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Law school rankings

Like any forced ranking system where some gotta win and some gotta lose, the U.S. News & World Report's annual law school rankings generate controversy, accusations of arbitrariness and reliance on incorrect measures of value, and frankly, a great deal of anger and angst by law school officials at the scrutiny and pressure to do well in the rankings. One reason the U.S. News list, which first appeared in 1990, has had such staying power is the horrific expense of law school -- consumers want some justification and validation for a spending decision that is often equivalent to financing several luxury vehicles. Another reason is that the list may generally be accurate, at least within a given tier, as Judge Richard Posner observed in a paper quoted in this WSJ story on the rise of several alternative law school rankings.

The story mentions a frequent complaint about the U.S. News list -- it tells the total percentage of a school's graduating class that is employed, but doesn't differentiate between the quality of the jobs or even distinguish between legal and other types of employment. The complaint has some validity, and the rankings are certainly no substitute for talking to current students at a school as well as to recent graduates and lawyers who have been in practice for a few years about their experiences. At many lower tier schools, for example, students are often shocked to learn that quite a large percentage of the school's graduates have to scramble to find jobs, and many have no prospects for employment even while they are being sworn in as lawyers and have loan payments ready to come due. By the time students come to this realization in their second year, they may have dropped $70,000 or more, a sum pretty much in line with what they would have paid at a top 20 school where job selection is much greater. More information from Peter Lattman, TaxProf Blog, and The National Law Journal, which says deans are unlikely to boycott the U.S. News list despite widespread fear and loathing.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.