To be happy in law school, J.D.-seekers should look beyond the U.S. News & World Report rankings when choosing where to enroll.
A new survey of recent law graduates found that a slim majority said applicants place too much importance on the U.S. News rankings when choosing a law school.
Just over half—51 percent—of the 2017 law graduates polled by Kaplan Bar Review last month said applicants give the rankings too much weight when making enrollment decisions. Another 37 percent of the 201 respondents said applicants place the right amount of value on the U.S. News rankings, while the remaining 12 percent said the rankings are valued too little by applicants.
“A school’s ranking doesn’t necessarily get you happiness or a good experience as a law school student or graduate,” said Tammi Rice, vice president of Kaplan Bar Review. “Our experience is that it’s a statistic much more important to law school administrators, as it’s understandably an important recruitment and fundraising tool.”
Indeed, law deans love to hate the annual U.S. News rankings. Among the most common criticism of the ranking is the emphasis it places on the median Law School Admission Test score of each school’s incoming students. Critics say their rankings formula encourages schools to put money toward merit-based scholarships to lure high LSAT scorers at the expense of need-based scholarships. U.S. News’ formula also rewards schools that spend more per student and have low student-faculty ratios, which discourages cost cutting and lower tuition. Legal educators have also charged that the rankings’ reliance on reputational assessments by academic, lawyers and judges is at the root of so-called “law porn”—the glossy brochures and magazines extolling the virtues of a campus that clog up the mailboxes of those who may fill out U.S. News’ surveys.
The U.S. News rankings play an outsized role in law school admissions partly because it’s the only major ranking of law campuses. By contrast, business schools are ranked by numerous national publications.
“Our advice to aspiring lawyers has always been that while rankings can play a useful role in helping them decide where to apply, they should look closely at other statistics, including how many of a law school’s graduates have found a job in the legal field and what the law school’s bar passage rate is,” Rice said. “You cannot be a practicing attorney without passing the bar.”