While at the AALS conference this weekend, talking about law school rankings, I joked: “The average man on the street would rank Princeton Law School as a top-five institution.” I was making the point that “prestige” rankings exist in the eyes of the public, whether or not they are memorialized by U.S. News.
Law schools that lack prestige are always willing to tell prospective law students that their school is very “well respected” in its market. Failing that, they try to tell law students that prestige doesn’t matter. And from the perspective of a twenty-something who has never worked in the legal community, it makes sense that prestige is overrated. It makes sense that people would value the skills you have over the law school you graduated from.
But in the real world, employers are not obligated to make sense. Students learn the hard way that the prestige (or stigma) of your law degree has real-world effects on your employment prospects, probably for the rest of your career.
A group of law school graduates would like to do something about their own stigmatized degrees. Since their school has gotten a prestige upgrade since their graduation, these alumni now want new diplomas to reflect that prestige bump…
Texas Wesleyan Law School was acquired a few years ago by Texas A&M, and rebranded as Texas A&M School of Law. Sports fans will appreciate that in my post about the acquisition, I wrote, “The big news today is that Texas A&M — last seen stabbing the Big 12 in the back by moving its football team to the SEC, where it will get nothing but crushed — has acquired a law school.” Ah… WHOOPS. In fairness to me, in June 2012 I knew as much about Johnny Manziel as Mack Brown did.
Luckily, I know a lot more about law schools than I do about football. I also wrote: “Texas A&M will just be supercharging it with money and some 12th man prestige. They’ll rearrange some deck chairs and make it more attractive to even more law students.”
That’s pretty much what is happening. Anybody who graduates from the school post-acquisition — which went through at the end of 2013 — will graduate with a coveted “Texas A&M” Law degree. But what if you graduated before 2013? What if you graduated from a law school that sounds like a shelter for battered women that also no longer exists for all intents and purposes?
Well, in that case you are SOL. Remember, Texas Wesleyan was so lightly regarded that it wasn’t even ranked by U.S. News, which means that it was among the bottom-50 law schools that don’t get a ranking. But that probably won’t be the fate of Texas A&M for very long. It’s the “Princeton Law” effect that I talked about earlier. People know “Texas A&M.” It’s a big school. They play football! Why wouldn’t they have a good law school?
Prestige is real, but that doesn’t mean it’s objective. My prediction is that Texas A&M will be ranked in the top 100 of the U.S. News rankings within three years. That’s too short of a time for A&M to really do anything different than Texas Wesleyan in terms of educational substance. That’s certainly too short of a time for A&M to prove that they do a much better job of preparing lawyers for practice than Texas Wesleyan. But by 2016, the name change alone will propel the unranked school into the top 100.
And former Texas Wesleyan graduates want in on that. There’s a petition going around from TWU Law graduates asking A&M to give them shiny new diplomas that say “Texas A&M” on them. You can read it in full on the next page, but here’s the premise:
PURPOSE: This petition presents a request for A&M to reissue diplomas granted to those who attended what is now called Texas A&M School of Law before its acquisition. This request is based on equitable arguments, the difficulties suffered by those of us who have diplomas from a non-existent law school, and the potential rewards to A&M by taking corrective action.
How. Freaking. Sad. How truly sad that people who paid good money for their law degree feel the need to retroactively better-deal their reputation. I understand the thought process — it reminds me of retroactive grade inflation — but Jesus.
One still proud TWU Law grad had this to say about the petition:
I would love a diploma from a school I didn’t graduate from. Maybe I can convince Harvard to open up a West Coast campus at my alma mater and then demand a retroactive Ivy league diploma. Although, who am I kidding… have you seen a pig wearing lipstick? You can give Johnny Manziel a Heisman, but at the end of the day he is still a douche bag.
I feel for the grads who want to improve their marketability, but are they really fooling anyone?
Sadly, a re-issued diploma might well “fool” a lot of people. Unfortunately, that’s exactly why it shouldn’t happen. These kids DID NOT go to Texas A&M School of Law, for whatever that’s worth. They certainly did not graduate from Texas A&M School of Law. Instead, they graduated from an unranked school in Texas that no longer exists. There’s no shame in that. It is what it is.
Nobody can relieve them of that cross now; they’re just going to have to bear it as best they can.