Rankings Are Here to Stay, So Let's Make the Most of It

by Vault Education Editors | August 05, 2010

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In February 2010, the American Bar Associationbegan a review of the U.S. News & World Report lawschool rankings and their proposed law firm rankings. Last week, the ABA committee finished itsreview of the law school rankings and published a brief report on their findings.

After reviewing the rankings for almost six months,the committee came to a mind-blowing conclusion: Yeah, U.S.News law school rankings have a negative effect on schools; butthere's nothing we can do about it. Blueprint LSAT Prep's blog, Most Strongly Supported,best sums up this earth-shattering conclusion: "Eh." From the report via Law.com:

"We believe that,for better or worse, U.S.News rankingswill continue for the foreseeable future to dominate public perceptions of howlaw schools compare, and that there is relatively little that leaders in legaleducation can do to change that in the short term."

OK. So thereport basically confirmed everything we already knew: U.S. Newsrankings are bad for schools. Even so,as OhioUniversity Professor Richard Vedder put it at a 2009 conference at Wake Forest University,"It's anti-American to be anti-ranking." In other words, rankings are here tostay. Fine. So how do we make the most of them?

U.S. News Grades Law SchoolsAlthoughVedder accepts that current ranking methodologies are flawed, he suggests a "do-it-yourself"system that gives the power to the students and applicants to decide what'simportant to them. Students would thembe able to see that data and compare it to other schools'. Whether it's a methodology change or simply anew user perspective, I think Vedder's on to something. The rankings themselves aren't the problem,it's how we use them; the power we give them.

So how can applicants take the authority away fromthe rankings and use them to their advantage in the admissions process? Since many rankings don't offer comparisonsof faculty quality, teaching focus, student organizations and other thingsyou'll care about as a current student, consider them a summary of selectivityand employment prospects. This doesn’tmean they can't be helpful. Here are thethree ways you can use ranking to your advantage when choosing a school:

  1. Creatinga list of schools you can get into. You know your undergrad GPA and probably your LSAT score. Check out the average scores of schools ineach tier. That'll give you a ballparkfeel for where you can get in.
  2. Understanding prestige. Yes. HarvardLaw School looks good on a resume. An elite school will give you a leg up in terms of on-campus recruiting,networking and alumni network. Law Street Journal reminds applicantsthat one or two spot differences won't make much a difference, but a lower tieredschool may have significantly fewer recruiting opportunities.
  3. Understanding prestige for where (location)you want to work. Not everyonecan go to Harvard. That doesn't mean youcan't go to a great school. Depending onwhere you want to work, other law schools will shine as brightly--if not moreso--than a nationally ranked school. Socheck out the highest ranked school in your region, not just the highest rankedoverall.

Filed Under: Education

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