'U.S. News' Best Law Schools: Now with More Ranking and Impr

by Vault Education Editors | March 15, 2011

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That publication that ranks things has released its latest ranking of law schools. Yale, Harvard, Stanford … you know the list. It’s always the same schools occupying the top spots, except, oh, hey there University of Texas—Austin. Welcome to the top 14.

Other than UT-Austin cracking the list of exalted 14 (without displacing any of the usual suspects), there isn’t really any big surprises (WSJ’s Law Blog notes some of moves here). The real items of note are two changes, one to the methodology and one to the ranking structure.  

Improved Employment Data

U.S. News has both added more detailed statistics and changed the way it calculates employment rates.

Rankings honcho Bob Morse wrote broadly about the changes on his Morse Code blog a few days before the release of the rankings.

We rely on a certain amount of goodwill and ethical behavior from the various institutions that we survey, and our experience has been that the vast majority of them behave ethically. It is not our role to be setting industry standards nor enforcing them. However it is our responsibility to provide accurate information to our readers. To eliminate some of the gaming that seems to be taking place, we have changed the way we compute employment rates for the rankings due out March 15. In addition, we will also be publishing more career data than we have in the past in an effort to help students more completely understand the current state of legal employment. We think more still needs to be done.

The gaming that he’s talking about, Tax Prof Blog’s Paul Caron has written about in detail. Basically, many law schools figured out that it was to their benefit to withhold at-graduation employment data and, instead, choose to fall back on U.S. News’ favorable method of calculating that metric (see crazy chart of non-reporting schools trend). Withholding those numbers had a potentially significant impact on a school’s overall ranking. To prevent this gamesmanship the following changes were made.

In the past, new J.D.s counted as employed at graduation and at nine months out if they were working full or part time in a legal or non-legal job or pursuing additional graduate school education after their J.D.; so did 25 percent of those whose status was "unknown." Now, both the at graduation and nine months after employment rates are figured solely based on the number of grads working at that point in time full or part time in a legal or non-legal job divided by the total number of J.D. graduates. Also, those who are not seeking employment are now counted in the calculation as part of the total number of J.D. graduates; previously, they were excluded from the size of the graduating class and the calculation.

Morse’s post also brings up the matter of law schools who sent in false data and is careful to both condemn the practice but not the schools. Given the giant spotlight that’s directed at law schools, the data is sure to be much cleaner now. But why use self-reported employment data at all? asks Brian Leiter. He thinks U.S. News should: “follow the lead of Maclean's in Canada, who took my suggestion, and uses employment data in the public arena. This would require more work, but it would also report real information, not fiction.”

More Schools Ranked

The number of ranked schools has been extended, from the top 100 to the top 145—two-thirds of schools. No more third or fourth tiers. Just the two: the top 145, which are ranked, and the bottom 45, listed alphabetically.

Back in January, when the idea of ranking third-tier schools was suggested, I agreed with New York Law School's Dean Richard Matasar, who said less schools should be ranked, rather than more. For two main reasons. One: less rankings gamesmanship; two: the difference in quality among schools becomes mostly negligible after a certain level, and creates a false sense of competition that is detrimental to a law school applicant.

What do you think about more law schools being ranked and the change to the two-tier structure?

 

[U.S. News]

Filed Under: Education

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