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How the New Law School Rankings Should Affect Your Plans

Unless you’ve been skipping my articles (in which case, you probably won’t be reading this one, either), the new US News and World Report law school rankings came out last week. I’ve already given you my reactions to the law school rankings.

Now you have to just ask yourself one question: “How should I use this data in my decision, punk?” Say it in a Clint Eastwood accent for the proper effect.

Many of you are about to put down a seat deposit and finalize your decision on which law school to attend. That’s a huge decision in your life. It’s going to determine your proximate experience over the next three years, and it will have ramifications on the rest of your life (including the possibility of finding your significant other).

To me, it’s interesting. In reality, nothing has changed between two weeks ago and now. The schools, for the most part, have the same professors. They’re definitely still located in the same city. They haven’t vastly expanded their libraries, increased their budget for quality of life, or opened a winter skating rink for their students (now that Dean Kagan is Supreme Court Justice Kagan. Thanks, Dean!).

However, some things – some important things – have changed. While not controlled by prestige, the legal profession is definitely affected by it. Your reputation as a lawyer is important to your practice. The reputation of your law school is important to your first job.

So some of you (especially those of you who were about to attend Illinois) might be second-guessing your decision.

That’s only normal.

First, though, think about why you were going to that school in the first place. If it was just because of the number next to it on the rankings spreadsheet, you probably weren’t going about the decision the right way to begin with. Make sure that you look past the ranking to find a law school that will fit you.

Second, if you were considering other factors, but a change in the rankings is making you second-guess yourself, realize that outside of a handful of schools, the changes in the law school rankings won’t mean much. Sure, Illinois grads might have a harder shake than they did last year. UT-Austin students are probably sad to see themselves out of the T14. But for the most part, your employment prospects will be the same with the new rankings as the old ones. Unless someone breaks into the T14, the law schools outside of it will still be strong in their areas and weak(er) in other markets.

Finally, realize that every law school is trying to gain in the rankings. That means that what is true this year might not be true next year. Hell, what’s true today might not even be true tomorrow, as the reporting snafu with St. Thomas Law School shows. Don’t give up a T14 school for a fourth tier school, but don’t drop a law school that you love because it fell two slots in the rankings.