"Unauthorized" Ranking of America's Law Schools Released

LANSING, Mich., Feb. 3, 1996 -- An exhaustive, unauthorized analysis of the nation's 179 ABA-approved law schools was unveiled at a news conference today by Thomas E. Brennan, a former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court who is founder and president of Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich.

Which are the top law schools in the United States? "It all depends on what you're looking for in a legal education," says Judge Brennan.

His 400-page study -- titled "Judging the Law Schools" -- is intended to help future law students choose the educational institution best for them. It uses 50 categories of information -- such as enrollment, tuition cost, library resources, faculty-to-student ratio, and diversity of students and faculty -- to rank every school.

The categories are then combined into rankings on seven indexes: Composite, Quality, Institutional, Faculty, Library, Diversity, and Value.

Although the American Bar Association opposes law school rankings of any kind, Judge Brennan -- one of Michigan's most distinguished legal experts, and a sometimes feisty advocate for access to legal education -- based his analysis on ABA data, and announced the results during the ABA's mid-year meeting in Baltimore, Md. His news conference was not a part of the official ABA proceedings.

"For more than 30 years, the ABA's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has published a variety of data about law schools from which any interested person can glean a fairly clear picture of any school -- if one has the time or inclination to do the math," said Judge Brennan. "If you do the math, as I have, you will discover that there are many Number One law schools in America. All I have done is calculate what appear to be significant ratios, and rank schools accordingly, with no favorites and no assumptions. Just the plain, unvarnished facts."

One interesting result is that 170 of the nation's 179 schools appear at least once in a top ten list.

Judge Brennan's own school, for instance, does not appear in the top ten of any of the seven main indexes. It ranks 72nd on the Composite index, 79th on the Quality index, 51st on the Institutional index, 31st on the Faculty index, 109th on the Library index, 113th on the Diversity index, and 60th on the Value index. Among the categories that make up the indexes, however, it ranks Number One in part-time enrollment, first-year enrollment, and juris doctor degrees awarded to part-time students.

Judge Brennan is critical of rankings -- such as those published each March by U. S. News & World Report -- that are based on subjective factors such as law school reputation among deans and faculty members. "Prestige begets prestige, rank has its privileges, and privilege has its rank," he says. "Unfortunately, there is more at stake than just a little harmless academic chauvinism. Prospective students, employers, and job-hunting law teachers read the U. S. News & World Report ratings. They believe what they read and act on those beliefs."

The ABA, which accredits law schools, frowns on law school ratings because the "qualities that make one kind of school good for one student may not be as important to another," and "prospective law students should consider a variety of factors in making their choice among approved schools."

Yet, that's exactly why Judge Brennan produced his rankings -- to give future law students objective data in a more useful and meaningful form than had been available previously.

His release of "Judging the Law Schools" is also a prelude to a national survey of law school deans by Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Its aim is to gather opinion and build consensus on the best way to rank law schools objectively. As part of the process, the deans will be asked to critique the methodology used by Judge Brennan.

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