A recent story in The New York Times, "Is Law School a Losing Game?" is creating a great deal of buzz in the legal community, at law schools, and among current and prospective law school students—particularly about the implications of poor job prospects for newly minted law school grads.
There have been ongoing questions of the validity of employment statistics that some law schools annually report to the American Bar Association (ABA) for accreditation purposes, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), and then to U.S. News, which uses these same employment statistics in the Best Law Schools rankings. In the Times article, I am quoted as saying "it would be preferable if the ABA took a leadership role" in demanding better data from law schools.
At the early January 2011 annual meeting of The Association of American Law Schools (AALS), I was similarly asked about the reliability of the law schools' employment statistics and why U.S. News doesn't do more to make sure the reported figures are accurate. It's clear that some law schools are being very aggressive in their reporting practices and are, in effect, gaming the rankings via their accreditation data. Currently, in our employment calculations, graduates who are working either full or part time in legal or non-legal jobs or pursuing graduate degrees are considered employed.
It is very important to remember that U.S. News is using the standards and definitions of employment that have been developed and are used by the NALP and ABA. In other words, U.S. News is reflecting the standard set by the legal industry. These are also the same groups within the industry that need to take the lead to develop new and stricter standards to increase the validity of the placement data that schools report. It's easily within their power to do so. It's not U.S. News's role to set industry definitions and regulate data quality. If the ABA and NALP adopt new reporting standards and definitions of what it means to be employed, U.S. News would readily follow those new standards and definitions.
In another very important law school rankings issue, at my AALS convention session, "U.S. News Rankings: An Inside Look into the U.S. News Law School Rankings," I said that U.S. News is considering expanding the number of law schools we numerically rank for the new Best Law Schools rankings coming out in mid-March 2011. We are contemplating numerically ranking the top 75 percent of all the law schools, or around the top 150 law schools. Currently, we numerically rank around the top 50 percent of law schools, or top 100. This would mean the current schools that are in Tier 3 would be numerically ranked, instead of being listed alphabetically as they are now.
The bottom 25 percent of law schools would be still be listed in alphabetical order since we don't want the rankings to be about the worst law schools. We think that prospective students and the general public will find it far easier to understand the position of schools relative to each other using numerical rankings rather than in alphabetized tiers. We strongly believe that the law school data and our rankings methodology are strong enough to support an extension of the published rankings.
Check out coverage of this Tier 3 issue:
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