Au contraire, Mrs. Cain. The rankings matter far more than you think.
There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding on a law school. The rankings shouldn't be the beginning and end of the process, but the truth is - they are.
For you, dear 0L, the most important thing should be money. How much of a scholarship can you squeeze out of the school? After all, you better be pre-JD because of your desire to help people or love for the learned profession -- not to get rich quick. The current and near-future job market makes paying back hefty student loans and building wealth a dubious proposition.
Students’ primary concerns should therefore be scholarships and money. How do rankings play into that pursuit?
It’s called institutional insecurity. Many law schools live and die by the rankings, especially fringe schools. Ask the administrators of those schools that dropped out of the most recent rankings how secure their jobs are.
Pre-law kids, the plan is simple: nail the LSAT. That’s it. Study until your fingers bleed. Do every logic game ever released, including the rare games that no longer appear on the test (here’s to you, LSAT mapping games!).
Next, go to the admissions calculator, plug in your GPA and LSAT score, and plan accordingly. Apply to guaranteed and reach schools - the more, the better.
Once you get admissions (and scholarship) offers, pimp ‘em. Tactfully tell one school that you’d rather go there, but economic realities or rankings are forcing you elsewhere. It’s a bidding war, and you are the prized free agent.
Why would law schools play along? Yield rate and rankings.
Schools don’t want to admit a bunch of students who will say “Nah. Thnx tho!” If this happens, they are forced to admit wait-listers - and their lower GPA and LSAT numbers.
Lower numbers means lower rankings. Your high LSAT score and scholarship lock in a seat, and a score, into the rankings game.
In other words, don’t work for the ranking. Mrs. Cain is correct — ranking shouldn’t determine your choice. The rankings should, however, work for you.
(Sidebar: if you play the scholarship negotiation game, have a backup school in mind. There is always the risk that a school will balk at your boldness, even if there are far fewer applicants nowadays for the same number of seats.)
One final note on the rankings: the employment data methodology has changed greatly. If you compare U.S. News’ data from a couple of years ago to today, employment rates at graduation have dropped from the mid-90 percent range to the mid-20 percent range for even the best schools. This change also explains the aforementioned schools’ drop out of the rankings.
One would’ve expected this change sooner (like when the economy collapsed) but schools were gaming numbers. The new numbers are likely closer to reality than the old ones and should help 0Ls to make an informed decision on their school.
- Pre-Law Students Still Cite Law School Rankings as Most Important (FindLaw’s Greedy Associated Blog)
- Does Anybody Ever Turn Down UVA Law? Or Are They Just Gaming Their Yield Rate? (Above the Law)
- Law Schools Starting Small Firm Incubators - Good Idea? (FindLaw’s Greedy Associates)