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Though law school administrators typically claim indifference to U.S. News & World Report‘s annual list of best law schools, they still pay attention to the rankings. That list, which assigns statistical scores based on reputation, LSAT scores, grade point averages and placement, figures prominently to students seeking jobs and potential students deciding where to spend three years poring over case law. For the first time, this year’s list includes a “Diversity Index,” which assesses the diversity of a school’s student population. According to that index, Georgia law schools still include comparatively few minorities. Milo Cogan, a third-year student at Atlanta’s Emory University School of Law, says the rankings are usually only one of several factors students consider when applying to schools. However, he adds, few people ignore them entirely. “I think that every single person who applies to graduate school — whether law or business or anything else — is at least aware of them,” he says. UGA, EMORY TIED The University of Georgia’s School of Law has jumped from 36 in 1999 to 29 in 2000 to 27 in 2001. That ties UGA with Emory, once the state’s highest-ranked school. Emory slipped a notch from last year. Georgia State University’s law school, which jumped from the third tier of schools — out of four — to the second in last year’s rankings, remains there. Mercer University’s School of Law is in the third tier, where it was last year. U.S. News does not rank schools numerically after the top 50, and it only assesses schools with American Bar Association accreditation. Yale Law School topped the rankings — a repeat of 2000 — followed by Stanford and Harvard. Though he’s not convinced that the rankings are the best indication of a school’s quality, UGA’s dean David E. Shipley says he doesn’t mind the results this year. “We’ve made a pretty good jump in two years. We’re in good company at 27,” he says. That company includes Emory, Notre Dame, Washington University at St. Louis and Boston University. The goal, Shipley says, is to crack the top 25 schools nationwide and make the list of the top-10 public law schools — a list that includes the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Texas and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Our numbers look a lot like the numbers above us,” he says. “If we continue doing what we’re doing we’ll continue to make progress in that direction.” However, Shipley says the numbers may not be as valuable an assessment as the magazine claims. “As much as I like moving up in the rankings I often wish we didn’t have them,” he says. “There are a lot of things that they can’t look at and I don’t know how they could assess,” such as the quality of classroom instruction, student contentment with the school, faculty-student relations and extracurricular activities. Georgia State’s dean, Janis Griffith, agrees, and adds that the rankings’ heavy emphasis on reputation works against a young school like hers. Though the list provides some valuable statistical information, she says she doesn’t think a school’s U.S. News rank is the sole factor in a student’s decision to attend school. Those who come to Georgia State, Griffith says, seem more concerned with the quality of the student body and students’ access to professors and technology. Emory University School of Law’s dean, Howard O. “Woody” Hunter, dismisses the scores much more bluntly. “My frank approach to this is that the whole process is so silly it’s hardly worth paying attention to,” he says. “The methodology is so fundamentally flawed.” TOO MUCH WEIGHT TO LSAT? For example, Hunter thinks the rankings give too much weight to median LSAT scores. This leads schools that want to rank higher to emphasize those scores more than it does other admissions factors. Some international students may fare poorly on the LSAT, but have stellar experience and work qualifications, he says. The rankings method may make some schools think twice about admitting such candidates. Though no Georgia school did especially well in the diversity index, Emory placed ahead of the other three. The index measures overall diversity. A majority black school, for example, wouldn’t score very well, if it didn’t have strong proportions of students from other races and ethnicities. The magazine ranked the schools on a proportional scale from zero to 1. Emory scored a .32, just ahead of Georgia State’s .28 and well ahead of Georgia and Mercer’s .25. Hunter says the number reflects Emory’s efforts to attract a diverse student body not only with regard to race, but also with regard to geography, age and work experience. Shipley says diversity in public universities has become a contentious issue in recent years; court cases in Texas and Michigan and referenda in California and Washington effectively ended affirmative action in admissions in those states. “With the attacks on affirmative action going on nationally it’s a hot-button case not only in Georgia but across the country,” he says. The School of Law at UGA recently settled a race discrimination suit in which two white students charged that affirmative action policies blocked their admissions. The settlement did not include any agreement to change the school’s policy. Shipley says that although the statistics haven’t improved, the law school has not seen any drop in minority applicants or enrollments. “I don’t think we’ve seen the same impact on our program as they have seen in the undergraduate programs,” he says. “We’re not going to look like California and Texas that way.” With the increase in the state’s Latino and Asian populations, Shipley says, the school eventually should attract a more diverse student population. “I hope we have better numbers next year,” he says.

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