Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

How To Fix The U.S. News Law School Rankings

U.S. News Law (2019)Christopher D. Iacono (J.D. 2019, Pennsylvania), Legally Unhappy: How US News and Law Schools Have Failed and How This Can Be Fixed:

Law schools are deficient in directing students to career paths that suit their interests. Research has shown that top law school graduates are not happy. Why are some of the most driven people on earth dissatisfied with their legal careers? Too much emphasis has been placed on the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings [hereinafter US News]. US News does not structure their rankings on categories that reflect a high-quality law school experience. Law school deans have found ways to manipulate rank. Law school graduates are forced into BigLaw to service the huge debt that often comes with attending the “best” schools. Law schools ignore these issues and increase their tuition to pay full-time faculty who focus more on scholarship than teaching.

The issues are soluble. First, US News should revamp their criteria to accentuate value and satisfaction. Law schools should mirror those goals through practical steps to reduce tuition and enhance professional satisfaction. ...

Conclusion. Graduates from top-tier law schools are finding themselves unhappy in their professional life. Research implies that this unhappiness stems from a BigLaw position that was forced upon them due to high debt. This can be remedied by having law schools rely more upon adjunct professors. Adjuncts would decrease tuition, reduce the need for graduates to enter BigLaw, and provide students with a better education. The perfect way to assess whether a law school is following this roadmap towards graduate happiness is to determine whether the school’s tuition is decreasing. More adjuncts coupled with less highly-paid full-time professors requires a reduction in tuition. “Lowest tuition” should therefore become a fifth factor in the US News methodology.

So, US News, here is a guide to fixing the problem. The interviews have been done. The research has been completed. The roadmap has been created. Why not force schools to compete with each other over meaningful categories that ultimately lead to greater professional satisfaction? Equally important, why not improve the quality of legal education? Attempts to have the above questions answered by US News were mostly unsuccessful; such lack of transparency is revealing.

A final recommendation for US News is to implement yearly feedback procedures on the revamped algorithm from those who experience the rankings firsthand. For decades, US News has acted opaquely through anonymity and deafly through ignorance. All along, US News should have been robustly soliciting feedback from law school students, graduates, professors, and deans. The truth has now been revealed by 16 current and former law school deans with a cumulative total of 215 years of experience. We have seen this story before. When Toto pulls back the curtain and Dorothy sees the hapless Wizard of Oz, the “Wizard” yells in vain, “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” The hapless “Wizard” is the current structure of the US News. If US News makes changes to their algorithm, whether in response to this paper or otherwise, they should implement such robust feedback procedures. This would result in the revamped algorithm being improved on a yearly basis through honest and practical dialogue. We’re not in Kansas anymore., Fixing the U.S News Rankings:

Iacono works full-time as a police officer in Philadelphia, and has done so the entire three years of law school—attending classes by day and patrolling by night—at a top law school, no less. That alone I find pretty impressive. Oh, and he also works as a clerk at personal injury firm Kline & Specter. I caught up with Iacono recently to talk about his paper and how he used the U.S. News rankings in his own decision making. Here’s what he told me:

“I put a lot of weight on it. I felt like I needed to go to the best school in order to give myself the best job opportunities coming out. For me, it was a toss-up between Penn and Temple. Temple is ranked lower than Penn. Temple is lot cheaper than Penn. Temple has a part-time program, where it would have been a lot less stressful on my life. At the end of the day, I would have been the same Chris going to Temple as the Chris at Penn. But I was willing to fork out an extra $100,000 and crush my body for three years, probably because of the rankings. If it weren’t for the rankings, I would have gone to Temple. It would have been a no brainer.” ...

[He] eventually interviewed about 30 professors, deans, and former deans about them. Plenty of people didn’t want to talk about it—he asked about 200 people for interviews. But a few were surprisingly candid about the ways that they goosed their numbers to appear higher in the rankings and how much they took the rankings into account when making decisions. A former dean from a top school told Iacono that his school would “massage” numbers that were open to interpretation, such as counting part-time professors as full-time faculty in order to improve the student-to-faculty ratio. The former dean of a mid-tier law schools spoke of the well-documented transfer phenomenon—in which schools accept a large number of second-year transfer students whose lower LSAT scores would have hurt their rankings had they been admitted as 1Ls. ...

At the end of our conversation, I asked Iacono what advice he would give prospective law students, knowing how the U.S. News sausage gets made. His answer was telling: “I’m still torn by it. On the one hand, I have a much more accurate view of what they are. I think they are flawed. At the same time, if I knew what I knew now when I was applying to schools I would unequivocally go to Penn because of the rank. As flawed as I think it is, it’s just a reality that’s there. If you are applying for jobs and you’re a graduate of Harvard, Penn, Stanford or Yale, you’re going to have more opportunities. It’s just the way it is. You can’t turn a blind eye to it.”

Law School Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink


Unemployed Northeastern: I suspect that precious few workers in Montana are aware of their "tenure" protection. For good reason: it really can't compare to tenure for college professors.

Posted by: Gerald Scorse | May 25, 2019 3:35:50 PM


To the extent that we view tenure as "can only be fired for cause," I believe every job in Montana falls under that rubric.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 24, 2019 11:46:58 AM

Tax Gal (and anybody else who might be interested): is there any other occupation in America, other than teaching, that confers tenure? Is there any defensible reason to have it?

Posted by: Gerald Scorse | May 24, 2019 7:52:51 AM

So, this recent graduate, like many from "top-tier" schools, is overconfident in his ability to "solve" the law graduate "happiness" problem. His solution--hiring cheaper profs to reduce tuition costs--is a typical corporatist response and illustrates the primary problem in thinking about legal education, not the primary solution. Legal education requires inspired, intelligent teachers/scholars/thinkers who enjoy academic freedom and relief from drudging workloads that stifle creativity, effort and passion. Tenured professorships satisfy this criterion--untenured adjuncts and lecturers do not. Certainly, law schools need a sprinkling of practicing attorneys who can lend current experience to the subjects taught. Regrettably, though, the ones who can most afford the meager salaries adjuncts are paid are, in fact, attorneys at Big Law. And they carry with them into teaching some of the expectations about law practice that Big Law requires. So this new lawyer's perspective leaves out both critical reasons why tenured professors are a distinct advantage and problems that arise with too concentrated a group of adjuncts.

Posted by: TaxGal | May 22, 2019 10:48:13 AM

Maybe paying less attention to US News would be a better way?

Posted by: Mike Livingston | May 22, 2019 4:12:45 AM