US News rankings

Let's see them talk their way out of this.

The U.S. News law school rankings are out, which means it’s open season on law school deans. Nothing puts a law school dean’s job in jeopardy like a fall in the law school rankings. Nothing. The law school deans can lie, dissemble, raise tuition to backbreaking levels, and still keep their jobs. But when law schools drop spots in the U.S. News rankings, law school deans start updating their résumés.

If you want proof, just look at how deans from schools that dropped are falling all over themselves to explain their results. The deans will say anything; their explanations don’t even have to make sense.

While deans from schools that dropped are trying to save themselves, deans from schools that went up in the rankings are crowing from the rooftops.

Let’s start with a school that we left out of our Most Honest Law School bracket that is now a rankings darling…

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The newest U.S. News law school rankings are out. The timing is not ideal for us here at Above the Law, since we just launched our latest Law School March Madness contest with seeding based on last year’s now superseded rankings. But as law school deans well know, you don’t control U.S News; U.S. News controls you.

As previously announced by rankings guru Bob Morse over at his blog, Morse Code, the new law school rankings were scheduled to be published online tomorrow, Tuesday, March 13. But just like last year and the year before last, they arrived a few hours early. Oh joy!

There’s a surprising amount of movement among the top law schools. And there are some interesting tidbits from elsewhere within the rankings. Let’s take a look, shall we?

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It’s hard to believe that another year has passed, but here we are. It’s December 31st, New Year’s Eve. The weather is turning cold, the Republican presidential contest is heating up, and it’s time to review this year’s biggest stories on Above the Law.

Consistent with past practice, we will refrain from offering our subjective judgments on the most important stories of the year. Instead, just as we did back in 2010 and 2009, we’ll identify the ten biggest stories of the past year as decided by you, our readers. With the help of our friends at Google Analytics, we’ve compiled a list of our top ten posts for 2011, based on traffic.

In terms of overall topics, the most popular category page for the year was Law Schools, for the second year in a row. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the year was an eventful one for the legal academy. It would be fair to describe 2011 as an annus horribilis for the law school world, with various forces laying siege to the ivory tower. The attackers include not just unemployed lawyers turned scambloggers, but the mainstream media, led by David Segal of the New York Times; plaintiffs’ lawyers, who have already sued several law schools (and have announced plans to sue at least 15 more in 2012); and even a tenured law professor calling for reform (Paul Campos, currently in the lead for 2011 Lawyer of the Year).

The second most-popular category at ATL: Biglaw. Although we’ve expanded our small-firm and in-house coverage dramatically here at Above the Law, adding multiple columnists in each space, our coverage of large law firms still draws major traffic and drives discussions.

Now, on to the ten most popular individual posts on Above the Law in 2011….

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[A] law school could literally burn a huge sum of money and, as long as the flames were meant to teach something to the students — the craziness of the U.S. News algorithm, perhaps? — the school would benefit in the rankings.

New York Times journalist David Segal, responding to a reader’s question in relation to his series of articles about the economics of law schools. Segal’s latest article, For Law Schools, a Price to Play the A.B.A.’s Way (our coverage here), concluded the series.

(Additional excerpts from Segal’s responses, after the jump.)

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Larry Sager

Aren’t you supposed to get some kind of prize for moving your school into the top 14?

Lawrence Sager, dean of the University of Texas School of Law, will be stepping down at the end of the 2011-2012 academic year.

We’ve been a big fan of Dean Sager around these parts. He’s an NYU guy transplanted to Texas. And he managed to get Texas into the top 14 of the U.S. News law school rankings.

But all good things must come to an end. Why is Larry Sager relinquishing the UT Law deanship?

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Ervin Burell was a man who know how to 'juke the stats.'

All right folks, graduation is upon us. If you are a 3L who did not secure a post-graduate legal job, I’m sorry. Your life isn’t over, but law school didn’t work out as well for you as you might have hoped. At least not yet.

Not that your law schools want anybody to know that. No, according to your law school, you, unemployed 3L, are an embarrassment. They wish you would just go away. They don’t want to be reminded that you exist. Why? Because your unemployment could hurt your law school’s U.S. News ranking.

Unfortunately for some schools, U.S. News is actually paying more attention these days to schools that simply ignore their unemployed 3Ls for purposes of reporting their employed-upon-graduation statistics. Maybe U.S. News can’t force schools to report only those students employed in legitimate legal jobs, but they can punish schools that refuse to report on all of their recent graduates.

You know what that means: bring on your fake job programs, designed largely for rankings-enhancement purposes.

Let’s try to collect all of the schools that are enacting ridiculous “employment” programs that seem designed primarily to enhance their U.S. News rank. We’ll get you started with a fun one….

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On Monday, we talked about the big New York Times article over the weekend about the way law schools use merit-based scholarships to rope students in. When discussing the need to give out scholarships, the Times cites some very familiar language about how fixation on the U.S. News rankings guides the decisionmaking processes of many law school administrators.

Truly, you seemingly can’t have an article that is critical of the way law schools handle their business without there being some jab at U.S. News in there. It’s kind of like how basketball announcers can’t talk about a white basketball player without slipping in unsupported criticism that he might be “soft.” When the U.S. News stuff appeared in the NYT piece, I was so used to it I didn’t even notice it.

But U.S. News rankings guru Bob Morse noticed it. And he’s freaking sick of it….

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Now is the season when law school applicants, having received their admission and rejection letters, need to make up their minds about where to attend law school (or if they want to go at all). We’ve received a number of inquiries from anxious 0Ls seeking advice about whether to matriculate at School X or School Y (which we might work into a post at some point, but which we don’t have the time to answer individually, for which we apologize). See also this post (asking whether you’d go to Notre Dame, for $X, or a lower-ranked school, for some number lower than $X).

In these discussions, the question of value looms large. We’ve previously mentioned lists of “best value” law schools in these pages, but some of these lists have methodological problems. And other lists — like the National Law Journal’s recent list of law schools that will get you into Biglaw on the cheap — while helpful, are too narrow in focus for some readers. Maybe you’re not looking for a Biglaw job, but you would like to attend a law school that is worth the price (i.e., a law school that can get you a job that will allow you to service the debt you incur).

Say hello to yet another set of law school rankings: U.S. News & World Report’s list of “10 Law Degrees With Most Financial Value at Graduation,” i.e., law schools whose graduates “have the highest first-year salaries relative to debt load.”

Did your school make the cut? Try to guess at some of the names you’ll see on the list, and then read on to see if you’re right….

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Bow down before the most popular.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a seemingly endless stream of law school rankings. For example:

If you thought that rankings fatigue would set in at some point, think again. Every new set of law school rankings, no matter how arbitrary or methodologically suspect, generates buzz and massive web traffic. The message that readers are sending to publishers: MOAR LAW SCHOOL RANKINGS.

Publishers are hearing it, loud and clear. U.S. News, the kings of the rankings game, just released a new rank-ordered list: the 10 most popular law schools.

How do they define “most popular law school”? And is your law school or alma mater one of them? Some of the schools on the list might surprise you….

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Welcome Texas!

As you are all know, the University of Texas School of Law has moved into the “top 14″ in this year’s U.S. News law school rankings. It’s a bit of cheat for U.S. News: Texas is technically tied for 14th, which means that the magazine has actually managed to cram 15 schools into its top 14. I’d complain more, but I’m a fan of a Big (We Can’t Count To) Ten school.

While we all know that Texas is in the top 14, very few of you remember the significance of the top 14 in the first place. The top 14 isn’t as arbitrary as it sounds. Since U.S. News started publishing these law school rankings, no school that ranked in the inaugural top 14 has ever been ranked outside of the top 14, and no school that did not rank in the top 14 that first year has ever cracked that list. Until now.

The top 14 has been a way to distinguish elite institutions that are nearly interchangeable with one another from really good law schools that are just a cut below. When viewed that way, Texas’s inclusion was probably long overdue.

Let’s take a look at some of the other movement in this rarefied group of law schools….

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