Law School Rankings Continue to Measure What’s Probably Not So Important

Yesterday I wrote a piece over at Political Animal about the structural problems facing recent law school graduates. They’ve assumed too much debt for jobs that don’t pay well and often aren’t available.

But the racket continues. On Tuesday U.S. News & World Report released its much-anticipated annual ranking of law schools. On top, unsurprisingly, were the law schools of Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.

This resulted in another annual event; pushback from the schools not ranked at the top of the list. HuffPo:

A number of law school deans immediately attempted to diminish the rankings’ value. Above The Law gathered responses from University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Michigan State University College of Law and Brooklyn Law School all explaining why the rankings don’t tell the whole story.

Joan W. Howarth, dean of Michigan State College of Law, [said] “These rankings are terribly flawed, with next-to-nothing in the formula that directly reflects the quality of the education we offer.”

U.S. News ranks schools based on peer assessment (25 percent), reputation among lawyers/judges (15 percent), selectivity (25 percent), job placement success (20 percent), and faculty resources (15 percent). Faculty resources include the average instruction, library, and supporting services financial aid and the student-faculty ratio.

The publication defended its measures. Robert Morse, who is in charge of rankings, explained that

We’re not responsible for the cost [of] law school, the state of legal employment, the impact that the recession has had on hiring, or the fact that there are 10 or 20 new law schools that have opened over the past couple of decades. And we’re not responsible for the imbalance of jobs to graduates.

Well no, you’re not responsible for those things, but isn’t it important to keep those things in mind? If this is a ranking guide to professional schools, designed to help people make decisions about whether and where to attend law school, it might be useful to include more of the things (and weight them accordingly) that matter to actual careers, including tuition, debt levels, and average salaries.

Ranking schools in such a way probably wouldn’t change the rankings much initially. Prioritizing average graduate salaries wouldn’t put Brooklyn Law above Yale, for sure. But including more of such measures would cause schools to behave differently over the long run. Law schools prioritize what matters. And the U.S. News ranking matters a great deal.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer