A WORD OF CAUTION
Although this approach is useful in understanding how legal peers and decision-makers view particular schools, it comes with a number of flaws. For starters, the survey asks respondents to rank law schools on a 1-to-5 scale. However, it doesn’t necessarily specify exactly what these participants are evaluating. Are they assessing the curriculum or the student body? And what do they value in each? For example, one respondent could value writing while another could emphasize trial skills. Similarly, how familiar are respondents with particular schools? In other words, are they basing their numbers on measurable criteria or discernible patterns or just gut feelings and reputation?
The sample size is another red flag, as two out of every three potential respondents declined to participate. While U.S. News builds this expectation into determining a viable sample, you wonder if the assessment survey could, theoretically, be slanted towards particular locales or populations. What’s more, the best schools naturally draw the best students. As a result, you can’t necessarily measure teaching excellence at various schools. And success rates often take a decade or more to discern.
Even the assessment score ranking can skew the results, as there were occasionally clusters of schools with the same median average. For example, there were 12 schools with a median average of 3.0. As a result, these schools were all ranked #68. A 12-point swing could’ve made the difference between fence-sitters like the University of Missouri being an underperformer or an overperformer.
The U.S. News methodology also contains a minor flaw in determining underperformers and overperformers. Although we subtracted the overall rank from peer assessment rank, the 15 percent weight of the peer assessment is still embedded in the overall rank. In other words, the peer assessment still acts as a drag (or a boost) on the overall ranking. As a result, some schools could theoretically be ranked slightly higher (or lower) if the assessment survey was removed entirely.
Still, it is critical to know how you’re viewed as a graduate. And this impression goes beyond your rank, grade point, internships, and accolades. Every school carries a reputation. Your alma mater may be known for its specialties, alumni stars, or community outreach – and it may be known for different things locally, regionally, or nationally. And it only takes a little bad press – or someone having a run-in with the wrong person – to impact your chances of being hired as a new grad. Leverage your alumni network. And carry yourself professionally at all times. Your alma mater may reflect on you in the short-term. Ultimately, you’ll symbolize them over the long haul.