PreLaw - Back to School 2010 - 25
secure favorable results. Results that are increasingly unhinged from any actual educational or professional accomplishments,” Leiter wrote in an open letter to U.S. News in March. “The almost exclusive way in which a school improves its U.S. News rank is very clear: manipulation, trickery and, at worst, deceit.” Leiter said that “schools hire unemployed graduates as research assistants, hand out fee waivers to hopeless applicants to improve their acceptance rates, inflate their expenditures data through creative accounting or simply fabrication, cut their first-year enrollment (to boost their medians) while increasing the number of transfers (to make up the lost revenue), and so on.” But, he said the larger problem is how they weight the data in their rankings computation. “U.S. News has 12 different factors with different weightings,” he said. “No one can explain why it is weighted [the way it is]. Some of the underlying data is useful to look at. For example, bar pass data is useful. But what they do when they massage and combine the data together is very hard
to explain in a sensible way.” For example, Leiter said it is hard to understand how the amount of money a school spends on utilities impacts the quality of education. But, U.S. News factors money spent per student into its equation. Other critics have questioned the heavy weight afforded to LSAT scores, or the use of reputation surveys. “You’re relying on the authors to weigh the factors that will affect your decision, and their criteria might not be yours,” said Greg Brandes, dean of faculty and law professor at Concord Law School in Los Angeles, one of the few law schools not ranked by U.S. News & World Report. But, as Heather Gerkin, a law professor at Yale Law School pointed out in a recent article, there is value to rankings. “[U.S. News & World Report rankings] are powerful and they are imperfect,” Gerkin wrote. “There is good reason to demand that they improve or to try to create a better ranking. Nonetheless, it is a mistake to use the U.S. News & World Report ranking as an excuse to demand an end to ranking. Even an admittedly flawed ranking, like this one, has its merits. Ask
yourself, for instance, whether a world without the U.S. News is really as attractive as some make it out to be. It is not hard to imagine college students basing their choice on far sillier criteria.”
So, how should applicants use U.S. News?
Elie Mystal loves rankings. After all they make good copy. Mystal is an editor at Above the Law, a Website that describes itself as “a legal tabloid, covering the legal profession’s most colorful personalities and powerful institutions.” At Above the Law, Mystal regularly writes about law-school rankings, particularly those created by U.S. News & World Report. His commentary this year definitely gives the impression that rankings matter. • Mystal wrote: “Given the legal economy, prospective students should clearly be shooting for law schools in the top15.” • Regarding the top 5 law schools, he
A wider perspective:
What the legal community expects from a law school devoted to the big picture.
Creative, versatile graduates with panoramic vision for today’s complex legal challenges.
Back to School 2010