Law School Rankings: How To Use Them In An Applicable Way

Law School Rankings:

How To Use Them In An Applicable Way

For years, the annual report of the top law schools has been highly influential in the field of law. The decisions of applicants, recruiters, and even law schools themselves are all heavily influenced by the annual report of the U.S. news law school rankings.


Some law school applicants even base their applications nearly solely on the rankings, without taking into consideration the specific law schools program. Of course, this is not the way to use law school rankings.


We have 2 major points to cover in regards to how to use law school rankings:

  1. Going to a school slightly lower ranked than another will not ruin your future as a lawyer.
  2. Sometimes it may be better to attend a slightly lower ranking school if the school has a more suited program or atmosphere for your specific focus.


Going beyond the personal points of pride a student may get from their schools ranking, we’ll be discussing these specific points listed above, as well as how to apply and use these rankings toward your law school education.


Quick Overview On How Law Schools Are Ranked

While there are 12 factors total on a weighted average, the U.S News rankings gives the most weight to the following 4 factors:


  • Quality assessment (weighted 0.40)
  • Selectivity (weighted 0.25)
  • Placement success (weighted 0.20)
  • Assessment score by lawyers/judges (weighted 0.15)


Keep in mind the ranking of law schools is not an exact science. While many factors and considerations are taken, it should be kept in mind that the exact rankings are not a perfect mirror of each schools value to every individual student of law.


However, they can be an important factor for employers, but again, not the ONLY factor. (Of course, now there are employers who are claiming rankings should not be taken into consideration at all)


In regards to a law student, some of the more important factors would be the outcome of a degree from a specific school (employment rate of graduates), as that would be one of the highest indicators of a schools ultimate value. This plays into 18% of the overall ranking. (.04 for employment rate and .14 for 9 months after graduation). 


Of course, this method too has its limitations, as there are many factors that may tie into how one obtains a job upon earning their JD, such as connections unrelated to school or the specific field of law in which they enter.


It’s been reported that as of 2016, the US News has in fact changed its methodology, giving law schools less credit for emptying their own new graduates, and focusing more on graduates who had a full-time job for at least a year, in which this job was not part of employment by the graduates university directly.


Things To Keep In Mind With Law School Rankings

Always keep in mind that rankings are useful as a guide to the reputation and overall quality of a different schools program. This means while there will be a considerable difference between a top 5 school and a top 50 school, it does mean a school ranked 1 should be chosen over a school ranked 2 due to the ranking alone.


For sports fans out there, think of any sport and its top athletes. While it is debatable who is the absolute “best” or “number 1” player, its safe to say the top athletes are all great individually.


When these athletes become free agents and are deciding which team they should play for, it’s a matter of which “team” is best suited for the athletes needs and vice versa, not necessarily the by who is considered the best team. A diluted metaphor, but hopefully you get the point. The same goes for law school rankings.


As far as employment or the value the school proves for you as a law school student, there will not be much difference between the top 5 schools, top 6-10, 10-20.  What will be most important is the experience you gain (internships, developing speaking skills, negotiation skill’s, writing abilities, etc).


How To Use Law School Rankings

To be clear, this article is by no means to downplay any of the law school rankings. Attending a top law school always has it’s benefits. This article is to ensure that law school applicants understand that each law schools quality should not be determined by its ranking alone.


Law school rankings are by all means important. They are ranked based off of a high level of factors and consideration and should be used as a guide toward which law schools you apply. The key word there is a “guide”, not the all deciding factor between success and failure in law school.


We can’t tell you how many law applicants we’ve seen who feel as though their entire law career is finished because they got accepted into the 3 ranked school instead of the 1. We’re here to say those few rankings will not make a difference if you make the most of the experience.


Law school rankings should not be the only factor to consider when applying for law school. It’s important to find the school with the best program that meets your specific needs, and use the rankings as a general guide along the way.


If your goal is to attend a top 5 law school, between the top 5 school’s, what’s most important is to take a closer look at each schools goals, programs, career development, available resources, and overall atmosphere to decide which best meets your needs.


While one school may be ranked slightly higher, it’s program and atmosphere may not be well suited for your individual goals.


Secondly, when it comes time for employment after graduation, an employer will most certainly choose someone from a school ranked 4 with a considerable more amount of actual experience that goes beyond substantive knowledge of law than someone who went to the 2 rank school with significantly less experience.


Summing It All Up

We’re by no means saying if your goal is to attend a top 3 school to go to a school ranked significantly lower (or wherever your ranking range may be). What we are saying, is don’t feel it’s necessary to go to a school because it’s ranked only a few places higher than another, but is not as well suited as a slightly lower ranking school.


What are your thoughts on law school rankings?


Should they be used as a means of determine which specific schools should be applied, or as a general guide to help along the application process?


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