What’s the best law school? Most of you would respond, “Oh, that’s easy. Let’s just check US News and World Report.” You’d check it, and you’d find that Yale Law School is now and forever at the Wintergarden Theater. I mean, the best law school. You might also check Cooley’s rankings and find that Harvard Law School is ranked as the best law school, but not many people go by them.
And this creates a question — why are the USNWR rankings treated as gospel, while the Cooley rankings are, at times, derided? It could be that Cooley has placed itself as the second best law school in the country, outdoing traditional powerhouses like Columbia, Yale and Stanford (and Chicago — I’d never forget you, Chicago!). That seems a blatant conflict of interest.
However, the self-reporting of GPA and LSAT scores by the schools ranked by the USNWR is just as conflicted, as Villanova and the University of Illinois (168/3.81 to 163/3.7? That’s ballsy) proved. So should the USNWR rankings really be the final word on what is the best law school? And should you pay attention to the rankings when applying?
While I wholeheartedly admit that there are flaws in their methodologies, I do think that USNWR provides a good service by compiling information about the law schools in one place. After all, if you had to track down all of that information independently, it would take forever. On top of that, we’ve seen how honest the schools are when attempting to ‘inflate’ their ranking; if they were just publishing data on their website without any sort of normalization, how accurate do you think it would be? Every school would label themselves the best law school.
I do think that the USNWR rankings should have their data go through an independent board — say the LSAC? They already have the GPA and LSAT information of all applicants in their databases. I don’t think it would be particularly hard for them to generate averages for USNWR. I’m actually surprised that they don’t already do this, unless many more schools out there are fighting against a system that wouldn’t allow them to cheat their way to the title of Best Law School.
As far as whether or not you should pay attention to the USNWR Best Law Schools list while applying, anyone who tells you not to is misguided. The legal world is one where prestige matters. That’s why it’s such a large factor in the rankings. Even if the education is no better at the best law schools than (for lack of a better term) the non-best law schools, the prestige boost alone of going to one of the best law schools can be worth it.
However, just as students bemoan the rankings as a driving factor in pushing law schools to only consider the numbers (GPA/LSAT), these same students only want to go to the best law school, ignoring anything other than the numbers. You should treat the law schools in the same manner you wish to be treated — holistically. While the rankings should be a factor (just as your GPA/LSAT should), a ranking as a best law school, i.e. a number, should be just one factor in your decision process. You might be better off going to the best law school in the region in which you wish to practice rather than the best law school into which you can gain admission. Check out the student life, the area around campus, and the programs offered. For you, that school ranked 84th might be better for you than the school ranked as the 67th best law school in the country.