Thursday, March 20, 2014
Elie Mystal, one of the bloggers at "Above the Law," wrote this last week (a reader forwarded it to me). No evidence was offered, and that's not surprising: the statement is false in almost all cases. Employers, to be sure, have views about different law schools, but they are based on experience, in some cases, experience that stretches over decades. Actual lawyers and judges do not, in my experience, pay any attention to U.S. News at all. A couple of years ago, for example, I was speaking to a distinguished group of Northwestern University Law School alumni about the U.S. News rankings. There were about 125 to 150 lawyers (and a few judges) there. Many of the lawyers in attendance had been or were the current hiring partners at their firms. I asked a simple question: how many had looked at the recent U.S. news rankings of law schools? Maybe five hands went up in the entire room. To a person, all these lawyers and judges said they based their evaluations of law schools--where they recruit, how deep into the class they will go for new hires--on their past experience with the schools and their graduates. Full stop. No one was waiting for the U.S. News law school rankings to decide where to interview or whom to hire.
So if lawyers and judges don't care about them, who does care about the U.S. News rankings? Prospective students and journalists. Prospective students are very clearly influenced by them, in part because journalists hype them and report on them irresponsibily. And because of those two constituencies, law schools have to care as well: if, in fact, the students a school wants will go elsewhere because of a precipitous drop in the US News ranking, this will over a period of time affect how the employers that hire frm that school perceive it, not because they follow U.S. News, but because they will notice the change in the caliber of the student body.