Despite the major flaws in law school rankings, every year the release of the U.S. News law school rankings creates at least some buzz. And this year is no exception. Above The Law is actually collecting law school administration responses to the rankings, which will undoubtedly be an interesting read. But what do law school rankings really mean? Are they accurate? What information do they provide to prospective law students and law firm hirers?

Warning Law School Ranking Spoiler Alert!

According to U.S. News, 2011’s top 5 law schools are:

  1. Yale
  2. Harvard
  3. Stanford
  4. Columbia
  5. University Chicago

Look familiar? Yes, it’s the same as last year’s top 5. Now I don’t know all the science and magic that goes into ordering U.S. law school rankings, but I think that most of us would agree that these are all excellent law schools. And as we move down the list, despite some minor differences at the edges, I would suggest that there wouldn’t be very much argument related to the top 25. Perhaps even maybe the top 50? And as we continue down the list, cases will be made for one school over another for a variety of reasons. Better students. Better faculty. Better library. Better job placement. Unfortunately, as pointed out at Above The Law, it may be something very silly.

Reliance On Law School Rankings

And even more unfortunately, is the fact that many prospective law school students use these rankings as the holy grail for admissions decisions. In fact, I personally know several lawyers and law students that took the “attend the highest ranked school” you can mantra. Are they right?

In today’s uber-competitive legal profession, of way to many law students and lawyers, and not nearly as many law firm jobs, does it make more sense to attend the highest ranked school to which you are admitted? Sure, there are several other factors that probably “should” go into your decision. But do any of these trump rankings?

I remember when I was going through the on-campus interview process at Wayne State University Law School (a mere #121), there were several interviewers that were quite candid about not even interviewing students from certain other low-ranking schools. I would love to hear from hiring partners about their firm’s scouting policies. Is it common for some firms to only recruit from top schools? My hunch is that it is. Which makes my friends’ “top school or bust” mentality make more sense.

To me, rankings weren’t a huge factor in my application decisions. Perhaps that was because I didn’t think I would get into a top school. At that time, I wasn’t planning on leaving the state of Michigan, so that really narrowed things down. I never really thought about the quality of legal education that I would receive. I figured that the school would prepare me to pass the bar exam and help me get a job. Perhaps neither of those were good assumptions either. While I was a first-time passer, I think it had more to do with bar preparation than it did with my property class, but who knows. There is no question that it was at least somewhat important to me to graduate from a school that I believed law firms would respect enough to give me an interview.

What do you think about law school rankings? Are they accurate? Do they tell prospective students anything of value? Do hiring partners use these rankings in their recruiting processes?