Another Good Conference I’m Going to Miss

This sounds both fun and useful: TaxProf Blog: Indiana To Host April 15 Symposium on The Next Generation of Law School Rankings

One of the many things that bugs me about US News's highly arbitrary law school rankings is the weight they put on graduates' starting salaries. One could well ask whether salaries are even relevant to rankings as the jobs that are hardest to get — public interest jobs — tend to pay the least. But even if one accepts the idea that money is relevant to ranking, it's weird to look only at nominal salary without any adjustment for cost of living. This is an enormous boost to the ranking of New York schools and a real downer for Miami's rankings. A very large fraction of our graduates fall in love with South Florida (or came here because they already love South Florida) and decide to stay. The large supply of entry-level lawyers — many Harvard grads seem to want to work here too — only worsens the historically low entry-level salaries in this town at all but the largest national firms. Yet, overall, with the exception of housing the cost of living isn't dire here, and there's no state income tax. None of that gets reflected in USN&WR's survey.

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2 Responses to Another Good Conference I’m Going to Miss

  1. Brian Leiter says:

    Actually, US News dropped starting salaries as a factor in the rankings about 6 or 7 years ago, partly (I would like to believe) as a consequence of rather extensive discussions I had with the editors on this issue in which I made one of your points: namely, that the figures are meaningless unless adjusted for cost-of-living, since almost all job placement is regional. As you know, I think there is still much that is patently ridiculous about the US News rankings, but this factor, happily, is no longer part of the problem.

  2. michael says:

    Brian’s right. Here’s USN&WR’s description of the current system:

    Quality assessment (weighted by .40): Quality was measured by two surveys conducted in fall 2003. The dean and three faculty members at each school were asked to rate schools from “marginal” (1) to “outstanding” (5); 67 percent voted. Their average rating for a school is weighted by .25 in the ranking model. Lawyers and judges also rated schools; the response was 36 percent. Their rating is weighted by .15.

    Selectivity (.25): This combines median LSAT scores (50 percent), median undergrad GPA (40 percent), and proportion of applicants accepted for fall 2003 (10 percent).

    Placement success (.20): Success is determined by employment rates at graduation for 2002 graduates (30 percent) and nine months after (60 percent), and bar passage rate (10 percent). Employed graduates includes those reported as working or pursuing graduate degrees; for the nine-month rate only, 25 percent of those whose status is unknown are also counted as working. Those not seeking jobs are excluded. The bar passage rate indicator is the ratio of a school’s rate in the cited jurisdiction to the overall state rate, computed for first-time test takers in summer 2002 and winter 2003. The jurisdiction cited is the state where the largest number of 2002 grads first took the test.

    Faculty resources (.15): Resources are based on average 2002 and 2003 expenditures per student for instruction, library, and supporting services (65 percent); student/teacher ratio (20 percent); average per-student spending in 2002 and 2003 on all other items, including financial aid (10 percent); and total number of volumes and titles in library (5 percent).

    I guess I don’t obsess enough about rankings.

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