Thoughts about choosing a law school, part 1
posted by Alfred Yen
So let me start with just a few thoughts about U.S. News and how much weight it should be given. In my opinion, U.S. News gives a rough indication about how prestigious a school is. Every prospective law student wants to know what a school will do for his resume, and U.S. News helps answer that question. The top of the list – perhaps 5 to 8 schools – are sufficiently prestigious that simply going there will do a lot for the student in question in terms of career opportunities. Beyond that, however, things get more dicey. The schools that follow surely carry prestige, but employers will no longer pay attention “just because” a particular applicant went to the school. The individual’s ability matters more. That’s not to say that a school’s reputation becomes irrelevant. It remains relevant, but in my opinion a prospective lawyer needs to think about what school will make him a capable lawyer.
To make this clear, look at the numerical scores assigned by U.S. News to various schools. In last year’s ranking, Yale was #1 with a score of 100. Harvard was #2 with 95. Duke, Northwestern, and Virginia shared #10 with 80. Now let’s take a look further down the line. Three more schools shared #20 with scores of 66. Five schools shared #30 with a 62. In short, the difference between numbers 20 and 30 was one point LESS than the difference between numbers 1 and 2, and 16 points less than the difference between numbers 1 and 10. That means, according to U.S. News, there’s not much difference between a school ranked 20 and one ranked 30.
Despite this, I suspect that many aspiring lawyers place unwarranted weight on the relative rankings of schools outside the top few. U.S. News (and maybe others) need to have a “top 20” or “top 50” to make rankings interesting. A law student, however, needs to find the school that will best educate her, and I am hoping that the posts I intend to write will help students identify schools that will help them flourish.