The U.S. News & World Report law school rankings have long been criticized for numerous and valid reasons by people who know of what they speak (unlike myself), but I think Res Ipsa has crystalized what criteria should really be considerd when ranking law schools—if the purpose in ranking these schools is to help inform where an aspiring applicant will spend the next the three years of indentured legal servitude.
Namely, return on one’s dollar.
Most law school students could care less about most of the indices USNWR uses to rank law schools, namely the size of a school’s library, median entering GPAs or LSAT scores, per capita expenditures, or even the employment rate for graduates (because what does it matter that you have a job if that job pays far less than the amount of money you just shelled out for the privilege of securing said job). Of much more importance to most law school students is the relative assurance they have that a given law school will provide them with an education that will likely allow them to attain a positive net worth at some point in their lives.
There are only three law schools in Texas where a graduate will, on average, make more in their first year of practice than they paid in tuition for three glorious years of legal tutelage: UT, Houston, and Texas Tech.
However, I would add two columns to Res Ipsa‘s excellent comparison chart above (and if I weren’t much lazier than Res Ipsa, I’d add in Thurgood Marshall‘s numbers as well): the return ratio of these schools when you factor in room and board (which all of us know who survived law school grossly underestimates the essential “beer” portion of the “board” figure, not to mention all kinds of other significant costs like books, etc.).
Taking into account room and board, nobody makes enough their first year to make up for what they expended during law school, but some schools fall so woefully low on the this list that I think the fallacy of the USNWR ranking of these schools is revealed.
So, according to USNWR, SMU is the second best school in Texas, but according to the modified return rate ranking, it’s one of the very worst. Same with Baylor (third best according to USNWR, sixth out of eight schools measured according to the modified return rate ranking).
However, USNWR did accurately rank UT as the best law school in Texas, and came awfully close on both Houston (third versus second) and Texas Tech (fourth versus third).
So, all hype and boosterism aside, I think one would have a pretty hard time arguing UT, Houston, and Texas Tech are not the top three law schools in the state. Conversely, it’s hard to rank either Baylor or SMU in the top three when you consider how much longer it will—on average—take a graduate to make back their law school investment.
I freely and anectdotally admit however that—hands down—the most impressive and intellectually-imposing lawyers I’ve ever worked with, against, or for were largely SMU and Baylor grads.
All this aside, it goes without saying that if you graduate in the top ten percentile, have served on a journal (or better yet, been pubished in or been selected to the executive board of said journal), you will likely be able to secure a clerkship somewhere and then go on to make oodles of money in the private sector, if so desired.
* * * MEA CULPA UPDATE * * *
Having had some time this afternoon to reflect on this morning’s rant, I think I have to temper my enthusiasm for the modified return rate metric somewhat. Namely, I don’t think that it is as indicative of the best law schools in the state as it is merely a investment-value measurement.
While I believe that average starting salaries among Texas law schools are misleading because I would posit that SMU, Houston, and South Texas‘s numbers are biased upward because most of schools’ graduates remain in either Dallas or Houston to practice, and St. Mary‘s is largely as low as it is because a large percentage of its graduates remain in San Antonio to practice, average starting salary is still probably a greater reflection of school prestige than is a return rate index.
Under my reasoning put forward earlier today, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford would all likely have much lower return rate rankings than their state school brethren, but no one could argue that these schools are not the best in their respective states, if not the country.
Thx to Res Ipsa