Of course there are other things that matter to law-school graduates -- like getting a job. Although the U.S. News rankings purport to measure a school's success at placing its graduates into gainful employment, the rankings do not distinguish between success at placing students at high-paying corporate law jobs versus low-paying paralegal-type jobs. Nor do they distinguish between jobs that graduates want and the jobs that graduates get. Students who assume that going to a more highly ranked school is more likely to get them a good job are essentially being misled by lazy reporting.
The U.S. News rankings are also heavily weighted toward reputation, which would seem to have some real world significance. But again, "reputation" is misleading, and often irrelevant. Beyond the top 20 or so law schools, law firms care less about the ranking of a school when making hiring decision and more about the ranking of the students at the schools.
Put a different way, there are really two kinds of law schools: those at which students decide where they want to interview, and those where firms decide. The large majority of law schools belong to the latter group. Hiring partners admit that they use GPA or other bright-line criteria (like law review membership) to interview at Tier 2, 3, and 4 schools, while taking resumes from nearly everyone at Tier 1 schools.
In short: The difference between the 55th-ranked law school and the 105th law school is of little significance in determining which students are more likely to get a good job. At both schools, unless a student is in the top 15% or 20% of his class, he has little chance of getting a high-paying job directly upon graduation. Students might be better served by going to a lower-ranked law school and doing better, rather than going to middling law school and not doing as well.
Students and parents are led astray by U.S. News because in putting a simple number on something that is incredibly complex, they are missing the nuances that are likely to be more important. But schools themselves -- high schools and law schools -- are partly to blame, because they resist fully disclosing important information.
Just as law schools would better serve their constituencies by releasing accurate information about numbers that matter -- bar results, jobs, and average salaries -- high schools should make more of an effort to fully disclose test scores, college admissions, class sizes and other important data. More information may put some schools under a harsh light. But it will help students and parents decide whether those high taxes and tuition rates are worth it. The alternative is letting U.S. News decide for us.
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Nice one, Cameron!
For those of you who missed Cameron Stracher's op-ed on the rankings, see here. For those of you who don't subscribe to the WSJ, here's an excerpt: