Judging the Law Schools

A Summary

By Thomas E. Brennan


In recent years, there has been a spate of law school ranking by magazines, newspapers, and self-styled experts in legal education. Law deans and faculty have almost universally eschewed endorsing them, except, of course, when their own law schools are rated well.

The American Bar Association has steadfastly refused to recognize or cooperate with any effort to rank or rate law schools. The Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has adopted a strong position opposing such rankings. The 1994 Review of Legal Education in the United States expresses the Bar's position unequivocally.

No rating of law schools beyond the simple statement of their accreditation status is attempted or advocated by the official organizations in legal education. Qualities that make one kind of school good for one student may not be as important to another. The American Bar Association and its Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar have issued disclaimers of any law school rating system. Prospective law students should consider a variety of factors in making their choice among approved schools.

Despite disapproval of the organized bar, law school ratings prosper. U. S. News and World Report continues to sell briskly when its annual winners and losers are announced.

Unfortunately, there is more at stake in law school ranking than just a little harmless academic chauvinism. The fact is that perceptions drive reality. Prospective students, employers, and job-hunting law teachers read the U. S. News and World Report ratings. They believe what they read and act on those beliefs.

Where does U. S. News and World Report get its information? They ask the same people who read and believe their magazine. They ask law teachers, lawyers, and judges to tell them what they think, believe and feel. It is totally subjective and without substance.

The American Bar Association has rightly insisted that law schools, like people, should be judged on their individual merit. For more than 30 years, the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has annually published a variety of numerical data about approved law schools from which any interested person can glean a fairly clear picture of any school - if one has the time or the inclination to do the math.

If you do the math, as I have done, you will discover that there are many, many number one law schools in America. My study includes fifty different primary categories for ranking. Almost every one of the 179 approved law schools can be found among the top ten in one or another of the rankings. It all depends on what an individual thinks is important or what he or she wants in a legal education.

Using data found in the Review of Legal Education, all I have done is calculate what appear to me to be significant ratios and rank schools according to the results, with no favorites and no assumptions. Just the plain, unvarnished facts.

Thomas E. Brennan
Author, Judging the Law Schools

Copyright © 1996 TEBCO, Inc.

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