Lists that rank schools are always controversial, and law school rankings are no different. In fact, because law schools are full of people who specialize in arguing and making a case, they might be the most-debated rankings out there.
Prospective lawyers can learn a lot about law schools by reviewing these lists, since they provide valuable information about schools across the country. They also allow applicants to compare schools side by side, which can be difficult otherwise.
One of the most important things to understand about law school rankings is that they are going to differ from college rankings. Even though some top universities, such as Harvard and Yale, have both outstanding colleges and law schools, others do not. For example, U.S. News ranks New York University as No. 33 when it comes to colleges, but No. 6 for law schools. Similarly, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, is ranked at No. 29 for college but No. 9 for law schools. The same is true for other professional education programs, whether medical school rankings or business school rankings.
How can you get the most out of law school rankings? Overall, you want to make sure you understand the lists and have an idea of what you want before diving in.
1. Learn about the rankings
It’s easy to say that a school is No. 1 on a given list of top law schools. It’s much harder to explain why that is the case. Every organization that ranks schools uses its own system to decide what makes a school good. To get the most out of a list, make sure you understand how it was created. Figure out how things like class size, graduation rate, and post-graduation employment are weighted. It might turn out that what you consider important has little to do with how the schools are ranked.
2. Compare multiple lists
While the U.S. News rankings are the most well-known, other rankings also exist. Take a look at some lists beyond U.S. News. Look for differences and try to figure out what made a school No. 3 on one list but No. 7 on another.
Also look for changes over time. Has a school been steadily climbing the list over the last decade? That could be a very good sign. The more information you have to work with, the better off you’ll be.
3. Know what you’re looking for
Law school rankings exist in many forms. In addition to lists that compare schools in a general way, there are also more specific rankings out there. If you know you want to focus on environmental law, there are lists that rank those programs. If you are more interested in something like tax law, you’ll be more concerned with those rankings.
Make sure you find the information that best matches your own needs.