Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

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Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby Roald » Sat Jun 14, 2014 8:47 pm

No lawyer needs USNWR to tell them which law schools are the most prestigious. Places like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford have been conferring elite pedigrees since long before USNWR existed, and will continue to do so.

The absurdity in USNWR's rankings scheme lies in it's attempt to rank the other 190 or so law schools that are not elite. What on earth does it mean to say that the University of New Mexico is in a three way tie for #72 while the University of San Diego is #79?

Amazingly, I've known many young law students who based their choice of law school almost exclusively on USNWR. They cannot grasp that if you want to practice in LA you are almost certainly better off attending #87 Loyola than #72 Cincinnati. These rankings have completely distorted many law students' understanding of how the market works.

Apparently, Alito agrees.

http://www.businessinsider.com/samuel-a ... ngs-2014-4
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Re: Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby nosborne48 » Sat Jun 14, 2014 10:11 pm

Well, at least the Justice is willing to hire clerks that didn't go to Harvard or Yale. Unlike, say, President Obama... :roll:
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Re: Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby Roald » Sun Jun 15, 2014 9:03 pm

In fairness I'd have to acknowledge that the best and brightest are going to be found in much higher concentrations at Harvard than at the average law school. Therefore it's not surprising that more Harvard grads end up in these positions.

The problem is when the snobbery associated with an elite pedigree leads to the assumption that (a) the degree holder is per se brilliant (I've met enough mediocre Ivy League grads to know that this is untrue), and (b) that no non-elite law grad could possibly be worth hiring.

Personally, I'd be more inclined to hire the valedictorian of a local law school than someone who graduated middle of the pack from an Ivy.
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Re: Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby Rich Douglas » Sun Jun 15, 2014 10:25 pm

Universities (in general, not just law schools) have three tiers of reputations and two types.

The three tiers: local, regional, and national. The types: good and bad.

Just a handful of schools have a national reputation, meaning most people have heard of them and they've formed some sort of opinion. In my experience, this is greatly impacted by whether or not the school is noted for intercollegiate football or basketball, but academic reputation can also reign. On the downside, there are a few schools with a bad nationwide reputation as well, whether or not it's deserved.

Regional and local reputations are just that: localized. When in those regions/localities, distinctions are made between certain schools. But outside of them, they all look the same. For example, here in Virginia, no one would make serious distinctions between the University of San Diego, San Diego State U., and UC San Diego. But in California, real distinctions are drawn about these three schools. The converse is true; a local school might have a not-so-nice reputation, but people living outside that area would never know it.

All of this is to say that these rankings create distinctions without differences. Who cares, except in broad categories, about the rankings? It is a solution in search of a problem (that doesn't really exist). The field does not suffer from imperfect information, even though its information is indeed imperfect.

The University of Leicester is ranked somewhere between 15th and 20th in the UK (around 175 in the world). Next door is De Montfort University, one of the polytechnics made into Universities in the early 1990s. It is ranked around 70th or so in the UK (world rank unknown to me). In the UK, these are serious distinctions, but not because of rankings. Instead, it is because the "pre-1992" universities (like Leicester) see themselves a cut above the former polytechnics (like De Montfort). But if you live in the U.S., would you really care when looking at degrees from both schools?
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Re: Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby Roald » Mon Jun 16, 2014 12:35 am

Rich Douglas wrote:Universities (in general, not just law schools) have three tiers of reputations and two types.
The three tiers: local, regional, and national. The types: good and bad.


Yes, I think that's essentially true. One of the problems with USNWR's scheme is that it doesn't seem to account for local/regional reputation. As far as I can tell, their methodology calls for each school to be evaluated according to a national standard. Small schools with good local reps and solid employment stats fall through the cracks.

For example, I have a relative who is an attorney on Montana and a graduate of the University of Montana. Within the state, UM has a great reputation. The regional bench and bar are well stocked with UM grads, and no one considers it a second rate institution. In fact, Montanans are quite proud of their public university. If your goal is to live and work in Montana/Idaho/Wyoming, UM is a good choice.

Where does USNWR rank UM?

#121.

That ranking may be accurately reflective of UM's (lack of ) national reputation, but in Montana it's #1. These distinctions can't be accounted for in the current model.
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Awesome post, Roald!

Postby Rich Douglas » Mon Jun 16, 2014 1:54 am

Thanks for providing really relevant examples to my "glittering generalities." Your example shows both the value of local reputation (and, after all, many of us are "local" when it comes to employment) and its lack of impact on these rankings. Thank you!
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Re: Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby nosborne48 » Mon Jun 16, 2014 2:19 am

Same situation here in New Mexico as Montana.

I visited the Montana law school a few years ago when on a bike ride around Flathead Lake. I had to resist the urge to move there IMMEDIATELY! :)
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Re: Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby Roald » Mon Jun 16, 2014 5:07 am

Thanks for the kind words, Rich. I'm actually not even necessarily opposed to such rankings, I just can't believe how much weight they're given.

nosborne48 wrote:Same situation here in New Mexico as Montana.

I visited the Montana law school a few years ago when on a bike ride around Flathead Lake. I had to resist the urge to move there IMMEDIATELY! :)


Yes, I'm sure that UNM has a great in-state reputation and would be the best choice for a young lawyer who intends to hang his shingle in the Land of Enchantment. So what does USNWR's ranking of #72 for UNM mean for such a student? Hopefully nothing.

Ah, Flathead Lake. My wife's family is in Kalispell, Bigfork, and few others towns in Montana. The first time I went to Flathead I was completely overwhelmed. It was like sensory overload. But that was just the appetizer for Glacier NP. Amazing, wild, open. It's a great place.

We've seriously considered selling our place in CA and moving to MT. The problem is, we'd both have to take the damn bar exam again! Blasted lack of reciprocity!
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Re: Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby nosborne48 » Mon Jun 16, 2014 1:26 pm

FWIW, New Mexico's bar exam has long competed with Montana's exam for the title of Nation's Easiest.

So go do it! :mrgreen:
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Re: Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby Rich Douglas » Mon Jun 16, 2014 1:48 pm

My wife's very close cousin lives in Missoula and absolutely swears by it. We have a cabin on a lake about 50 miles from the northwest corner of Flathead, but it is very rural there. (No cell service and no town for about 45 miles in either direction.) But Missoula is great. Highly recommended.
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Re: Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby Roald » Mon Jun 16, 2014 3:59 pm

nosborne48 wrote:FWIW, New Mexico's bar exam has long competed with Montana's exam for the title of Nation's Easiest.

So go do it! :mrgreen:


When people say "easy", do they actually mean "less difficult"? I can't imagine that any bar exam is actually easy, but perhaps NM and MT have very high pass rates? It does make me think, though...

Missoula is a great college town, surrounded by absolutely beautiful country. One of the huge attractions is the cost of living. By selling my place in southern California I could buy a much nicer house on a large lot, plus have money left over to pick up a couple of income properties. It's very, very tempting.
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Re: Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby SteveFoerster » Mon Jun 16, 2014 7:33 pm

Roald wrote:Missoula is a great college town, surrounded by absolutely beautiful country. One of the huge attractions is the cost of living. By selling my place in southern California I could buy a much nicer house on a large lot, plus have money left over to pick up a couple of income properties. It's very, very tempting.

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Re: Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby Roald » Mon Jun 16, 2014 8:36 pm

Oh, come on! Who ever got cold in -40 degrees?
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Re: Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby Rich Douglas » Mon Jun 16, 2014 10:42 pm

Roald wrote:Oh, come on! Who ever got cold in -40 degrees?


Not in Missoula. At least, not very often. The average highs for January are 34 degrees; February is warmer at 39. November through February are kind of cold, but it's pretty nice the rest of the year. Missoula sits in a valley that seems to temper their weather extremes.
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Re: Alito Calls Law School Rankings an "Abomination"

Postby nosborne48 » Mon Jun 16, 2014 11:38 pm

The one caveat I'd offer for a lawyer moving to Montana is this: not only are there no significant cities inside the state, I think Billings is the largest? But there are no significant metropolitan areas on the borders, either. The first large city to the East is Minneapolis-St. Paul, two states over. To the West it's Spokane with a metro population of about half a million and also two states over.

Lawyers need cities to do well. Commerce generates fees. Now there's nothing wrong with working as a small town Main Street lawyer or better still, working for the State as I have done. But I think you will find that salaries are really shockingly low because they can be.

New Mexico has a reputation for being rural but we have Albuquerque with a metro population of more than 700,000 and here in the South, I am thirty-five miles from El Paso, another 700,000 metro area, not including Ciudad Juarez at over a million. There is an actual demand for new lawyers here and salaries are significantly higher here than in Montana. (Yes, I checked.)

Montana's total population is well under a million. Building a legal career there will require dedication, sacrifice, and compromise. Is it worth it? If your debt load is small, maybe. Otherwise...well, I think it will be hard.
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