National Jurist - November 2007 - 15
Law school rankings at math’s mercy U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings of law schools are a lot more fickle than you may realize, and don’t measure what law students say are the most important factors. magine that you chose to attend University of California Hastings School of the Law instead of the University of Arizona, because the former school placed seven places higher in U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking. Now, imagine Yale Law School — the number one school — reported a 1/10th of a percentage point increase in its 9month employment rate, from 99.9 to 100 percent. That seemingly meaningless change would result in Hastings dropping by six places in the ranking, behind University of Arizona. It may sound absurd that what happens at one school could impact the ranking order of two completely different schools, but according to Professor Theodore Seto that is exactly what happens. Seto, a tax law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, recently completed an 80-page paper that looks in-depth at the mathematical equation of the By Michelle Weyenberg rankings to determine the factors that impact school placement the most. His study shows just how fickle the rankings can be, and it provides a guide for law schools that want to improve their standings. Seto said two aspects of the U.S. News system account for this sensitivity. First, the fact that U.S. News assigns an overall score of 100 to the top-scoring school and an overall score of zero to the bottom-score school. “No matter what, [this] means that any change in one of those schools’ numbers will shift the entire scale against which other schools are measured,” Seto said. In addition to the rankings fickleness, law students themselves report in a recent survey that other factors are far more important — including quality of teaching and practical skills training. “The quality of a law school and a legal education extend far beyond any assortment of factors used to come up with a ranking,” said Michelle Platt, a 2L at the University of Oregon School of Law. When U.S. News & World Report first released its rankings in 1988, it was the only law school ranking of its kind. While it has made subtle changes over the years, its methodology and factors have not changed substantially since then. Reputation among law professors and deans accounts for 25 percent. This is followed by reputation by judges and lawyers (15 percent), placement rate at 9 months after graduation (14 percent), median LSAT scores (12.50 percent), median undergrad GPA (10 percent), placement rate at graduation (4 percent), student/ faculty ratio (3 percent), bar passage rate What students think compared to the U.S. News & World Report The National Jurist surveyed current law students to determine how the U.S. News factors stacked up against what they felt were important. The factors included the 12 used by U.S. News and seven new ones. Factor *Student ranking average 4.52 4.27 4.14 3.88 3.84 3.77 3.76 3.75 3.73 3.59 3.57 3.41 3.25 3.18 3.16 3 3 2.75 2.61 **U.S. News ranking weight not included 2% 14% not included not included not included 4% 15% not included not included 9.75% 3% not included 12.50% 10% 25% not included not included 0.75% Quality of teaching Bar passage rate Placement rate at 9 months Practical skills training available Faculty-student relations Assistance offered by placement office Placement rate at graduation Reputation by judges and lawyers Number of courses offered beyond first year Overall quality of facilities Money spent on academics Student/faculty ratio Median starting salary for graduates Median LSAT scores Median undergrad GPA Reputation by schools Cost of tuition Proportion of applicants accepted Volumes/titles in library *We asked students on a scale of one-to-five, to indicate how they would weigh a variety of factors if they were putting together a rankings system. **According to the 2008 Edition of “America’s Best Graduate Schools” published by U.S. News & World Report, March 2007. November 2007 THE NATIONAL JURIST 15
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