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A trio of Texas universities landed in the top tier of the nation’s law schools in an annual ranking conducted by U.S. News & World Report. The University of Texas School of Law in Austin was No. 15. Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas tied for No. 47, while the University of Houston Law Center tied for the No. 50 spot. Yale Law School remained at the No. 1 spot, Stanford Law School was No. 2 and Harvard Law School came in third. In rankings of specific programs, the University of Texas School of Law is No. 5 for tax law, tied for eighth place for dispute resolution and tied for ninth place in trial advocacy. The University of Houston Law Center ranks No. 1 for its health law program and is No. 4 for intellectual property law. Houston’s South Texas College of Law ranked No. 5 for trial advocacy. And St. Mary’s University School of Law was tied for No. 7 in the diversity category, defined as places where students are most likely to encounter classmates from a different ethnic or racial group, the only Texas law school to make that list. Steven Goode, associate dean for academic affairs at UT Law, says the school’s academic reputation, which he describes as justifiably high, consistently puts it at the top in surveys. Also boosting the school was its 100 percent placement rate last year, he says. After the top 50, the rest of the accredited law schools evaluated by the magazine are put into tiers with no number ranking. One Texas school, Baylor University School of Law in Waco, Texas, was ranked in the second tier. The other five law schools in the state of Texas fell into the fourth, or bottom, tier. “We’re very proud of our ranking,” Dean Bradley J.B. Toben of Baylor Law says. “Each year, we see the program getting better.” Last year, the UT Law School came in at No. 15 overall. SMU tied for No. 50, which was the second tier then, and Baylor tied for No. 49, which was the last spot in the first tier. The University of Houston was in the second tier last year. Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock fell to the fourth tier this year, after being in the third tier a year ago. Also in the fourth tier, as they were last year, are South Texas, St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston and Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth. The annual rankings, which hit the stands April 2, bring annual objections from officials at law schools who allege the numbers are unreliable. The factors the magazine used to rank the law schools are reputation, selectivity, placement success and faculty resources. “Like so many law schools and law school deans, we don’t agree with the methodology,” Sheila Hansel, a spokeswoman for South Texas College of Law, says. “Putting so much weight on reputation isn’t fair to regional schools.” She points out that while her school is in the bottom tier, its trial advocacy program is ranked No. 5 in that category by the magazine. Richard Folkers, director of media relations for U.S. News & World Report — which has a weekly circulation of 2 million — says students should not fixate on a number when picking a school. “We try to remind people every year that a ranking is no way to pick a school,” he says. “They’re a very valid tool, but they’re only one tool.” The annual story on the best graduate schools, which includes the law school rankings, is always one of U.S. News‘ better-selling issues, Folkers says. Dean Bill Piatt of St. Mary’s says the magazine does a good job measuring objective factors, but other factors, such as reputation, are too subjective. There are wonderful things going on here that don’t appear in the subjective classifications,” he says. Even the way some of the objective figures were tallied brought criticism. At Texas Tech, a number of retirements by full-time faculty members at the law school brought the student-teacher ratio down because part-time and visiting faculty are counted differently, according to Dean W. Frank Newton. In reality, there’s still an average of 20 students to one teacher but because new replacement faculty members hadn’t come on board at the time of the survey, the figures were skewed, he says. Deans from highly ranked Texas law schools also are critical of the rankings. Dean John Attanasio of SMU says, “I don’t think the U.S. News survey is the most important factor in terms of what law school you choose.” Surveys such as this one are a limited resource, he says, but potential students still use them when picking a school. Attanasio and the deans of the state’s other law schools were among the 174 law school deans who signed a letter last year that denounced commercial rankings as “unreliable.” Dean Nancy Rapoport of UH Law also doesn’t like the rankings despite her school’s strong finish. “The overall rankings depend on things that are often irrelevant and out of law schools’ control,” she says. “Students can use something else to come up with their own ranking. People are relying on the U.S. News rankings more than they should.” In a 1999 Ohio State Law Journal article on the magazine’s annual ratings, Rapoport wrote that she could rank law schools by the height of faculty members, “but assigning a number to faculty height doesn’t make that ranking valid, either.” The 5-foot-2 Rapoport added in a footnote, “Or, in my case, inverse height.”

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