Job Searches, Law Schools, Rankings, U.S. News

Start Your Whining: Schools Make Excuses for Their Poor U.S. News Rankings

Is your law school being a crybaby?

We’ve already noted that there was no change at the very top of the 2012 U.S. News Law School Rankings. The best schools remain the best schools.

Further down the list, we start to see some volatility. Now, every year there needs to be some change in the rankings; how else is U.S. News going to get people to buy new magazines? When you cede control of your legal education system to the list-making skills of a for-profit magazine, those are the kinds of realities you just have to live with.

But the way U.S. News tweaked its methodology this year is special. This year, U.S. News tweaked things ever so slightly to make their rankings just a little bit more output-oriented. While the rankings are still unabashedly focused on the qualifications of students on the way in than what those kids end up doing on their way out, this year’s list pays more lip service to the employment outcomes of recent graduates. We recently quoted this section of a letter U.S. News editor Brian Kelly sent to law school deans: “[E]mployment after graduation is relevant data that prospective students and other consumers should be entitled to. Many graduate business schools are meticulous about collecting such data, even having it audited. The entire law school sector is perceived to be less than candid because it does not pursue a similar, disciplined approach to data collection and reporting.”

U.S. News placed a little more emphasis on employment after graduation this year, and some schools took a significant hit because of it.

And now? Well, my friends, now we get to hear a couple of law schools squeal — just like their graduates have for the past three years….

We’ve already seen a few law schools send out school-wide emails trying to excuse their poor U.S. News rank. If your school hops on this bandwagon in an interesting way, feel free to let us know.

For my money, the most egregious example of whining (thus far) is coming out of Emory Law School. Emory dropped from #22 to #30. I’m sure that stings. But check out the school’s explanatory email:

Dear Students,

Today, U.S. News & World Report released its annual Graduate School Rankings, including law schools. Emory Law ranks No. 30 in this year’s rankings and No. 18 in a new reputation ranking among hiring partners at the nation’s top law firms.

Emory’s move to No. 30 is surprising, and on analysis is directly attributed to a change in the methodology U.S. News uses to calculate employment statistics. The employment numbers for the 2012 rankings are based on statistics from the Class of 2009. This year, U.S. News adjusted the employment rate calculations in an attempt to present a more accurate reflection of actual employment.

Historically, many of our students pursue careers in large law firms—the sector most impacted by the Great Recession. We remain optimistic in the improvements we are seeing in many of the country’s large firms.

We remain committed to ensuring all graduates can successfully enter the practice of law prepared to make an immediate impact. We have made, and continue to make, improvements in our overall strategy for assisting students and recent graduates in their individual job searches, regardless of their career interests.

We are proud that our reputation among hiring partners remains strong, despite the economic challenges the legal market faces. We remain committed to ensuring your success and look forward to working with you as we continue to build a strong and supportive community.

Dean Partlett

Didn’t Emory get the message last year? Doesn’t the school understand that its students need jobs, not donuts?

Look, Emory. This problem is solved if you simply tell the truth to prospective students. Tell your prospective students that most of them come to Emory to get Biglaw jobs. Tell them that coming to Emory to be a poor country lawyer who might end up as the lead character in a John Grisham novel is not what your law school is all about. Tell them that Emory’s ability to land its graduates in Biglaw jobs is closely tied to the health of the legal economy as a whole, so they know that if they economy tanks, they are going to get screwed relative to people at other schools.

Because you don’t hear Yale or Harvard or Stanford — all schools that send a large portion of their classes to Biglaw jobs — complaining that the Great Recession unduly affected their U.S. News ranking. You don’t see Duke or even Vanderbilt dropping eight spots because of recession-depressed employment numbers. Don’t you think Duke and Vandy also have many students who “pursue careers in large law firms”?

Here’s what one Emory student said in respond to Dean David Partlett’s message:

I read this and thought, why didn’t any other school ranked similarly last year experience this significant drop? I came to Emory with the hopes that it would provide me with better opportunities, and a committed staff who would get firms for OCI. Instead I am paying $43,000 a year (tuition was raised $2,000 last year) for a dismal fall OCI, and barely a spring OCI. Maybe after this drop in the rankings Emory will figure out that giving out huge scholarships to boost their medians wont compensate for jobless graduates.

At the end of the day, it feels like Emory is whining because the rankings did a slightly better job this year of telling the students who are interested in going to Emory exactly the kind of information they need to know before they make the decision to go to law school at Emory. And the administration has the gall to be pissed about that? They should be thanking U.S. News for clearly telling them what matters to their own students.

The University of Miami School of Law has a similar problem, and just like Emory, it doesn’t seem to get what U.S. News is trying to tell them. The school dropped from #60 to #77 (ouch). But Dean Patricia White — who I think has had generally excellent responses to issues arising in the recession — doesn’t seem to understand why. Here’s part of her letter to the school:

For reasons known only to it (and kept secret until today) US News changed its methodology this year to penalize schools whose graduates in any number pursue LLM degrees or JD/MBA or JD/MA or JD/PhD joint degrees by treating those students as unemployed in their metrics. In the past, continuing students were counted as employed. By contrast, graduates working part-time as waiters or waitresses are counted by US News as employed. Today’s US News ranking uses employment data provided to it by the law schools for the class of 2009 (and admissions data for the class which entered in 2010). 6.21 percent of the class of 2009 at MiamiLaw pursued graduate law or joint degrees. This is an unusually high percentage among law schools and we encourage such study–in part because we think that in today’s legal climate specialized knowledge is a valuable asset which both enhances a lawyer’s ability and his or her marketability. Miami prides itself on its outstanding LLM programs and on its rich variety of joint degree options. Many of the students who pursue these degrees are among our most talented and ambitious, and many of them are awarded scholarships to enable them to do additional study. Because US News has inexplicably decided to treat these students as unemployed graduates, it reports our 9 month graduation metric as 82.4 percent instead of as 88.5 percent.

Well, I’m sorry, but pursuing an LL.M is not the same as being employed. It’s just not. There’s just a huge difference between paying money to go to school versus being paid money to perform work. The latter we call “employed after graduation,” and the former needs to be called something else. While I’m sure Miami Law does encourage its students to pursue as much goddamn education as they can possibly hold in their intellectually rigorous little heads, most students most of the time sign up for three years of legal education so they can get a job at the end of it — not so they can have the opportunity to spend a fourth year getting trained for a job they still might not be able to get. If you told students on the front end that law school would cost them four years of their life in order to get a job instead of three years, fewer people would be willing to go to law school.

To be even more cynical, how many 2009 Miami Law graduates pursued additional education because they wanted to? And how many did so because they had no other freaking choice given the terrible state of the legal economy, and their inability to get the job they thought they were signing up for when the showed up on campus three years earlier? It’s entirely appropriate for U.S. News to attempt to take some of that into account. If 2009 University of Florida Law students (ranked #47 this year) were able to leave school after three years and get a job, while University of Miami Law students (#77) finished school to go to even more school and then who knows about a job, well then sorry, UF > Miami — by a long way.

This year, there seem to be so many more schools with issues about their U.S. News rankings. You know what? We’re going to have to break up this discussion into two parts. Tomorrow we’re going to talk about some law schools that went up in the latest U.S. News rankings, yet still highlight the real weaknesses of this entire list-making exercise.

That’s right: we’ve got schools that went down complaining because U.S. News did things better, and schools that went up pointing out that U.S. News still has a ways to go. It’s a great time to be alive! Cardozo, Chicago-Kent, and UT tomorrow — and don’t forget to send in other school-wide responses to U.S. News rank changes.

Earlier: Quote of the Day: Well, it might be in some people’s interest….
Emory Law Student Lament: ‘We don’t need donuts, we need jobs.’
Prior ATL coverage of the U.S. News Law School Rankings

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