Law School Rankings Methodology
How we rank law schools
By Robert Morse , Sam Flanigan
Posted April 22, 2009
The rankings of 184 law schools fully accredited by the American Bar Association are based on a weighted average of the 12 measures of quality described here. Data were collected in the fall 2008 and early 2009. Specialty rankings are based solely on nominations by legal educators at peer institutions.
Quality Assessment (weighted by .40)
Peer Assessment Score (.25) In the fall of 2008, law school deans, deans of academic affairs, chairs of faculty appointments, and the most recently tenured faculty members were asked to rate programs on a scale from marginal (1) to outstanding (5). Those individuals who did not know enough about a school to evaluate it fairly were asked to mark "don't know." A school's score is the average of all the respondents who rated it. Responses of "don't know" counted neither for nor against a school. About 71 percent of those surveyed responded.
Assessment Score by Lawyers/Judges (.15) In the fall of 2008, legal professionals, including the hiring partners of law firms, state attorneys general, and selected federal and state judges, were asked to rate programs on a scale from marginal (1) to outstanding (5). Those individuals who did not know enough about a school to evaluate it fairly were asked to mark "don't know." A school's score is the average of all the respondents who rated it. Responses of "don't know" counted neither for nor against a school. About 31 percent of those surveyed responded. The two most recent years lawyers' and judges' surveys were averaged and are weighted by .15.
Selectivity (weighted by .25)
Median LSAT Scores (.125) The combined median scores on the Law School Admission Test of all full-time and part-time entrants to the J.D. program (2008 entering class).
Median Undergrad GPA (.10) The combined median undergraduate grade-point average of all the full-time and part-time entrants to the J.D. program (2008 entering class).
Acceptance Rate (.025) The combined proportion of applicants to both the full-time and part-time J.D. program who were accepted for the 2008 entering class.
Placement Success (weighted by .20)
Employment Rates for Graduates The employment rates for 2007 graduating class determine success in this category. Graduates who are working or pursuing graduate degrees are considered employed. Employment rates are measured at graduation (.04 weight ) and nine months after graduation (.14 weight). For the nine-month employment rate, 25 percent of those whose status is unknown are counted as employed. Those who are unemployed and not seeking jobs are excluded from the calculations and are not counted as unemployed. Those who are unemployed and seeking work are counted as unemployed in the calculations of the employment rates.
This is a change from how U.S. News calculated employment rates for the 2006 graduating class and resulted from how law schools reported their 2007 graduating class employment data on the American Bar Association's 2008 Annual Questionnaire. For the 2006 graduating class, the American Bar Association's 2007 Annual Questionnaire required law schools to count all students who were unemployed as seeking work. Those graduates who were unemployed and seeking employment, unemployed and not seeking employment, and unemployed and studying for the bar all were counted as being unemployed for the purposes of the U.S. News employment rate calculations for the 2006 graduating class. When the American Bar Association's 2008 Annual Questionnaire changed how law schools categorized their unemployed students into either unemployed and seeking and unemployed and not seeking, U.S. News changed our calculations. It should be noted that this change in how U.S. News calculated the employment rates for the 2007 graduating class reverts back to how those rates were calculated prior to the 2006 graduating class.
Bar Passage Rate (.02) The ratio of the school's bar passage rate of the 2007 graduating class to that jurisdiction's overall state bar passage rate for first-time test takers in the winter 2007 and summer 2007. The jurisdiction listed is the state where the largest number of 2007 graduates took the state bar exam. The state bar examination pass rates for first-time test takers in summer 2007 and winter 2007 were provided by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
The American Bar Association's 2008 Annual Questionnaire required law schools to report their bar passage rate results for first-time test-takers for the same calendar-year winter and summer. Prior to that, the American Bar Association's Annual Questionnaire had required the reporting period for first-time test takers to be split between two calendar years (summer in one year and winter in the second year). When the American Bar Association's 2008 Annual Questionnaire changed how law schools reported their first-time test takers bar passage results to the same calendar year, U.S. News changed our calculations.
Faculty Resources (weighted by .15)
Expenditures Per Student The average expenditures per student for the 2007 and 2008 fiscal years. The average instruction, library, and supporting services (.0975) are measured, as are all other items, including financial aid (.015).
Student/Faculty Ratio (.03) The ratio of students to faculty members for 2008, using the American Bar Association definition.
Library Resources (.0075) The total number of volumes and titles in the school's law library at the end of the 2008 fiscal year.
Data were standardized about their means, and standardized scores were weighted, totaled, and rescaled so that the top school received 100; others received their percentage of the top score.
Schools Not Ranked
Western State University and University of La Verne in California, Florida A&M University, John Marshall Law School-Atlanta, Charleston School of Law in South Carolina, Faulkner University in Alabama, Liberty University in Virginia, Phoenix School of Law in Arizona, Charlotte School of Law and Elon University in North Carolina, and Drexel University in Pennsylvania are not ranked because, as of June 2008, they were only provisionally approved by the American Bar Association. Three law schools in Puerto Rico—Catholic University, Inter-America University, and the University of Puerto Rico—are not ranked.
To be ranked and listed on the overall ranking tables, a law school must be accredited and fully approved by the American Bar Association and must draw most of its students from the United States.
The law schools not ranked in the top 100 are listed alphabetically in two groups, the third tier and fourth tier. Law schools within each of these tiers should be considered broadly similar in quality. The third tier contains schools (listed alphabetically) with rankings that begin at 103, and the tourth tier contains schools (listed alphabetically) with rankings that begin at 140. Thus, the third tier contains higher-ranked law schools than the tourth tier.
These specialty rankings are based solely on votes by legal educators, who nominated up to 15 schools in each field. Legal educators chosen were a selection of those listed in the Association of American Law Schools Directory of Law Teachers 2007-2008 as currently teaching in that field. In the case of clinical and legal writing, the nominations were made by directors or members of the clinical and legal writing programs at each law school. Those programs that received the most top 15 nominations appear in descending order.
Changes in Ranking Methodology
For the "America's Best Graduate Schools" 2010 edition, U.S. News modified the main law school rankings methodology. We used the combined fall 2008 class admissions data for both full-time and part-time entering students for the median LSAT scores, median undergraduate grade-point averages, and the acceptance rate in calculating the school's overall ranking. U.S. News's previous law school ranking methodology used only the full-time entering student data for those three admissions variables. This change improves the methodology, because U.S. News is now comparing each law school's entering class against every other's based on the entire student body, which produces the most complete comparisons. Starting in 1990, annual data for part-time J.D. students have been included in computing all the other statistical variables used in the faculty resources and placement success factors that involved students in the U.S. News law school ranking methodology.
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