Law School Quality – a comment for potential law students
US News came out with its law school rankings today (the magazine is on newsstands now). Ironically, I found out about it while serving on the ABA site evaluation team for another law school. The juxtaposition of learning about a school through a 3 day visit vs. through US News made me realize anew how problematic US News is.
US News serves two purposes. Applicants use it to help decide which law school to attend, and law school faculty/administrators use it to size up their competition in a rather unseemly show of academic vanity. I’d like to address the former.
If you are an aspiring lawyer and want to know the quality of the schools you’re considering, you really must visit the schools in question. Having just done it for 3 days, there is no substitute for talking to people at a school, meeting students, and studying the components of a law school’s program. US News has not done it for you. Numbers don’t tell you what you really need to know about a school.
Can those numbers tell you who teaches the classes that interest you most? Can they tell you whether the legal writing program is rigorous and staffed by experienced professors? Can they tell you whether the school uses adjunct professors who don’t keep office hours, or full-time faculty that are present in their offices? Can they tell you what kind of clinics, externships, or other skills courses are available? Can they tell you whether the school provides good student services?
I’ve now served on site accreditation teams for two schools that I knew something about before going to the campus. Both times I came away with a much richer and more nuanced understanding of the schools’ strengths and weaknesses.
Yes, reputation matters in choosing an education, and US News is in the business of manufacturing and selling it. But, in the end, people succeed in their careers on the basis of their ability. Please take the time to get the information you need to choose the school that will help you maximize your ability.
p.s. I intend to post in the next day or two with suggestions about how to check a school out when you visit.