2013-02-13 16:14:56 - WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 13, 2013): As U.S. News [USN] prepares to roll out its 2013 ranking of U.S. law schools, two new sites are challenging the now-defunct magazine as the prime guide for tens of thousands of applicants choosing law schools by emphasizing the information and concerns most on their minds, a move many hope will decrease the pernicious effect the USN methodology has in creating disincentives towards improving law schools, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
Rather than giving the greatest weight to factors like reputation [40%] and selectivity [25%], and only 25% to employment success as USN does, the newly announced rankings by the legal publication National Jurist [NaJ] gives a full 50% weight to postgraduate success.
Moreover, unlike USN, the NaJ rankings give weight to measures of student satisfaction and the affordability of law schools, something USN entirely ignores even though they are of considerable interest and concern to prospective law students, especially as tuition increases continue to far exceed increases in the cost of living.
Indeed, rather than emphasizing affordability as NaJ does, the USN rankings give weight to expenditures per student, a factor which a growing number of critics claim tends to
drive up the tuitions of law schools by encouraging them to spend even more each year than they should in order to keep up their position in the rankings, says Banzhaf.
"The most important single factor in the U.S. News rankings in the overall reputation of the law school in the academic community. This is of great interest to law professors – since it affects the acceptance rates of their law review articles, and their prestige and standing at academic conferences – but is of little interest to prospective law students who are primarily concerned about what kinds of jobs they can obtain upon graduation, if indeed they can obtain any legal job at all," says Banzhaf.
The now-defunct magazine also gives weight to factors which no longer have much legal relevance, like the number of books in the law library; something which is becoming increasingly irrelevant as more and more legal research is done more easily and efficiently using on-line resources.
The NaJ rankings are also far from perfect, argues Banzhaf, since they look to some sources for data which may be suspect, and because they also suggest that law schools can be objectively ranked in terms of desirability. To meet these concerns, a third Internet site, Law School Transparency [LST], provides students with a very reliable source of raw data so that they can make their own determination as to what law schools will best serve their own particular interests.
LST's interactive charts let students rank law schools on factors like "employment score" [good] and "underemployment score" [bad], and projected cost of attendance; all far more important to law students than a school's rank in academia based upon law review articles, academic conferences, etc. For those with particular employment goals, it also lets students determine which law schools are more likely to lead to jobs at large law firms, highly-desirable federal clerkships, and jobs in the public interest sector.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
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