middle of a Texas road in August, the U. S. News World Report's ranking of law schools stinks to high heaven. The stench is so bad it will make your eyes water. The problem is that the rankings are just plain wrong, if not just... [Read More]

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