The Inside Secrets Behind Law School Rankings

If you are applying to law school, you have probably heard of or already looked at U.S. News and World Report’s rankings for the country’s best programs. At the top of the list are Yale, Harvard and Stanford University, in that order. However, what many prospective law students might not know is exactly how these institutions are ranked, what these numbers say about a program and what these lists do not always reveal. Here are a few inside secrets behind law school rankings.

How They Are Ranked

How exactly does U.S. News and World Report decide what school gets to be number one, and which ones end up at the bottom of the list? According to the source behind the rankings, 188 institutions that have been accredited by the American Bar Association are compared using 12 measures of quality. First is quality assessment, which has a weighted score of .40. U.S. News calls on law school officials, including deans and chairs of faculty appointments, to rate programs on a scale from 1, being marginal, to 5, being outstanding. In addition, legal professionals are asked to apply the same scale to the institutions.

Second is selectivity, with a weighted score of .25. This takes into consideration the median law school admission test scores of all full- and part-time entrants, as well as the median grade point average for all undergraduate students. Acceptance rate also plays a small role in this categories overall score. Third is placement success, weighted by .20. This category is comprised of graduate employment and bar passage rates. Fourth is faculty resources, weighted by .15 and including expenditures per student, student/faculty ratio and library resources. The data is then standardized, weighted, totaled and rescaled so that the top school receives a score of 100.

But Do They Matter?

How much of an impact does attending a top-ranked law school have on one’s career? How important are these lists in the grand scheme of things? It turns out they do matter somewhat, according to About.com. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects keen competition over jobs in the law field over the next seven years. For graduates of law programs, About.com says that a degree from a highly ranked school may provide an edge in the hiring process. What’s more, of the schools that appear in U.S. News and World Report’s 2010 rankings, 74 institutions did not report their at-graduation employment numbers, according to the ABA Journal. This shows that a number of institutions may have tried to game the system and achieve a higher rank than they deserved. For all future lists, the news source will change its calculation for schools that do not report their numbers. Robert Morse, U.S. News’ ranking czar, hopes that this will be an incentive for institutions to submit all of their data.

You Matter, Too

It is important to remember that while having a diploma from an esteemed law school might get you in the door at a large firm, that sheet of paper will not do your job for you. Whether a lawyer graduated from a school that is at the top or the bottom of U.S. News and World Report’s list, at the end of the day, his or her success at their firm will be decided by how good of a job they do.

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