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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    December 01, 2013

    Final Thought: Law School Rankings: Looking Behind the Wizard’s Curtain

    Some law firms and many potential law students measure lawyers’ worth by the ranking of the schools from which they graduated, but these rankings have little relation to the true meaning and value of lawyers’ work.

    Gary L. Bakke

    Law schools have become profit centers for their universities and, to keep the cash flowing, many have focused on rankings by the Wizard, the U.S. News and World Report. If we peek behind the Wizard’s curtain, we see that the Wizard knows everything about law school input – professors, students, and money – but very little about the lawyers they are turning out. Are the graduates good lawyers who benefit society?

    At the top of the rankings are the usual suspects, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and Chicago, with Michigan not far behind. The University of Wisconsin is tied for 33; nearby schools and their rankings include Michigan, 9; Northwestern, 12; Minnesota, 19; Indiana, 25; Iowa, 26; and Michigan State, 80. Marquette is 94.

    Gary L. BakkeGary L. Bakke, U.W. 1965, is a principal with Bakke Norman S.C., New Richmond.

    What is going on behind the curtain? The Wizard has a formula for analyzing and rating all 194 ABA-accredited law schools. Twelve measures of quality are evaluated, and the weighted-average calculation seems mathematically precise. Well, some of it is precise.

    The biggest factor, 40 percent, is called “quality assessment.” Law school faculty are asked for their subjective opinions. We all know that Yale law professors are in the best position to judge the quality of the legal education dispensed at Marquette. Judges and lawyers also are asked for their subjective opinions.

    “Selectivity” is second at 25 percent. Points are given for high LSAT and GPA scores of new students. The acceptance rate also weighs heavily, because, according to the Wizard, it’s good if a school can attract lots of applicants but accept only a small percentage.

    The Wizard also evaluates whether schools’ students get real jobs. The “placement” rate, weighted 20 percent, is a blend of how many students had “real” law jobs when they graduated, how many had such jobs nine months later, and the percentage that passed the bar exam. (My first reaction is that passing the bar is closely related to having a real law job.)

    “If we peek behind the curtain, we see that law school rankings know everything about law school input – professors, students, and money – but very little about the lawyers the schools produce.”

    Finally, the Wizard measures schools’ spending per student, called “faculty resources” and weighted at 15 percent. The costs of professors, library, staff, and “other items” are the big factors. Does this tend to increase tuition costs?

    But don’t confuse the Wizard’s precision with accuracy. Where is professionalism? Ethics? Justice?

    Remember John Yoo (Yale, #1), the guy who tried to justify “enhanced interrogation techniques” (waterboarding)? He is now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley (#9). Or Alberto Gonzales (Harvard, #2) of warrantless surveillance and torture justification fame? John Dean of Watergate cover-up fame graduated from Georgetown (#14).

    The real work of justice is done by dedicated attorneys representing individuals for modest pay. The arrogance of exclusivity is no match for the dedication, compassion, courage, and skill of the front-line lawyers of the practicing bar. The Wizard is not measuring law-student preparation for the important work done every day by the rest of us.

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