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U.S. News Rankings, 2009 Version:
As many in the legal blogosphere have noted, the the new U.S. News law school rankings are out.

  Some of the bigger news this year is an unusual drop for my own school, George Washington, which in the last decade has bounced around between 19 and 25 and averages somewhere around 21. This year we went from 20 to 28, which may reflect the decision by the US News folks to change the way they compute the rankings by including part-time GPA/LSAT scores in the mix (that is, the scores of the night students). But who knows: These numbers seem to bounce around mostly at random, and my guess is that next year the numbers will bounce back to where they were.

  Oh, and I should make the usual caveat: No one other than law students and law school applicants actually think the year-to-year variations have any significance, so there's a good argument to ignore the rankings. On the other hand, law students and applicants are a pretty important audience for law schools, and rightly or wrongly,the rankings have a major influence on school morale. As a result, they're a bit too big too ignore, even if the numbers are so often misunderstood.
BooBerry (mail):

No one other than law students and law school applicants actually think the year-to-year variations have any significance, so there's a good argument to ignore the rankings.

I don't think that's quite accurate, Orin. Law firms will decide how deeply to delve into the 2L class(grade-wise) based on USNWR rank.
4.20.2009 10:22pm
Roger Ford (mail):
BooBerry: will they? I've never heard anyone at my law firm even mention the US News rankings....
4.20.2009 10:28pm
K1avg (mail) (www):
Prof. Kerr, as an incoming GW 1L, OH NO THE SKY IS FALLING AAAAHHHH!!!!

Just kidding. As long as I distinguish myself and make decent grades, I'll be able to get a fine job, especially in the nation's capital. That's one of the (many) things the US News rankings fail to take into account - do you really think that a University of Iowa Law grad (no offense to any Hawkeye Conspirators) has the same job prospects or internship or pro bono opportunities as a GW Law grad?

At the risk of sounding cheesy, these rankings don't diminish my enthusiasm for attending GW one iota. And I'm holding out for section 14, by the way. ;-)
4.20.2009 10:34pm
OrinKerr:
BooBerry,

In my experience, firms normally decide where to hire based on where they have hired in the past, as tempered by their experience with young lawyers from those schools. Year to year variations in the U.S. News ranking play very little if any role. That's my sense, at least: If there are hiring partners or others with relevant experience that want to weigh in, that would be helpful.
4.20.2009 10:37pm
BooBerry (mail):
Orin,

As a paralegal in a large firm, shen I was deciding where to go to law school (about six years ago), I asked one of the higher-ups in the legal recruiting department of my firm about my choices. I remember her telling me that the firm decides where and how to recruit based, in part, on the rankings because they use them as a proxy for student quality. I'm not saying that this means year to year variations will cause firms to significantly change their recruiting habits at a particular school, but it's certainly reasonable to assume that a two or three-year trend in a school moving up in the rankings or down would affect their decision. Even if firms only changed their habits in response to a long-term trend of a school moving up, this necessarily means that other schools will be edged out to some degree.
4.20.2009 10:48pm
early bird (mail):
We at Indiana-Bloomington just moved from somewhere in the low thirties to #23. This ties us with Illinois and Notre Dame, which I think was done on purpose. It's meant to get attention here in the midwest, and to worry the Illini and the Irish (Oh no! The Hoosiers have moved in next door! We can't possibly sell in this market, we'll just have to nod, smile, and hope they move out again next year.) and most importantly, to boost magazine sales in Chicago and Indianapolis. But that's just my cynical take.
4.20.2009 10:50pm
A Law Dawg:
I'd love to see another entry on the chart: cost of tuition for full-time.
4.20.2009 10:52pm
Loophole1998 (mail):
"A high ranking for your alma mater bears little or no correlation to your worth as a person, or even to your legal acumen," said the man from the perennial tier four school. Sometimes we status obsessed attorneys forget that.
4.20.2009 11:08pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
Firms look at your class rank. That matters the most. Some won't take below top 10%.

Firms look at whether you are in the top 10, tier 1, tier 2, or tier 3.

Nothing else (about your academic performance) matters.

After that they are just looking at your personality.
4.20.2009 11:09pm
PQuincy1:
What's frightening -- at least out in the Arts and Science world -- is not the rankings themselves, but how immediately and totally administrators buy into them. Having to repeatedly make major changes in the structure of a graduate program because some Dean thinks we can game various rankings (for example, by demanding we admit all new students directly into our PhD program, rather than having them earn an MA first, in the hope that changes in the MA-to-PhD ration will raise our rank), is utter absurdity. Of course, rankings and systems can be gamed...but not at this idiotic level. Yet from top to bottom, administrators at my nameless R1 public university seem to think that rankings and their methodologies are a reasonable and prudent way to set academic policy.

Must be something in the water on the adminstrators' floors...
4.20.2009 11:47pm
Craig Reiser (mail) (www):
I'm surprised to hear BooBerry's account of his experience regarding law firm hiring and the impact of U.S. News. I think that--on the whole--Professor Kerr's probably right (that firms hire based on history with the school, etc.), and that BooBerry's firm is the exception to the rule.

With respect to the value to be accorded to the rankings as a general matter, I think it is important to realize that most people (even law students!) realize how useless these rankings are on a year-to-year basis. I cared about the rankings as a pre-law, and have since realized how foolish I was to put so much stock in them. Most of my peers feel the same way.
4.20.2009 11:49pm
OrinKerr:
PQuincy1,

Are the administrators "buying into them" in the sense that they think the rankings are accurate, or are they buying into them in the sense that they think the customers (the students) genuinely think they important so the schools better pay attention to them?

K1avg,

Your approach seems about right to me: By the end of your 1L year, the school's ranking will be totally different anyway. Have a good summer.
4.21.2009 12:28am
trad and anon (mail):
This year we went from 20 to 28, which may reflect the decision by the US News folks to change the way they compute the rankings by including part-time GPA/LSAT scores in the mix (that is, the scores of the night students). But who knows: These numbers seem to bounce around mostly at random, and my guess is that next year the numbers will bounce back to where they were.


The numbers have to bounce around at random. If they stayed the same they wouldn't be able to keep selling new copies of the same list. This is why they keep changing the formula.
4.21.2009 12:35am
BooBerry (mail):
That's a good point, trad and anon. I wonder if anyone has compared the degree of change from year to year with the sales figures. Does a weak year of sales one year cause USNWR to rejigger the list more substantially the next?
4.21.2009 12:45am
Ben P:

In my experience, firms normally decide where to hire based on where they have hired in the past, as tempered by their experience with young lawyers from those schools. Year to year variations in the U.S. News ranking play very little if any role. That's my sense, at least: If there are hiring partners or others with relevant experience that want to weigh in, that would be helpful.




Professor Kerr, you obviously don't read enough Above the Law.

The wisdom from that particular crowd is that even a bottom third HYSC student is not only smarter and more likely to be a better lawyer than a student from George WashingTTTon, as to be deserving of any job that comes his way, he's probably better looking too.


/snark

On a more serious note, I'd agree with someone above who said they'd like to see tuition. My law school may not have had truly impressive academic credentials, but I feel much better right now as a graduate of a Tier 2 law school that's graduating with basically no debt than a graduate of a Top 25 school with upwards of $150,000 in debt. That way I can look into that smaller market job or that government job without worrying about how I'm going to make a couple grand a month in student loan payments.
4.21.2009 6:46am
Justin (mail):
Is HYSC like HYS only better? and if Chicago takes 4th next year, will HYSC 2009 mean something different than HYSC 2010? Are we officially done with HYSCCN? The mind scattegories.
4.21.2009 7:09am
The River Temoc (mail):
I have a bit of a different view. It seems that many posters here hastily leap from the (sensible) observation that "rankings contain statistical noise" to "rankings are meaningless."

There is absolutely nothing wrong with benchmarking institutions against each other. Do all the people perpetually complaining about rankings also complain about deal tables (which I assure you are important when companies select bankers or lawyers)? Or when equity analysts compare one company against its peers?
4.21.2009 7:38am
Greek Geek:
These posts about the rankings are ridiculous - for a website that devotes itself so passionately to fact and reason, everyone here is missing one large factor in this determination: employers rely on these things, and thus, any well informed student will as well. As long as employers give interviews to every single Harvard student but don't even interview at a school like George Mason, then the rankings will (and should, to any well informed student) matter.

Unfortunately, most people do not go to law school simply to be better educated, but to improve their earning potential and hopefully land a well-paying job.
4.21.2009 8:06am
JP22 (mail) (www):
Daryl Herbert wrote:


Firms look at your class rank. That matters the most. Some won't take below top 10%.

Firms look at whether you are in the top 10, tier 1, tier 2, or tier 3.


I do a lot of interviewing for my firm, and that is pretty consistent with my experience. My one qualification to that would be we look lower down the class ranking the higher the school is ranked. I.e., when considering candidates from 4th-tier schools, we'll consider only the top 1-3 students in the class. At the other extreme, when considering candidates from top-10 schools, we'll consider almost anyone whose grades are not markedly bad.

I don't think year-to-year changes in rankings matter that much, especially regarding schools we're familiar with. But the moving average of a school's ranking does have an impact on our interviewing and hiring decisions.
4.21.2009 9:23am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Greek, sure the rankings "matter," but not at the level that some obsessive pre-laws think they do. Do you think the hiring partners at any law firm in the country care whether Vanderbilt is ranked number 15, 16, or 17 this year? Or whether Columbia is number 4 and NYU 5, or vice versa? Or whether Random Law School rose from 71st to 62nd, or declined from 62nd to 71st?
4.21.2009 9:31am
DavidBernstein (mail):
BTW, the most important thing the rankings can do for a school is give external validation to a school without a well-established national reputation. No matter how good the students, faculty, et al are in such schools, given the status-consciousness of lawyers, there will always be skepticism about schools that haven't been around that long, or that aren't attached to a brand-name university. US News rankings, while methodologically flawed, provide an external validation to the skeptics.

Thus, it was significant for GMUSL to get into the top 50, and it will be significant if UC-Irvine's new law school does well in US News.
4.21.2009 9:36am
Greek Geek:
I agree that they do not matter at an obsessive level - I just think it is disingenuous to say that the rankings should be ignored. I agree with the general sentiment, but it is just not good advice.

Having been an associate at a large Wall Street law firm, and having seen the kind of "employees" that come from the different law schools, I can (at least anecdotally) attest to the fact that what school you went to unfortunately does matter to these people, no matter how many times someone from a lower ranked school impresses. It's just a simple fact that it is much more difficult to get even an interview, let alone a job from even a school in the lower half of tier 1 - anyone who chooses to ignore the rankings in this calculation is probably in for a big surprise come recruiting time.
4.21.2009 9:53am
JP22 (mail) (www):

BTW, the most important thing the rankings can do for a school is give external validation to a school without a well-established national reputation.



I agree. It has not been unusual for me to look up a school I'm not familiar with and to be surprised that it's ranked as high as school X, which I am familiar with.
4.21.2009 9:56am
The River Temoc (mail):
Firms look at your class rank. That matters the most. Some won't take below top 10%.

At least two of the top ten schools (Yale and Boalt) have policies in place prohibiting students from disclosing, and in some cases knowing, their class rank. Yet the top firms recruit there. That fact says that school rank is important for hiring purposes.
4.21.2009 10:13am
The River Temoc (mail):
Do you think the hiring partners at any law firm in the country care whether Vanderbilt is ranked number 15, 16, or 17 this year?

This is a strawman argument, since no one has been making it. (That said, I can think of one case when it might just matter, and that is if school No. 10 or school No. 15 slips down a notch, such that they're no longer in the top ten or 15 schools.)

The argument that people do seem to be making is that U.S. News ought to abolish the rankings, or that U.S. News readers ought to ignore them altogether. That is very bad advice.

I wonder how many of the people complaining about rankings looked at Consumers Reports the last time they bought a car?
4.21.2009 10:19am
DavidBernstein (mail):
I'm not against U.S. News' rankings. I just wish that there were competing rankings with similar cache, so people wouldn't be so obsessed with U.S News, as if its rankings are gospel. I understand that business schools are ranked by several different prominent sources, including U.S. News, meaning that none of them dictate a school's standing.
4.21.2009 10:30am
DiverDan (mail):
I can't speak from any recent experience, but I do know that the rankings, and the trends (but not the year-to year variations, at least not very much) did matter at the large Dallas Firm I was with some years ago. It's not that they wouldn't recruit from a lower tier school, but their standards for hiring were generally much more stringent. If you were a 2L at Harvard, Yale, Chicago, or Boalt, then summer clerkship offers might be extended to the top 40% of the class; for top-20 schools outside of the top 5, the cutoff might be top 25%. The Firm recruited heavily at SMU, because of its local ties, but only made offers to top 10% students. For Schools outside of top-40, the Firm generally did not send recruiters (unless they could combine the trip with another recruiting visit, like a stopover at Depaul after recruiting at Chicago or Northwestern), but they did solicit resumes; you had to be pretty high up in the class with something extra at one of those schools to get an invite to Dallas for an interview. There were exeptions; for example, South Texas had a notoriously good trial prep program &regularly excelled at moot court competitions -- if you wanted to be a litigator and you were on the South Texas Moot Court Team, you might be cut a lot of slack on class rank. Job offers to 3Ls that had not clerked with the Firm generally followed the same track, with slightly more stringent criteria; i.e., 3Ls from Top 5 schools needed a top 30% class rank; top 20 schools needed upper 20% class rank; top 40, need top 10% class rank. However, there was never a strict cutoff for what constituted a "top 20 school" based on US News rankings; if your school bounced around between 19 and 23, it was more likely to be lumped into the "top 20" stack than the "top 40".
4.21.2009 11:04am
CalAttnyKen (mail):
As a GW Law alumnus, a former clerk to a federal judge, and a practicing attorney, I could care less about school rankings (As I have never had a client ask what school I went to; they care more about winning and their bill).

However, let me provide a perfect example of why we cannot completely discount the value of this particular ranking. One of the partners at the firm has a daughter who is applying to law school. When I heard this, I fully endorsed GW as a great school, etc. The partner shared his daughter's credentials and LSATs (quite good). She applied to a variety of schools.

Yesterday, the partner comes in my office chattering about how GW was now an "also ran." And that his daughter will likely pass up the opportunity to attend GW. Why? I asked. The answer, I knew, of course. It comes down to increasing ones statistical chance of landing a decent job. The better the school (i.e. lower the USNEWS rank) the deeper a firm will reach into the class. This is not an explicit policy, but seems to just work out that way. Firms want to display their newly acquired assets, one way they value those assets is by school rank.

Note however, that the judge I worked for could care less about rankings (I wonder if he even knew they existed). His criteria was based almost solely on past performance of graduates (and recommendation letters). That being said, however, I don't recall interviewing anyone (other than local law students) from a school out of the top 25--again not an explicit policy, just seemed to work out that way.
4.21.2009 12:21pm
trad and anon (mail):
I wonder how many of the people complaining about rankings looked at Consumers Reports the last time they bought a car?


I can only imagine the U.S. News car rating system, which would mostly be based on the engineers' GRE scores and GPA's.
4.21.2009 12:53pm
hawkins:

when considering candidates from 4th-tier schools, we'll consider only the top 1-3 students in the class. At the other extreme, when considering candidates from top-10 schools


Im really having a hard time imagining that a firm interviewing at top 10 schools even considers the #1 student from a tier 4 school, let alone the top 30%. As a top 30% student from a lower tier 1 school, I couldnt land interviews with any of the biggest firms.
4.21.2009 7:06pm
JP22 (mail) (www):
Hawkins -- There are a couple of fourth tier schools with which my firm has had good experience in the past, and we still consider the top students from those schools.

Unfortunately, you're in a kind of no-man's land that IMO is really unfair. A top 30% student from a lower tier 1 school is in a tougher position, I think, than a top student from a second-tier school. That being said, not getting hired by the biggest firms could easily be a blessing in the long run.
4.21.2009 8:56pm
Barrister's Handshake (mail) (www):
According to the NALP Directory:

Georgetown had 765 on campus recruiters.
George Washington had 512 on campus recruiters.
George Mason had 166 on campus recruiters.
American University had 190 on campus recruiters.

That suggests to me that rank matters for on campus recruiting (I didn't adjust for class size, although I'm happy to hear the argument from others who think that matters). Granted, the difference between Mason and American is interesting. Could it be the history of recruiting argument offered by Orin, or could it be as simple as AU being closer to downtown? (although the Metro to Tenleytown then bus to campus is a PITA).

Now I agree with Orin that rank probably doesn't matter for a move from 20 to 28 one year, but IMHUO (the U is for unsubstantiated) a period of years at a lower rank will matter, just as a period of years at a higher rank will matter.

With that said, if I were an admitted student choosing between closely ranked schools I would at least take a look at the NALP Directory to figure out how many on campus interviews I could expect.

For example, someone choosing between Richmond (77), Seton Hall (77), Rutgers Camden (77), Denver (77), U Baltimore (Unranked) and wants to work in DC would find:

Richmond has 5 DC based recruiters interviewing on campus.
Seton Hall has 5.
Rutgers Camden 3.
Denver 3.
University of Baltimore 5.

Maybe that's a bad example because it doesn't tell us much, which is precisely the point, ranking alone won't tell a prospective student a thing. This data indicates that my hypo student will find that it is tough to get to DC through OCI from those schools, so other factors will begin to matter such as geography, cost, etc. US News alone though, won't solve the student's problems.

You can play around with the NALP Directory all day and come up with different examples.
4.22.2009 1:00am
zippypinhead:
Law school "quality" even matters to some extent in public sector recruiting, although specific rankings are not parsed nearly as finely as they may be in private practice or academia.

Once upon a time I was involved in the (then strictly merit-based) Honors Program recruiting process for a Federal agency that was generally recognized as a really great place to start one's legal career (see, e.g., Orin Kerr, Eric Holder, zippypinhead). We did not explicitly pay attention to the USNWR rankings. However, Tier-1 school candidates had a much easier time getting an initial interview than Tier-3 candidates. Harvard Law? If you were roughly in the top half of the class and didn't have a criminal record, you'd get an interview. George Mason (back in the days when it was solidly Tier-3)? You'd better be in the top 10% of the class, preferably with other indicia of superior performance such as law review EIC or moot court competition winner.

But once candidates got into the interview process, their school became much less important than a host of other considerations - including but not limited to whether they were committed enough to public service to actually stay with us for at least a few years, while earning only about 1/3 the "going rate" large-firm D.C. private practice salary.

Why did the identity of one's law school matter even in public sector recruiting? Mostly because at least at the broad "Tier" level, it was a halfway decent (tho not perfect) proxy for the general quality of the candidate pool - the better candidates tended to be the types who could got admitted to the better schools. I am informed by others that this general rule of thumb still generally applies (although it may have been subordinated to other, um, "criteria" for a while when political appointees allegedly hijacked the Honors Program hiring process in the previous Administration).
4.22.2009 12:06pm

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