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Another Law School Ranking System: Any Good?

One thing no one has ever said: “You know, there just aren’t enough law school rankings out there.” U.S. News & World Report is the biggie, of course; it’s also criticized for many reasons, particularly for not placing enough emphasis on employment outcomes.

In response to the criticism, others have created their own system of rankings. Above the Law has its own system of rankings that places a higher emphasis on employment outcomes and alumni satisfaction. Thomas M. Cooley School of Law infamously has its own ranking system that emphasizes factors such as student body size and number of books in the library and, coincidentally, tends to place Cooley Law in the top 20 ahead of schools such as Duke and Stanford.

So there is no shortage of law school rankings. Now has gotten into the rankings game with a new ranking based on median LSAT scores, the percentage of students holding full-time, permanent, JD-required employment after graduation, and citations of the school’s main law review. The results can be downloaded for free – but are they worth checking out?

The criteria used for the rankings are an interesting mix – whereas rankings such as Above the Law’s focus almost exclusively on outcomes, the rankings incorporate more of a mix. The median LSAT score was selected as a factor to indicate student quality – a designation with which many would disagree, but for better or for worse, LSAT scores are one of the few quantifiable factors that we can lean on when analyzing law school admissions. The incorporation of employment data into the rankings makes sense – after all, although there are a few exceptions, the ultimate purpose of going to law school for most is to get a job as a lawyer.

The final factor in the rankings, the number of citations to the school’s main law review, was selected “to tell something about the intellectual orientation and culture of the school and to reveal something about the school’s standing in the legal education community.” I have never been personally involved with a law review, either on the writing or editing end; my question would be to what extent this metric is affected by the school’s existing reputation. I suspect that Harvard Law Review is much more likely to be cited than a smaller, more regional school, and that that may or may not be a reflection of the “intellectual orientation” of that school. Even if this criteria is strongly affected by existing reputation, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it would be something to consider when looking at the resulting rankings.

As is the case with many rankings, the end result ends up having many familiar faces, albeit in a slightly different order. Columbia tops the list, followed by Harvard at #2, Stanford at #3, and Yale at #4. The biggest changes are lower in the rankings – William Mitchell is ranked 48 places higher, for instance, and South Carolina climbs the rankings by 41 spots. The biggest losers include Penn State and CUNY with 43-spot drops.

New systems of ranking law schools can make for interesting discussions, and putting more emphasis on employment outcomes when creating the rankings seems like a step in the right direction given the uncertain legal economy. That said, no ranking should be a deciding factor for someone who is considering where to go to law school. At most, rankings should be treated as just another factor in that decision – unless we’re talking about those Thomas J. Cooley rankings, in which case you’re on your own.