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Hofstra University is touting increased academic standards and improved recruiting as some of the reasons for its ascension in law school ranks to a level not reached in years. Higher entrance exam requirements, along with boosted grade-point average standards and a bigger pool of law school applicants to pick from all worked in favor of the Hempstead, N.Y., school this year to place it at 89th among the 177 accredited law schools across the country. That position compares with its 101st ranking last year and marks the first time since 2001 that Hofstra has landed in what is commonly known as the “second tier” of law schools. The rankings, conducted by U.S. News and World Report, are closely watched by undergraduates considering where to pursue their law degrees and by employers looking to hire attorneys, although many law school deans dismiss the report ( NYLJ, April 16). Released earlier this month, the publication’s lists are based on a combination of factors, including input from peer schools and legal professionals, admissions standards, success in career placement and faculty resources. Hofstra’s ranking this year places it among the top 100 law schools in the country. The 12-rung climb, from 101st to 89th, is “a lot, actually,” said the law school’s dean, David Yellen. Although he asserted that the magazine’s list has “some huge methodological flaws,” Yellen said the school’s placement is meaningful and that Hofstra will benefit from the improvement. “It makes it easier to get more of the academically highly qualified people to come here,” he said. At the same time, however, he cautioned against too much focus on year-to-year changes and modest fluctuation in the survey results. “Anyone who does that is making a huge mistake,” he said. Many of the factors used to compute the rankings are beyond the control of the individual law schools, said Robert J. Morse, director of data research for U.S. News and World Report‘s list of law school rankings, which appears in a separate publication titled “America’s Best Graduate Schools.” For example, law schools have little influence in the peer assessment score, the jurisdiction’s overall bar passage rate or the employment rates of graduates months after they receive their degrees. “It’s hard to improve a school’s reputation,” Morse said. “That’s not something they have direct control over.” But there are ways law schools can increase their standing, he said. Most effective, Morse continued, is changing their admissions profile. Yellen agreed. He said that the influx nationally of undergraduates seeking admittance to law schools has been more pronounced at Hofstra. He said four years ago, the school selected its first-year class from about 2,000 applicants. This year, the school is choosing from about 5,500 people hoping to gain admission. The increase in the number of applicants has enabled the school to choose students with higher scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and to select those with a higher grade-point average than before. Last year’s first-year class had a median LSAT score of 157, compared with a national median score of 152 for all who took the test and 155 for people accepted to law school, the dean explained. In addition, the median grade-point average of those accepted was 3.4, while the national median average was 3.2, he said. CHANGES IN TIERS Hofstra’s position within the four tiers of rankings established by U.S. News and World Report has been affected by changes in the way the publication releases its findings, Morse said. Beginning last year, the magazine started ranking the top 100 law schools, which encompasses about 56 percent of all accredited law schools in the country. Schools that fall outside the top 100 are divided into two other groups: tier three and tier four. Prior to creating the top 100 in 2003, the publication ranked the top 50 law schools into tier one, with Yale and Harvard routinely competing for the top two spots. Other schools fell into tiers two, three and four, although the sizes of the tiers fluctuated. In Hofstra’s case, it fell just outside the top 100 last year, at 101. The year before, when the magazine still had the four-tier system, it ranked 92nd. But since the second tier included fewer than 50 schools, it fell into the third tier, where it also landed the year before. As a result, the school has not achieved second-tier status since 2001. Morse explained the change to the publication’s rating system. “We thought the public wanted more rankings,” he said, adding that the rankings of the schools in tiers three and four are not published because the publication wants to remain “positive.” Those schools are listed alphabetically. Under the previous system, only alphabetical listings were published of all schools outside of tier one. “Do we need to say who’s in the bottom 5 percent?” he said. “If you go to these schools and pass the bar, that’s good enough.” Although the publication maintains that it no longer differentiates schools in the top 100 into two tiers, Yellen noted that the alphabetical listings begin with tier three. He also asserted that the perception among readers is that the schools still fall into tiers one, two, three and four. Regardless of how the findings are fashioned, Hofstra is pleased with its performance on the list this year, Yellen said, pointing to an increase in the amount of merit scholarship money as another reason for its improvement. Money allocated for those scholarships has risen from about $2 million four years ago to about $4 million. Having more money to offer in scholarships means that the school can compete in wooing top undergraduates, Yellen said. RECRUITING AND MARKETING An increase in recruiting efforts also has enabled the school to visit other areas to seek out qualified applicants. He said that in 2000 Hofstra went to about 50 universities; it now goes to about 200 schools across the country. But change requires money. Hofstra has upped its incoming class size from about 240 three years ago to about 290 this year to boost its revenues. Further, its evening program, which will debut in August, is expected to increase gross revenues by about $4.5 million, Yellen said, adding that the school’s aggressive fundraising efforts toward its alumni base and other private donors have paid off during the last few years. Finally, improved marketing played a part in Hofstra’s better showing this year, the dean said. He noted books on education law, matrimonial law and international law as some of the faculty accomplishments that the school promoted to gain national recognition. “Marketing is important,” he said, “but you have to have a good product to market.”

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