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Law School Rankings: When a Comfy Chair Counts

  • by Colin Elzie
  • Nov 04, 2009
  • Admissions, Law School Rankings

As has been discussed ad nauseam, law school rankings can often be inaccurate oversimplifications and generally detrimental for everyone other than US News and World Report shareholders. For a variety of reasons I won’t go into now, USNWR is generally the only one that means anything, but as I’ve mentioned before, you should always do your own research into the schools you want to go to. USNWR isn’t worthless, but it should also by no means be your only tool. Research the individual schools. One easy place to start? More rankings!

In addition to USNWR, there’s Brian Leiter’s rankings, The Princeton Review’s, as well as Vault.com. However, my favorite by far is put out by Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan. Never heard of them? Well you should have, they’re ranked 12th in the nation! And they should know, since they’re the ones doing the rankings.

Now this isn’t really news, but it is really funny. Cooley gets consistently ranked as a tier 4 school in USNWR. This might not seem surprising, considering that their midranges for GPA and LSAT are 2.76-3.33 and 146-153, respectively. But yet, according to their own ranking system which they’ve been slapping together for a while now, they’re better than Stanford (18), Berkeley (20), and Chicago (31). Seriously.

Cooley is a gigantic school, with tons of part time students and commuters (total enrollment is close to 4000). They use this one superlative and milk it for all it’s not worth. Their rankings are based on 32 different factors, each apparently with equal weight. One (and only one) of these factors has to do with LSAT scores, and one (and only one) has to do with undergrad GPA. Eight of these factors have to do with their library. One of these criteria, which, I must reiterate, is just as important as LSAT scores, is library seating capacity.

That’s right, they count the goddamn chairs.

Also, being a large school, they have lots of teachers, so they count the full-time faculty. And then they count the part-time faculty. And then they count both full-time and part-time faculty. These are three different categories. So they literally count the faculty twice. They do the same thing with square footage; “the library,” “not the library,” and “the library plus not the library” are also three different categories. This is either just them obviously trying to make the fact that they’re a huge factory-style school look really good, or they weren’t confident enough with their counting skills on the first pass, a possibility I’m not willing to rule out.

They also choose to omit some pretty important info. Cooley has a pretty high dropout rate, which is partially due to the fact that they take in so many people with relatively low numbers. But they don’t factor this in. In describing why they left some criteria out, they say “…factors were eliminated to avoid redundancy and unnecessary complexity and volume.” Apparently counting both your square footage and faculty twice don’t count as redundancy, and counting the goddamn chairs isn’t unnecessary volume.

Look, I’m generally all for lessening the weight of USNWR, and Cooley does list some real issues with that system, but their alternative is the rankings equivalent of schizophrenia. In their defense, they say that you shouldn’t use it as your sole guide for picking a law school, but that also goes for ouija boards and dousing rods, which would probably be more helpful. The funny thing is, they seem to admit all the reasons why their rankings could be viewed as utterly terrible and worthless (well, nearly), but then they go ahead with them anyway. But don’t take my word for it. Actually read their explanations if you’re in the mood for a good laugh. Have you ever seen a dog barf something up, and then eat it up again? You know how it looks all guilty, and it knows what it’s doing is wrong, but when you try to pull it away from it’s own disgusting mess it growls at you? Well, then this should look familiar.

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