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March 15, 2013 1:38 PM Law School Rankings Continue to Measure What’s Probably Not So Important

By Daniel Luzer

Yesterday I wrote a piece over at Political Animal about the structural problems facing recent law school graduates. They’ve assumed too much debt for jobs that don’t pay well and often aren’t available.

But the racket continues. On Tuesday U.S. News & World Report released its much-anticipated annual ranking of law schools. On top, unsurprisingly, were the law schools of Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.

This resulted in another annual event; pushback from the schools not ranked at the top of the list. HuffPo:

A number of law school deans immediately attempted to diminish the rankings’ value. Above The Law gathered responses from University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Michigan State University College of Law and Brooklyn Law School all explaining why the rankings don’t tell the whole story.
Joan W. Howarth, dean of Michigan State College of Law, [said] “These rankings are terribly flawed, with next-to-nothing in the formula that directly reflects the quality of the education we offer.”

U.S. News ranks schools based on peer assessment (25 percent), reputation among lawyers/judges (15 percent), selectivity (25 percent), job placement success (20 percent), and faculty resources (15 percent). Faculty resources include the average instruction, library, and supporting services financial aid and the student-faculty ratio.

The publication defended its measures. Robert Morse, who is in charge of rankings, explained that

We’re not responsible for the cost [of] law school, the state of legal employment, the impact that the recession has had on hiring, or the fact that there are 10 or 20 new law schools that have opened over the past couple of decades. And we’re not responsible for the imbalance of jobs to graduates.

Well no, you’re not responsible for those things, but isn’t it important to keep those things in mind? If this is a ranking guide to professional schools, designed to help people make decisions about whether and where to attend law school, it might be useful to include more of the things (and weight them accordingly) that matter to actual careers, including tuition, debt levels, and average salaries.

Ranking schools in such a way probably wouldn’t change the rankings much initially. Prioritizing average graduate salaries wouldn’t put Brooklyn Law above Yale, for sure. But including more of such measures would cause schools to behave differently over the long run. Law schools prioritize what matters. And the U.S. News ranking matters a great deal.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Adam on March 17, 2013 4:46 PM:

    Law school can prioritize all they want, but the fact remains that there are only about 8000 high paying legal jobs available a year.

    What should happen is that student in all areas of study should be obligated, as a condition for receiving federal student loans, to consent to the disclosure of their adjusted gross income for 10 years after receipt of the loan.

    Schools should be obligated to provide a prospectus based on this information, including at least the percentage of students for whom enrollment was a positive investment. The penalty for material misstatements or omissions should be the refund of tuition for any students that relied upon that prospectus.

    Not only would students be protected, but society would gain valuable information about what uses of federal student aid dollars were wasted on schools that did not provide a benefit to students.

  • smartalek on March 17, 2013 8:48 PM:

    "Prioritizing average graduate salaries wouldn’t put Brooklyn Law above Yale, for sure. But including more of such measures would cause schools to behave differently over the long run."

    Yes, and that might not be an entirely good thing.
    It's been a while (read: near two decades) since I charted avg-annual-starting-salaries vs avg-LSAT-scores for just short of 50 or so law schools:

    http://testwell.com/content/results.htm

    (scroll down to lower chart)

    but at that time (and I'd bet still true now), Yale was a huge outlier, in that it had a significantly lower avg pay rate for new grads than any other school (among the sample selected) with an LSAT average of 160+, let alone 170+.
    Should that be taken to signify either low quality of education, or diminished earning potential for its grads?
    Clearly not.
    That was a function of their institutional preference to place alum's in public service, in academe, in clerkships, in NGOs -- a preference fostered by, at the time, one of the most generous of loan-forgiveness policies for alum's willing to sacrifice incomes for the ability to do some good in the world.
    Surely you wouldn't want to provide incentives against such institutional behaviors... Would you?