David E. Van Zandt, dean of Northwestern University's law school, visited me recently to discuss the law school rankings. Van Zandt is among a small minority of law school deans who think the law school rankings provide useful consumer information to prospective students. He says it's time to stop arguing against the rankings because they aren't going away.
In fact, around 175 law school deans, out of the 195 American Bar Association accredited schools, have signed an antiranking letter that is posted on the Law School Admission Council's website. The LSAC is the organization that administrates the all-important Law School Admission Test. The letter, which has been circulated for several years, strongly urges law school applicants to ignore the U.S. News rankings and use other sources of information in order to determine where to go. Van Zandt says that this letter, which he didn't sign, is counterproductive and patronizing. He says prospective students are smart enough to understand a variety of sources of information about legal education, and he doesn't think students slavishly follow the U.S. News rankings.
Northwestern's law dean also noted that there are parts of the U.S. News law rankings that he doesn't agree with. For example, he says U.S. News should focus more on what employers think of recent law school graduates. Van Zandt says legal education would benefit from multiple publications doing law rankings as is the case with graduate business schools. (U.S. News , Business Week , Financial Times , and the Wall Street Journal all rank M.B.A. programs).
Dean Van Zandt is right. Prospective students need all the information they can get before they decide to commit to a law school.