It’s Christmas morning here at Above the Law. Thomas M. Cooley Law School has released a new set of law school rankings designed to make Thomas M. Cooley Law School look good. Back in 2009, Cooley incredibly ranked itself the 12th-best law school in the country.
Now the farce reaches new and glorious heights. In this latest edition of Cooley’s own Judging the Law Schools rankings, Cooley has rated itself — wait for it, wait for it — the SECOND BEST law school in all that land. That’s right, #2! Harvard is #1, so according to Cooley, if you can’t get into HLS, you’d be making a wise career decision to go to Cooley instead of, oh, I don’t know — YALE. Click over to the Cooley website if you want to see the full list; I don’t want to befoul ATL’s pages with a breakout of Cooley’s top ten.
This, my friends, is funny. But it’s also serious. Because there are real people studying at Cooley right now, and I don’t think they understand how horrible it makes the school look when the administration publishes things like this….
There are a lot of legal educators who hate the U.S. News law school rankings. There are a lot of people who think that the way U.S. News does things is wrong. But whatever chance you have of making your alternative rankings gain traction flies out of the window when you put yourself at #2 — four tiers higher than where U.S. News has you.
According to Cooley, there is a reasonable explanation for all of this:
How did Cooley rank #2? Here’s how:
First, Judging the Law Schools eliminates the highly subjective criteria found in other well-known ranking systems from consideration. Eliminating subjectivity from the rankings means that:
* “Reputation” of the schools based on the opinions of various individuals and the quality of scholarly publications by faculty are not included; and
* No consideration is given to exclusionary admissions practices in these rankings, although the quality of incoming classes is considered.
Okay, so instead of “subjective” factors like “quality,” what is Cooley looking at?
Judging’s rankings are based on the following premises:
* That higher incoming credentials are better than lower;
* That lower student:teacher ratios and smaller class sizes are better than higher ratios and larger classes;
* That higher bar passage rates are better than lower;
* That bigger is better than smaller;
* That less expensive is better than more expensive; and
* That more minority enrollment is better than less.
I mean, there’s an internal contradiction within this list of bullet points. Smaller class sizes are better, but “bigger is better than smaller.” Six-year-olds show more internal consistency when they write lists to Santa Claus.
If you actually look at the full methodology behind these rankings, you’ll see just how intellectually insulting this exercise is. For instance, many observers have poked fun at U.S. News’s insistence on including library statistics in its rankings — but Cooley takes this to the next level. I count ten, (TEN!) library based factors, including the total square footage in the library, not to be confused with the separate input for seats available in the library, or the still separate input that accounts for how many hours the library is open.
In fact, the methodology is full of these kinds of raw-number inputs that mean absolutely nothing to anybody who is concerned about getting a degree in law. Cooley counts the total number of applications received, the total amount of money a school spends on its library, the total number of courses in the school’s course catalog, the physical square footage of the law school campus itself, and the number of states alumni are employed in.
While these kinds of numbers might be “objective,” they are also irrelevant. It would actually be more honorable if they picked these factors out of a hat. But they didn’t. We know that they didn’t because that’s how Cooley ranked #2. The fact that Harvard ranks #1 according to Cooley is probably something Harvard is ashamed of. I’d bet money there’s no HLS press release mentioning this “achievement.” It sure seems like Cooley just kept massaging the numbers and making up factors and adjusting the weight of the factors until they came up with something they were happy with.
That’s why this ranking is intellectually dishonest. There has been no attempt here to actually put together a list of inputs that mean anything to prospective or current law students. There’s only been an attempt to put together a list of things that Cooley scores well on. It. Is. Insulting.
Okay, so why am I getting worked up about this? This list is a joke, and everybody knows it’s a joke; why am I wasting my time when I could be at home playing NBA 2K11? Well, because there might be a kid out there who believes this crap. There might be a person out there who is listening to all this faux-diversity double-talk Cooley is spouting. There might be a prospective law student who is choosing between Cooley and some other fourth-tier school and chooses Cooley because of this disingenuous ranking.
That’s really what Cooley wants. This crap isn’t going to fool anybody who has diligently prepared for their legal education. It’s not even going to fool Cooley students who go into the process with their eyes wide open. It’s just designed to catch the eye of some unsuspecting, unprepared person who wants to believe and is all too eager to cut Cooley a check. They just need some “objective” reason to do it. This list represents Cooley’s attempt to take advantage of people who don’t know any better.
That’s not right. You don’t take advantage of people just because they don’t know that the square footage of the law school campus has no bearing on the quality of legal education they are receiving.
Cooley is not the second-best law school in America and even the Cooley people responsible for putting together this list know it. You have to make your own decisions about what such intellectual dishonesty says about the people who made this list.