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The annual ranking of law schools by U.S. News & World Report is met each year with howls of protest from legal educators who criticize it as an unscientific popularity contest, but still fill out the magazine’s survey. This year, though, one Texas school has broken away from the pack and is taking a nip at the magazine. Officials at Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law, a perennial low-ranker on the survey, declined to fill it out this year. “The Thurgood Marshall Law School backs up its bark with a bite,” Dean John Brittain says. “It disagrees with the rankings and, therefore, refuses to participate.” He says he wishes that all law schools would boycott the survey, but doesn’t foresee that happening because of the influence the magazine’s ranking can have on the numbers applying at an institution. As much as they hate it, law school deans know that the “Best Graduate Schools” edition is snapped up each year by students trying to decide where to earn a J.D. U.S. News this year ranked 175 law schools in an issue that hit the stands in April. The rankings are broken into four tiers. Schools in the top 50 are listed in order of their ranking; the institutions in the other three tiers are not broken down. The University of Texas School of Law in Austin came in at No. 15, the same ranking as last year. Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas tied for 49th place, a slight drop from No. 47 last year. The University of Houston Law Center, which tied for 50th place in the first tier in 2001, slipped to the second tier. Also in the second tier, the same place as last year, was Baylor University School of Law in Waco. The other five accredited law schools in the state — Thurgood Marshall, St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, South Texas College of Law in Houston, Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock and Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth — were in the fourth tier, their same ranking in 2001. In separate rankings of specialties, the University of Houston ranked first in health care law and tied for No. 5 in intellectual property law. UT was No. 6 in tax law, tied for No. 8 in dispute resolution and tied for No. 7 in trial advocacy. South Texas was No. 6 under trial advocacy. The overall rankings are based on a weighted average of 12 factors that include quality assessment, or reputation; median Law School Admission Test scores; median undergraduate grade point averages; proportion of applicants accepted; placement success; expenditures per student; student-teacher ratio and number of volumes and titles in the library. The most controversial is reputation, which accounts for 40 percent of the survey’s weight and is assessed by law school deans, lawyers and judges. The rankings are derided by academicians and criticized in a letter signed by most law school deans each year. The letter says the U.S. News survey exemplifies the shortcomings of all “by the numbers” schemes and leaves out important variables such as breadth of curriculum, faculty accessibility, cost and externship options. Brittain says he discussed the survey with his administrators at Thurgood Marshall and they all agreed there was no reason to bother with it, although the school has participated in the past. “A, we have a special mission that’s not counted, and B, our students aren’t concerned about that ranking,” the dean says. He says that his school traditionally has provided access to law education to diverse racial, ethnic and economic communities. Thurgood Marshall, which was created as a result of a 1946 suit brought by Herman Sweatt, who was denied admission to the University of Texas School of Law because he was black, admits most of the minority first-year law students in the state and adds diversity to the bar, the dean says. Thurgood Marshall’s mission leads to the admission of students with more educational risk than those at schools that take only the cream of the crop, Brittain says, so the U.S. News survey is comparing apples and oranges. “Which is more important?” the dean asks. “Fewer minority students and a high ranking or more minority students with higher risks who go on to pass the bar?” St. Mary’s law Dean Bill Piatt also is frustrated that the rankings don’t take diversity into account. A separate poll in the magazine does identify the most racially diverse law schools, including St. Mary’s, South Texas and Texas Wesleyan, but that measurement doesn’t factor into the overall rankings. (Ironically, Thurgood Marshall doesn’t make the magazine’s grade as a diverse school because of its high minority enrollment.) Piatt says other factors are left out, such as the availability of alumni to help place graduates and the students’ comfort level with their surroundings. In addition, he thinks there might be some regional bias at work because of the large number of Texas schools in the fourth tier. “Our law schools in Texas are second to none,” he says. “We have a wide range of interests and offerings. Many have no knowledge of our institutions. Respondents are asked to rank all law schools, and there’s no realistic way any one person could know about all 180 schools. Folks in other parts of the country aren’t aware of the high quality of our law schools.” Sheila Hansel agrees. The South Texas spokeswoman says her school recruits heavily in the state and doesn’t get a national reputation. The survey should take the weight off of reputation, she says. Even law deans from high-ranking schools dislike the magazine’s annual survey. SMU’s John Attanasio and UH’s Nancy Rapoport say it provides some useful information but should be only a small part of the decision process on where to go to law school. “Some schools are horribly under-ranked,” Attanasio says. “The sad thing is that students are making choices that are poor choices because they’re grossly over-relying on U.S. News.” Although he generally agrees with the magazine’s assessment of which schools belong in the top 20, Attanasio says, “beyond that it’s a turkey shoot.” He adds, “Many schools are serving a particular mission and doing it well. It’s a shame to denigrate schools when they’re performing a very valuable role in society.” Rapoport thinks that a joint publication put out by the ABA and the Law School Admission Council detailing each school’s programs is a better place to start when deciding where to apply. She has gone on record to complain about how the survey is done, but fills it out because of its impact. “I respond each year, not because I agree with the methodology of the study, but because we can’t afford not to be heard when U.S. News & World Report tabulates the results,” she says. “And I also sign the deans’ letter each year criticizing the rankings. So I’m trying to balance doing the right thing for the school with my sense of how harmful these rankings, standing alone, can be.” Brittain feels no need to walk a fine line with the survey. “The Thurgood Marshall School of Law can afford not to participate because we have a mission,” he says. “Our very mission ranks us lower because we admit students that other schools won’t.”

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