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The University of Pennsylvania Law School jumped two spots to the No. 10 ranking on the annual list of the best U.S. law schools published by U.S. News & World Report, while the publication again recognized Temple University’s Beasley School of Law for having the best trial advocacy program in the country. The special issue of “America’s Best Graduate Schools 2002″ hit newsstands and the World Wide Web Monday. After being ranked No. 12 each of the last two years, Penn finished in a 10th-place tie with the Duke University School of Law. At the top of the list, the top six schools — Yale, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, New York University and the University of Chicago — remained in the same order as last year. In fact, the U.S. News rankings proved remarkably stable over the last year, and Penn’s two-place bounce was the largest of any school ranked in the top 20. “I’m very pleased that we went up,” Penn Law Dean Michael Fitts said. “I think we’re better than [No.] 10, but I’m pleased we went up.” Elsewhere in the Philadelphia area, Temple, Rutgers-Camden and Villanova law schools were all again ranked in the second tier, placing them between Nos. 55 and 88 in the country. Among other schools in Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh ranked in the second tier, the Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University placed in the third tier (schools ranked from No. 89 to No. 133), and Duquesne and Widener universities placed in the fourth and final tier. U.S. News also ranks schools in eight specialties based on the opinions of faculty members who teach in those fields. Temple’s trial advocacy program was ranked first in that section, while Widener’s health law program finished eighth nationally. “It’s great to see this kind of recognition for the trial advocacy program,” said Temple Law Dean Robert J. Reinstein. While quick to accept accolades thrust upon them by the news magazine’s editors, law school deans are equally ardent in criticizing the notion that the schools should be ranked. In recent years, a large number of deans have loudly questioned the value of the annual survey as well as its methodology, and in February 1998, 164 law school deans went so far as to sign a letter warning prospective applicants not to pay credence to the U.S. News survey, deeming it “hazardous” to their health. The magazine’s editors have consistently defended the rankings, which they say should be just one of many factors prospective law students use in deciding where to apply and later matriculate. “It’s very difficult to rank different institutions of higher education, including law schools, because the schools are different,” Reinstein said, noting that schools differ not only in size and location, but in their missions and the kinds of law they emphasize. “What most of the deans have told them is that it’s badly flawed and they shouldn’t be doing it.” Added Fitts, “There’s always a high level of irrationality … . It’s impossible to boil down a school into a number, and certainly to rank schools one to 30. There are too many schools, and they do things too differently.” In particular, Reinstein took exception to the way in which U.S. News calculated a school’s reputation, which counts for 40 percent of its overall score. The magazine asks the dean and three faculty members from each school to rank every school on a 1 to 5 scale, which he found problematic. “It assumes a lot more knowledge than people have,” he said. “I’m a senior dean, but there are a lot of law schools I know very little about.” Nevertheless, 67 percent of the law school deans and faculty asked to rank schools based on reputation did so this year, according to U.S. News. In doing so, they acknowledge that — for better or for worse — students will look at and consider the rankings, so they might as well have some input. “Our not participating is not going to stop the ranking,” Fitts said. “I’m gratified we went up, but law students and employers should consider a lot of different factors.”

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