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School of Law concerned over emphasis on rankings

Some students and faculty are ambivalent about this year’s U.S. News and World Report law school rankings.

Although Duke School of Law students are pleased that the law school retained its 11th spot in the rankings released Tuesday, some faculty, undergraduate and graduate students expressed concern that the list holds too much influence. Faculty and students noted that the rankings shape law school admissions policies and place undue pressure on prospective students who are deciding where to enroll.

“Some [students]... are placing more emphasis on gaining another credential rather than gaining a legal education,” Gerald Wilson, senior associate dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and pre-law adviser, wrote in an email Wednesday. “Thus, ranking becomes all important.”

Wilson noted that the emphasis on the rankings—combined with pressure from parents to attend a top law school—creates more anxiety for many applicants.

“Duke students are very stressed even though, nationally, applications are down around 17 percent,” he said. “Much of the stress lies in the fact that Duke students want to attend the most competitive law schools.”

Jill Strominger, a third-year law student, said the rankings are especially stressful for pre-law students because there is a general perception that the top 14 schools in the nation—known as the T14—provide the best chance for law students to find a well-paying job after graduation. This leads many students to use the rankings as a determining factor in deciding where to attend, she said.

“It’s important that American students generally do not let U.S. News and World Report have too much of a defining effect on what’s important in American education because U.S. News is in the industry of news, not education,” Strominger said.

Senior Lyndsay Medlin, who will be attending the University of Virginia School of Law next year, said using the rankings to inform a decision is acceptable as long as an applicant does not make them the most significant factor.

“Community spirit, amount of debt upon graduation and school reputation with regards to public interest law made the most difference to me in deciding between the top 10 schools,” Medlin said.

Law School Dean David Levi could not be reached for comment Tuesday through Friday last week.

Considered criteria

To determine its rankings, U.S. News computes a weighted average of 12 quality measures—including quality assessment and selectivity, according to the publication’s website. Selectivity—which is determined by the LSAT scores, undergraduate GPA and acceptance rate of incoming students—comprises 25 percent of how institutions are ranked.

The rankings have been criticized for encouraging law schools to focus on only a few aspects when deciding who to admit in order to maintain a high ranking, said George Christie, James B. Duke professor of law. This is especially appealing to law schools because higher-ranked schools are better able to attract applicants, he added.

Wilson noted that law school rankings do not seem to accurately measure the quality of the institution due to two main reasons.

“First, some people involved in legal education have questioned certain aspects of their methodology,” he said. “Second, the underlying assumption in the rankings is that ‘one size fits all.’ That is, [that] there is such a thing as the ‘best’ law school when the reality is that there is the ‘best’ law school for each given individual.”

Although it is understandable that law students are attracted to higher-ranked schools, Strominger said, it is important to recognize the strengths of each specific institution.

“All I can say is that Duke Law has distinguished professors and employs students at top firms and judicial clerkships as well as almost any school in the country,” she said

Yale University remained at the top of the law school rankings, followed by Stanford University and Harvard University. The University of Virginia jumped to seventh—alongside the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania—from ninth, and Georgetown University climbed up one spot to 13th.


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