I recently discovered, after a reasonable amount of time has passed, the way someone who definitely does not obsess over rankings would discover, that Harvard Law School is ranked number 3 behind Yale and Stanford. Completely independently of that, I think it is time that we discuss the problems inherent in the current ranking system.
First of all, the current system places heavy weight on incoming class GPA and LSAT. This means schools are pressured into taking a specific subset of students, specifically those that are actually good. Schools are forced to take a decline in the rankings in order to select the students they truly want, like legacy students from wealthy families who will not enroll in LIPP when they graduate. When so much of the admissions process is reduced to two numbers, we lose sight of what really matters in determining the value of an applicant: their personal statement.
Additionally, schools have a massive incentive to fiddle with their numbers. For the part of the rankings based on employment of former students, up to 25% of student careers can be left unknown without being penalized. As a result, schools will not seek out those among their students who are unable to find jobs, like those of us who want to work in the public interest world but are not good enough to receive a fellowship. Therefore, schools known for their transparency, accountability, and a general desire to not take the easy way out of difficult problems, like Harvard Law School, are at a disadvantage, and schools with less integrity are able to skip ahead: this is (probably) why Yale and Stanford are ranked higher up. The legal world has a public reputation for not being shady, manipulative, or two-faced: shouldn’t our ranking system reflect that?
Rankings also create a structural problem. The differences between the schools at the top of the list are actually pretty minor, but because every school must be placed ahead or behind every other one, these differences are magnified beyond recognition, because of how much emphasis is placed on going to the absolute best school. Because there is no nuance to the rankings, and students almost automatically select the highest ranked school they get into, schools have no incentive to differentiate themselves from the pack, making them more appealing to some groups of students and not others. This all makes it harder for someone like me, who goes to the third best school, to get a job at the law firm which most closely fits my future goals: “Whichever Firm Is Vault #1,” LLP.
Ultimately, we need to move towards a more objective way of alleviating our own insecurities, like a ranking system based on the number of current Supreme Court Justices who graduated from Harvard Law School, or favoring schools which accepted me. It is through doing this that we can achieve the greatest joy of attending a top tier law school: passive aggressive op-eds from students at rival schools whose rankings decline.
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