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by Vault Law Editors | March 31, 2009


Every year, the magazine U.S. News & World Report publishes an issue devoted to ranking the colleges and universities of the United States. This is the ranking that people talk about for law schools. The magazine looks at subjective factors like ratings by academics, lawyers and judges, as well as statistical data like LSAT (Law School Aptitude Test) scores, bar passage rates, and acceptance and rejection rates. It conducts opinion polls and gathers statistics on average LSAT scores and undergraduate grade point averages (GPAs). Employers often use the rankings to determine which schools merit an on-campus interviewing visit. And, in a chicken and egg way, the fact that the law firms are paying more attention to those law schools leads to better applicants at those schools, since that's where law students see good career prospects. If you've missed the latest print issue, you can review the rankings online at

National ranking systems like those published by U.S. News have been criticized for subjectivity and an overdependence on reputation without consideration of issues like who gets jobs, what graduates think of their law school, and so on. Some critics, including a coalition of law school deans, have come up with alternative rankings. For more information about alternative rankings and criticism of subjective national rankings, refer to "Judging the Law Schools," an "unauthorized ranking" of law schools by Thomas E. Brennan, a former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court (, and "The Ranking Game," from Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington ( However, most lawyers and clients still use the US News rankings as a yardstick of prestige

A school that ranks in the top of the U.S. News list, a "national" law school, offers advantages in the form of portability of degree. Students who attend national schools typically have an easier time finding jobs in different geographical regions than do those coming from lower-ranked schools. A national school may also have highly regarded faculty. "I went to the best law school I got into and would encourage everyone to do the same," says a Harvard alum working in a large Boston firm. "Law school is about getting a credential and access to the career, not an experience onto itself. It's called a professional school for a reason."

Of course, many successful corporate lawyers haven't gone to Harvard or Yale. A local school can be an excellent strategic and financially sound decision, especially for someone who knows the geographic area in which he wants to practice. And all firms hire from the top of their local school class. "I have realized that if you don't get into a top-10 national school, it is sometimes better to go to a local school with many local connections to firms than to go to a second-tier national school in a state in which you won't practice," says a Boston associate. "For example, people in Boston who went to Boston College Law School have good luck landing jobs in firms even though there are a lot of second-tier national schools ranked above them."

If you're lucky enough to get into several schools with good programs in areas of law which interest you, then you just need to think about personal comfort. This is where money and location come into play.


Filed Under: Law

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