You've decided to apply to law school. You've taken the LSAT and now are searching for the right school. During your search you've undoubtedly come across a few law school ranking guides. It may seem as though there are as many ranking guides as there are law schools. Just how are these guides developed and how can they help you?
The criteria in which law schools are ranked can vary by ranking agency. For example, guides such as U.S. News and World Report (the most recognized in the educational field), rates law schools based on reputation (40 percent), selectivity (25 percent), placement success (20 percent) and faculty resources (15 percent). Schools also are ranked separately in specialties such as clinical training, dispute resolution, environmental law, healthcare law, intellectual property law, international law, legal writing, and tax law and trial advocacy.
"Judging the Law Schools", a report prepared by the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, judges law schools by objective data provided by the American Bar Association. Now in its 7th edition, this report puts the emphasis on the quality of a school's graduates, not incoming students. It uses 32 factors when ranking law schools. Each factor, like the percentage of minority students, student-faculty ratio and first time bar passage percentage, for example, can sway the overall ranking of a school by just over 3 percent.
Another popular ranking guide is provided by The Princeton Review. This review rates schools in categories such as the toughest to get in to, the best overall academic experience, the best career prospects, the best environment for minority students and more.
When a law school receives a high ranking its applications for admissions tend to rise, when it drops in ranking so do the applications. Since its inception in 1990, only 14 schools have ranked in the top 10 spots in the U.S. News law school ranking guide. This is because just under half of a law school's ranking score is based on its reputation. As such, it is difficult for a newer law school to earn a high spot in the ranking (the youngest university in the top 10, University of Chicago, is more than 100 years old). While a newer school may be academically comparable to an older university, a strong reputation takes time to build, and can hurt a newer school in some ranking guides.
When considering law school rankings, prospective students should take into account the aspects of each school that are critical to their needs. Cost, job placement success, location, selectivity, desired programs and courses are all important factors students must consider. After all, what is important to one prospective student can be completely trivial to another.
No ranking system can take into account each individual student's needs and personal situation. While no student should choose a law school based exclusively on its ranking, it can certainly act as a guide. Searching through ranking guides could open the door to more school choices to the prospective law student.
Web resources to find ranking/rating information