U.S. News Law School Rankings

Our readers love nothing better than law school rankings, so it was kind of the National Jurist to roll out its first-ever list of the Best Value private law schools. This new ranking comes in addition to its regular ranking of Best Value schools (which is usually dominated by public institutions of learning). These lists are usually released in alphabetical order, but this time, National Jurist assigned letter grades to each school due to a post-publication error. We’re off to a great start already.

The Best Value ranking typically takes into account the following criteria: tuition, cost of living, average student debt, the percentage of graduates employed nine months after graduation, and bar passage rates.

When the National Jurist created the Best Value rankings to “honor schools that took the cost of legal education seriously,” why choose to highlight private law schools at a time when tuition is higher than ever?

We’ll explore possible answers to that question, as well as reveal the rankings, after the jump…

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In this age of plummeting law school applications, many deans must make difficult choices. They must sacrifice one of two things they love dearly: tuition dollars or their U.S. News ranking. It’s the legal academy’s version of Sophie’s Choice.

As fewer people apply to law school, deans have basically two options: they can shrink the size of the entering class, which reduces tuition revenue, or they can keep the size of the entering class the same, which results in credential dilution — a student body with lower LSAT scores and GPAs. Credential dilution can lead to a tumble in the closely watched U.S. News rankings, which can further reduce applications, setting in motion a vicious cycle.

So far, most schools seem to have opted for shrinkage. Most deans would prefer to be able to claim that they are taking a “stand for quality,” as Dean Patrick Hobbs of Seton Hall recently stated.

(Yes, we recently covered one exception. But to paraphrase Chinatown, “Forget it, Jake — it’s Cooley.”)

Interestingly enough, however, one top law school seems to be going in the other direction. It’s actually increasing the size of its incoming class over last year, even if doing so might lead to credential dilution….

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Does the amount of money a law school spends necessarily have an effect on the quality of its legal education?

Here at Above the Law, we say no. Our Law School Rankings take a look at the outcomes law schools provide for their graduates, not the inputs law schools cast into the pot.

But U.S. News still looks at many input factors in evaluating law schools. One of the most notorious factors U.S. News cares about is faculty resources. U.S. News rewards schools for spending a lot of money on the faculty per admitted student. You can kind of see the thought process there: good schools hire good professors and good professors command higher salaries.

Unfortunately, this U.S. News factor creates perverse incentives. Schools with unreasonably high tuition are rewarded for overpaying faculty, at the expense of the debt burden loaded upon their students and recent graduates. Ranking one school better than another because it engages in profligate spending is a cruel joke in this economy.

We don’t know if U.S. News will stop this madness, but yesterday the American Bar Association decided to stop asking schools to report the figure…

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It’s tough times over at U.S. News. After shedding nearly all pretense of being a news outlet, U.S. News threw all its eggs in the “telling people where to go to school” basket.

U.S. News enjoyed a virtual monopoly for years before someone came along and created a better law school ranking system. The crux of the ATL Top 50 ranking is focusing on post-graduation results rather than LSAT/GPA inputs.

Now U.S. News seems to be considering a new post-graduation component, but it doesn’t seem all that scientific…

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The headline comes from a tipster, but I think it perfectly sums up the Cardozo note in their latest alumni newsletter. Cardozo has issued an intellectually soft apology that admits what they did, but completely glosses over why they did it. “Aww shucks, we’re just goofy!”

Last week, we caught Cardozo trying to game the U.S. News ranking system by encouraging students to make token donations in order to pump up the school’s alumni participation score. The school said that alumni participation was a factor in the U.S. News law school rankings, but it turns out they were wrong.

The school is now apologizing for the error. They’re not apologizing for trying to game the rankings, they’re just apologizing for being wrong about how to do it….

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I almost feel bad for Cardozo. Yesterday, we reported on how Cardozo was trying to convince the class of 2011 to give money to the school on the theory that even a small donation will help the school move up in the U.S. News law school rankings, thus increasing the “value” of a Cardozo Law degree. Yeah, the campaign isn’t about how giving more money will deliver more value to Cardozo students in terms of job opportunities or educational experience. It’s just a hard sell that a higher ranking equals “value,” and an instruction on how Cardozo alums can help the school game the system.

And it turns out that the strategy isn’t even an effective way to game the rankings. The school is actually wrong about how the rankings work.

Look, I have to be one of the foremost authorities on “stupid things law schools do” in America. I believe I meet all of the Daubert requirements to be qualified as an expert on this topic on the Internet. In my expert capacity, I hereby testify that this Cardozo thing is the dumbest alumni giving campaign I’ve ever seen….

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And now back to our regularly scheduled programing. We join this episode of “My Law School Nearly Got Away With It,” already in progress.

We all know that law schools do all kinds of things to game the U.S. News law school rankings. U.S. News knows this, yet does little to stop this behavior. But rarely do we catch a law school red-handed.

Here, we have a school openly calling upon its students to do something for the express purpose of increasing the school’s U.S. News rank.

Even more embarrassingly, the school is targeting a class of graduates who have generally not had much luck in the employment market. The email suggests that the way to increase the value of their law degree is to give money to the school, since right now it’s not good enough to get them a job…

(Please note the important UPDATE at the end of this post, a punchline of sorts.)

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, AdmissionsDean helps prospective law students better get to know the Associate Dean of Admissions at New York University Law School. This is the first in a series of interviews with admissions deans at the top 10 schools per ATL’s Law School Rankings.

Dean Kenneth Kleinrock received his BA from Queens College (CUNY), magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa (1975), his M.A.T. from Duke University (1977), and his Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University (1987). In 1989, Mr. Kleinrock joined the admission staff at the New York University School of Law. He began as Director of Recruitment and Admission Services, and became Executive Director of Graduate Admissions in 1997. He was named Assistant Dean for Admissions in 1998 and became Associate Dean for Admissions in 2012. Currently, Dean Kleinrock oversees the offices of J.D. Admissions, Graduate Admissions, and Student Financial Services.

Read more at the ATL Career Center…

In case you haven’t heard by now, the number of people who are putting down money to take the LSAT is at a 30-year low. But some people are absolutely reveling in the the dearth of competition — with the extreme drop-off in applicants over the last three years, now is obviously the best time to apply to law school.

With the June administration of the LSAT less then a week away, there’s no better time to wave high scores in prospective law students’ faces. There’s also no better time to show these 0Ls the scores they shouldn’t be aiming for on this exam.

U.S. News compiled a list of the law schools with the highest median LSAT scores, and we compiled a list of the law schools with the lowest median LSAT scores. Here they are….

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* NY Attorney General investigating fast food restaurants for shorting their employees. This is a worthwhile cause, but what he should be looking into is who ate the bones? [CNN]

* Two schools, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and York College of Pennsylvania admit they gave false information to U.S. News resulting in better rankings. Those were their BETTER rankings? [TaxProf Blog]

* To keep “misleading statistics” in perspective, the Department of Education leveled one of its steepest fines on Yale for covering up multiple “forcible sex offenses” to keep its campus safety statistics down. [Chronicle of Higher Education]

* A measure of resource governance finds the U.S. has the second best governance of its oil, gas and mining sectors. Give yourself a hand regulators. And we’re gunning for you Norway! [Breaking Energy]

* The Honorable Felicia Mennin does not grasp how time works. Thinks artist should have been more conscious of the public fear surrounding the Boston bombings… back in February. [New York Times]

* Congratulations readers for helping the profile of a White House petition to reform student loan policy. Here are a couple more if you feel like making more reforms to the process… or at least more suggestions for reforms that will sit on someone’s desk. [Whitehouse.gov and Whitehouse.gov]

* Is political intelligence practice too risky? Is political intelligence an oxymoron? An interview with Robert Walker of Wiley Rein LLP after the jump [Bloomberg Law]

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