As part of its methodology, U.S. News factors in how much a law school spends per student. But just how those costs are calculated has become a matter of considerable discussion, both in legal education circles and at the American Bar Association.Oh, but surely it ought to count for something that these law schools know how to structure the facts to present a strong case to U.S. News.
Consider library costs at the University of Illinois College of Law in Urbana-Champaign. Like all law schools, Illinois pays a flat rate for unlimited access to LexisNexis and Westlaw's comprehensive online legal databases. Law students troll them for hours, downloading and printing reams of case law. To build user loyalty, the two suppliers charge institutions a total of $75,000 to $100,000 a year, far below per-use rates.
But in what it calls a longstanding practice, Illinois has calculated a fair market value for these online legal resources and submitted that number to U.S. News. For this year's rankings, the school put that figure at $8.78 million, more than 80 times what LexisNexis and Westlaw actually charge. This inflated expense accounted for 28 percent of the law school's total expenditures on students, according to confidential data filed with U.S. News and the bar association and provided to The New York Times by legal educators who are critical of rankings and concerned about the accurate reporting of data.
These student expenditures affect only 1.5 percent of a school's U.S. News ranking, but this is a competition where fractions of a point matter. In this year's survey, the magazine ranked Illinois No. 26 of 179 accredited law schools.
How about this strategy:
At New York University, Columbia and the University of California, Berkeley, for example, the law schools accept a large number of second-year transfer students, some with LSAT scores and undergraduate G.P.A.'s below those accepted in their first year. "Transfer is almost solely on first-year performance," says Edward Tom, director of law admissions at Berkeley.And then there's the way some law schools hire their own graduates for short-term legal research positions to make a nice showing on the percentage of graduates with employment upon graduation -- not to mention the way the schools justify this behavior:
Professor Stake of Indiana observes: "It works to schools' U.S. News advantage to do this - to close their doors to first-year students, in turn raising the school's LSAT's and grades, and then open their doors to the second-year program to raise revenue."
"The general attempt by the law schools to make sure that their students get jobs is a good thing," [Professor Stake of Indiana] says.There, now, I hope I didn't make you hate lawyers any more than you already do.
Northwestern University has also hired graduates for short internships. "I don't think it's unethical if you're giving some value to your students," says David Van Zandt, its law dean.