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Why the U.S. News Ranking Now Discourages Law School Patronage
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2016 law school rankings

Summary: How and why the U.S. News Ranking of law schools has changed their metric regarding law school patronage.

The most striking change in the U.S. News Ranking of Law Schools, the magazine-based annual report that goes so far in establishing the prestige, and hence the attendance, of American law schools, is their recent crackdown on law school patronage. As part of their ranking metric they give 20 percent of their rank towards what sort of employment graduates have received nine months out. For a while, employment was employment, and distinctions weren’t made; but to keep in step with the ABA, which, after 2011, required law schools to specify the number of students that specifically received employment in careers requiring bar passage, the U.S. News Ranking has also made more nuanced distinctions.


The latest, which aims to give less weight to those schools who fund or partially fund the employment of their graduates, was inspired, in part, by an opinion piece from 2014 in the Economist. Robert Morse of the U.S. News cited this article when explaining the logic of their change. The Economist reads:

“Some law schools have long given aid to a few alumni who forsake high-paying corporate firms to pursue public-interest law. But since the 2008-09 recession, entry-level jobs at big firms have been scarce. This has led to a big expansion of “bridge to practice,” schemes, in which the schools pay graduates a stipend to do a work placement.”

Such “schemes,” as he calls them could be viewed as a way to game the system (that is, the U.S. News Ranking system), getting a higher ranking by giving jobs to students as law librarians, research assistants, and research fellows.

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Okay, so the gig us up. Who’s losing by this? Not many schools were affected, actually. The only noticeable exception was William & Mary Law School, who, of their 217 graduating class of 2013, saw 182 of them in full-time legal jobs, and 48 of them school-funded. For their iniquities, they were dropped five spots, from 29 to 24.

Nevertheless, for their part, William & Mary explain that “Our law school has a strong commitment to providing meaningful assistance to those of our students who want to pursue careers in public service. We help our recent graduates by providing them with a stipend to work in a public interest setting after they graduate. Our graduates have worked for a variety of non-profit and governmental employers, including legal aid offices, public defender offices, and prosecutor offices … Frankly, this fellowship program has been a terrific job generator for our recent graduates because of the wonderful practical working experience that it provides.”

So that’s that: ranking boost or no, it helps the students. Nevertheless, it might give schools a second think when they plan on how to aid their students going forward, and the new strictures could be even more severe, shortly, as the ABA is considering forcing schools to label such jobs as “short term” instead of long term in the future.

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News Source: Wall Street Journal


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