U.S. News Law School Rankings Under Scrutiny

March 3, 2016
Russell Schaffer

Top news for aspiring law students.

U.S. News is set to publish its latest law school rankings, but some question the methodology.

New research links race and LSAT score to student debt, a legal trailblazer tells his story, and the most prestigious law school rankings draw criticism—Let’s take a look at the top stories in law school news.

Law school rankings are almost here

There are an increasing number of law school rankings out there, many of which measure similar metrics: job placement rates, the average LSAT score of accepted students, etc. But the gold standard is U.S. News & World Report’s annual findings. According to Kaplan research, prospective law students place a tremendous amount of importance on this list when deciding where to apply, and law schools themselves rely on it to recruit the best students and secure generous donations from alumni. The 2017 law school rankings will be announced on March 16. As U.S. News & World Report notes, its rankings “should be a supplement for careful decision-making, not a substitute.” We completely agree. The publication will be releasing its rankings for law schools, graduate schools, and medical schools on the same day. (U.S. News & World Report)

U.S. News rankings face criticism

Although, as we said, U.S. News & World Report is the gold standard when it comes to law school rankings, it’s not the only game in town. Above The Law has also been in the rankings business, and they’re mounting some sharp criticism of U.S. News. The claim is that U.S. News has no incentive to change their law school rankings criteria, even if it would help students more. Why? For one thing, it would be too expensive to change. Plus, if the criteria were to change, so would law schools’ positions, which might call into question the methodology. “Lawyers, law students and the media can promote alternate ratings systems; once the U.S. News feels the reduction of its relevancy, it will swiftly move to reform things,” says one rankings watcher. (Above The Law)

Race, LSAT scores, and debt

New research has found a correlation between race and law student debt, as well as a correlation between LSAT score and law school debt. Considers these facts: 44% expect to owe more than $100K when they graduate, and 30% think that their debt load will be over $120,000. According to the Law School Survey of Student Engagement, these numbers, high as they are, have not changed since 2011, the last time this study was conducted. But a look within the numbers shows that Black and Hispanic students expected to have more debt than their white and Asian-American counterparts. The survey also found that law school students who scored poorly on the LSAT also expected more debt. One possible explanation is that law students with lower LSAT scores may get less scholarship money, and the schools they get into may not have generous aid packages. (ABA Journal)

Faculty cuts

Valparaiso University Law School is one of many law schools across the country that really took a hit during the law school admissions bust over the past couple of years. The law school is offering buyouts to tenured faculty and faculty members with multi-year contracts. At its high point pre-Great Recession, the school had 600 students enrolled; today that number is 430. That’s taken a toll on revenue, which has made it difficult to pay professors. Because of that, the school recently announced they will be “right-sizing” the faculty number to better reflect the size of its student body. “For the size we are and are becoming, our faculty is too large and that’s why we’re doing this,” said the school’s dean. To “right size” the school will pay faculty members willing to leave their contracts. (The Chicago Tribune)

Advising the military

One of the U.S. Army’s top legal advisers had an usual path to his lofty position. As a teen, he couldn’t get accepted to a four-year college. Now, he’s the country’s first Black Reserve-Judge Advocate to earn the rank of General Officer. Meet Ural Glanville, who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. “I’ve had to work harder than most to make up ground that I should have covered earlier. If you look at my transcript you’d wonder, ‘how did he finish?’ But I realized the importance of finishing. A lot of kids just kind of give up. If you start quitting early then that’s where your path will be,” he says. (CNN)


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Russell Schaffer

Russell Schaffer Russell Schaffer is Kaplan Test Prep's senior communications manager. Russell is responsible for helping lead our external media relations efforts, including speaking with reporters and bloggers on a regular basis about Kaplan's proprietary research and products. Russell also helps craft the surveys we regularly administer of students, advisers​,​ and admissions officers. The data collected helps guide the hundreds of thousands of students and parents Kaplan works with every year by giving them accurate and up-to-date information ​about​ the landscape. Russell is a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany, where he received his BA in political science and MA in communications.

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