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U.S. News & World Report has once again recognized the University of Pennsylvania Law School as one of the nation’s best. For the second year in a row, Penn weighed in at No. 7 on the magazine’s annual list of the top law schools in the United States. Penn was tied in the rankings, published last month, with the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Last year, Penn was tied with Michigan, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Virginia. The six top spots were held by Yale, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, New York University and the University of Chicago — an order that has remained identical over the last few years. Temple University’s Beasley School of Law again won top honors from the magazine for its trial advocacy program, which was ranked No. 1 in the country and tied with the program at Stetson University in Florida. Widener University Law School’s health care law program tied with Seton Hall for sixth in the nation. Local law school deans generally slam the controversial rankings as highly subjective and irrelevant, and this year was no exception. “We do have an excellent program, so it’s nice getting this kind of recognition, although almost every dean in the county thinks there’s no validity in these rankings,” Temple Law Dean Robert Reinstein said. For the first time this year, the magazine also ranked the second tier of law schools (schools that placed 51 through 100) as well as the first tier. Among local schools, Temple ranked 64th; Villanova Law School, 69th; and Rutgers University-Camden, 78th. All three schools were in the second tier last year, as well. U.S. News placed Penn State University’s Dickinson School of Law in the third tier and Widener in the fourth tier. Schools in the third and fourth tiers were not numerically ranked and were simply listed in alphabetical order. Villanova Dean Mark Sargent was critical of U.S. News‘ methodology, maintaining that Villanova’s performance has improved over the past few years but that its rank has not gone up correspondingly. “It never changes very much from year to year, which shows the underlying absurdity of the rankings,” Sargent said. “We have seen a 122 percent increase in applications in the last five years vs. a 24 percent increase in applications nationally during the same time period, which shows that we just may be doing something right. But the rankings are incapable of recognizing it.” The rankings are based on various measures of school quality, including selectivity, placement success and student/teacher ratio. In addition, U.S. News sends surveys to law deans, professors, attorneys and judges, who rate schools on a 1-to-5 scale. Reinstein said there might be slightly more validity in the specialty rankings than in the general law school rankings. “What they do in the rankings for specialties is send out questionnaires to faculty members in those particular areas, so they might have more knowledge of what schools are doing the best jobs,” he said. “One of the criticisms of the overall rankings is they send out questionnaires to deans and professors and lawyers from about 180 law schools in the country. There are very few people who have the knowledge to answer those questions with any degree of accuracy.” Penn Law School Dean Michel Fitts said that the rankings should not be taken too seriously — though it is nice to be leading the pack. “I think rankings need to be taken with a huge, huge grain of salt,” Fitts said. “All the rankings are simply very rough approximations.” Fitts said he was pleased with Penn’s performance on the list this year, however meaningless that list might be. “If they’re going to have rankings, I would prefer that we do better in those rankings,” he said. Penn was also included on a list of the most racially diverse law schools in the country, on the basis of the proportion of minority students and the mix of racial and ethnic groups. The school merited a 0.44 on the magazine’s “diversity index” out of a possible 1.0, and Fitts said he was pleased that Penn was included on the list. “We view the diversity of our student body as a great strength, both in the value of our education and in sending a diverse group of alumni out into the world,” he said.

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