Apparently the media drubbing that Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law took during the abortive nomination of White House Counsel and SMU law school alum Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t tarnish the school’s standing in the U.S. News and World Report 2007 law school rankings. On the contrary, of the nine Texas law schools rated in the magazine, SMU is the only school that significantly improved its standing.

SMU broke its 2006 dead heat with Baylor Law School for 52nd place and leapfrogged to 43rd position, while Baylor only moved up a notch. SMU law Dean John B. Attanasio attributes this higher ranking to the recognition that SMU is an “incredibly competitive law school to get in to . . . has made fabulous faculty hires [and] has great placement for its graduates within the legal community.”

The magazine’s assessment of quality, which is not without its critics, rated 180 American Bar Association-accredited law schools in the nation — the top 100 of which are ranked No. 1 (Yale Law School) through No. 100. The next 36 schools are lumped into the “broadly similar in quality” Third Tier, with 44 more schools falling into the “broadly similar in quality” Fourth Tier.

According to the rankings, the University of Texas School of Law slid a step to 16th place, while the Houston Law Center fell five places from its 2006 ranking into 70th position. UH Law’s slip stirred such rancor among its students that many attended an April 7 faculty meeting and demanded to know what the administration intended to do about the decline.

“Students are more worried about what the rankings will do to their placement opportunities rather than the actual ranking itself,” says UH Law Dean Nancy Rapoport. “But the rankings are suspect, because they measure things that are countable, but not all things countable are worthwhile. . . . There is no way for U.S. News to measure what truly goes on at the educational program of the school,” she says.

Nonetheless, in response to the frustration of her students, Rapoport says she is assembling a Rankings Task Force to get a fresh perspective on how UH Law can improve its standing.

Things could be worse. Texas Tech University School of Law retained its Third Tier status, and South Texas College of Law, St. Mary’s University School of Law, Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law and Texas Wesleyan University School of Law are again relegated to the Fourth Tier.

Still, many of these law schools can find something to brag about. The magazine rates Texas Southern’s Thurgood Marshall as the most racially and ethnically diverse law school in the nation; UT, St. Mary’s and UH also rank high in this category.

Rated for its strengths in a particular law specialty are South Texas, Baylor and Texas Tech, which take third, sixth and 14th place respectively in trial advocacy, and UH, which grabs second in health law and fifth in intellectual property.

Although these findings may give heart to those law schools and their students, even SMU’s Attanasio says one would be hard-pressed to find a dean who doesn’t believe that his or her school is underrated by the magazine.

“I am sure we are significantly underranked in terms of how good a school we are,” he says. “We are one of the best schools in the country. It may take time, but we will get that kind of recognition.”