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Here It Is: The 2009 U.S. News Law-School Ranking

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  • Here It Is: The 2009 U.S. News Law-School Ranking

    One piece of advice we got before applying to law school was this: Go to the best law school you get into. For us, that just meant applying to a whole bunch and going to the one rated highest on the U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings. (To end the suspense: We got into a bunch, got rejected from a bunch, and went off to the University of Michigan, which, at the time (1993), was ranked seventh.)

    Since that time, if anything, the U.S. News rankings for law schools have only increased in visibility and, we’d argue, importance. Sure, like any ranking, they’re imperfect; anyone with a college statistics course under his or her belt can quibble at length with the methodology. And some have quite impressively detailed the length to which schools game the system. Still, much to the chagrin of law school deans and faculties, the rankings matter — to students and hiring partners and judges and others — and in our opinion they’ll continue to matter so long as 1) a more visible and reliable ranking fails to emerge and 2) the practice of law remains a profession that trades so heavily on status, prestige and pedigree.

    With all that behind us, let’s bring you this year’s rankings, at least through the top 35. They are: 1. Yale, 2. Harvard, 3. Stanford, 4. Columbia, 5. NYU, 6. Berkeley, 6. (tie) Chicago, 8. Penn, 9. Michigan, 10. Duke, 10. (tie) Northwestern, 10. (tie) UVA, 13. Cornell, 14. Georgetown, 15. UCLA, 15. (tie) Texas, 17. Vanderbilt, 18. USC, 19. Wash U, 20. BU, 20. (tie) Emory, 20. (tie) Minnesota, 23. Indiana, 23. (tie) Illinois, 23. (tie) Notre Dame, 26. Boston College., 26. (tie) Iowa, 28. William & Mary, 28. (tie) George Washington, 30. Fordham, 30. (tie) Alabama, 30. (tie) UNC, 30. (tie) Washington & Lee, 35. Ohio State, 35. (tie) UC Davis, 35. (tie) Georgia, 35. (tie) Wisconsin.

    The magazine also ranked, for the first time, part-time programs. Of the 87 accredited law schools with part-time programs, here are the top 15: 1. Georgetown, 2. George Washington, 3. Fordham, 4. American University, 5. George Mason, 6. Maryland, 7. Temple, 7. (tie) University of San Diego, 9. University of Denver, 10. Illinois Institute of Technology, 11. New York Law School, 12. Seattle U., 13. Loyola Marymount, 13. (tie) Suffolk University, 15. Georgia State.

    According to Bob Morse, the director of data research for the magazine, the staff made several changes to the methodology this year. For starters, in the main law school rankings, the staff combined admissions data for full and part time students. “In the past, we’d just used full-time,” said Morse. “But some schools we think were gaming the system. There were some part-time programs that were set up just for US News reporting purposes.”

    Other changes made by Morse and his crew:
    • Traditionally, when calculating post-graduate placement rates, the staff lumped those students who weren’t looking for a job in with those students who were but were still unemployed. That was changed for this year. “We just didn’t count those who aren’t looking as part of the calculations,” says Morse.
    • The staff changed the timing of the bar-passage rate calculation. Instead of examining two half-years: or a split between the winter of one year and the summer of the following year, for this year’s survey, the magazine looked at one full calendar year — in this instance, 2007.
    • For the reputation surveys sent to lawyers and judges, the staff used a calculation aggregated over the last two years, rather than just using a one-year snapshot. “We tried to reduce any volatility caused by having a low response rate in one year or another.”
    Rounding it all out was Kenneth Terrell, the magazine’s education editor. He told us that among all the professional-school rankings, “law is the biggest lightning rod” for controversy. He explained that alternatives to the US News’s rankings don’t really exist, the way they do for business schools. “And frankly,” he added, “if you go to a top law school, it can increase the odds of landing a prestigious clerkship and getting a high-paying job. It really has a significant meaning.”

    Want even more? The full U.S. News Best Graduate School Rankings, which which feature additional disciplines including business, education, engineering, medicine, among others, will be published Thursday, April 23 and are available at
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