Choosing a Law School Using US News Rankings

LSAT Blog Choosing Law School USNews RankingsMalcolm Gladwell recently critiqued the U.S. News law school rankings. Those rankings have been an institution for quite some time.

Whichever ranking system you favor, some thoughts:

How should you use law school rankings when making a decision?

Because the rankings are such a widely-used indicator of a law school's prestige, it's important to be aware of them at the very least.

To ignore them would be paying over $100,000 for something when you don't know its value.

Of course, the rankings are far from perfect, but you can still use them as a starting point when thinking about where to apply.

After all, it's overwhelming to wade through the dozens of pamphlets, folders, and emails you'll soon be receiving from law schools (if you haven't started receiving them already). Having an outside evaluator like U.S. News to cut through the clutter with some hard numbers is incredibly useful.

They can:

-serve as a general guideline to help you get a sense of a law school's prestige.

-give you a sense of how others would view your having attended a given school.

-help you determine the schools to which you have a realistic chance of acceptance given your LSAT score and undergraduate GPA.

If you haven't yet taken the LSAT, but have a sense of what your undergraduate GPA is or will be, you can figure out what kind of LSAT numbers you'll likely need to have a strong chance at a particular law school.

As such, the rankings can help you to formulate a list of law schools to which you should apply, helping you to select safety schools, match schools, and reach schools.

How much should you actually let the rankings influence your decisions?

The importance of the rankings will vary from person to person. In large part, it depends on the type of law you wants to practice after law school.

If you're looking to go to a corporate law firm, the rankings are very important. Many law firms disproportionately recruit from certain law schools and are significantly more likely to consider a resume from a "T14" school than others ("T14" is a term used to refer to the 14 law schools consistently listed in the top 14 of the U.S. News law school rankings).

However, if you're looking to practice in other areas (such as human rights law), become a sole practitioner (opening your own law firm), use your law degree simply to add to your skill set for your already-existing business, or in conjunction with another graduate degree, the law school's ranking and national reputation may not mean as much.

Enough about the rankings - what else matters?

Financial Aid:

Well, if you're the kind of person who's not planning to write one big check for law school tuition without batting an eye, you may want to seriously consider financial aid offers.

Many law schools will give merit aid to woo applicants with LSAT scores higher than the school's typical student. If your LSAT score's significantly higher than their average, schools will likely want to grab you to help you boost their position in the rankings. They might be willing to pay you for the privilege with reduced tuition costs.


It's also important to recognize that rankings don't take into account the fact that a law school is always better-known in its region of the country than elsewhere.

For example, if you want to practice law in NYC, you might want to consider Fordham over UCLA, even though UCLA has a higher US News ranking. NYC law firms and residents are more familiar with Fordham Law and its graduates than those of UCLA Law. After all, a significantly greater number of Fordham law graduates settle and practice in NYC than do UCLA law graduates.

There's also the fact that public universities offer lower tuition to in-state residents. If you've established in-state residence, you can take advantage of lower tuition if accepted. Public (state) law schools also set aside a certain number of seats for in-state residents, so it can be easier to gain acceptance if you've established residence.


For further reading, see this U.S. News law school rankings article in which I'm featured.


Which other factors are affecting which law schools you're considering?


  1. Steve-

    Good call. The first addition I would make would be to forget everything you just said and whore yourself out to the school with the highest ranking. BAP!

    Kidding. Here are some other factors to consider:

    1. Babes (or hunks, I guess?)
    How much action are you going to be looking at? While you obviously can't know the makeup of a school's entire student body, you can make a few inferences based on observable evidence. For one, how big is the school? A large school with a significant undergraduate population (think corruptible youth) like Michigan is probably going to feature more chicks than a small private college in a tucked-away corner of the country like Yale. Also, what kind of city is it? A folksy Virginia countryside is going to afford you less tail-chasing opportunities than a thriving metropolis like Chicago or New York.

    2. Extracurricular activities (besides those involved with #1)
    Be honest- you're probably not even really looking forward to law school. Wouldn't you rather be a chef? A painter? A stand-up comedian? (holler, me!) These are your last few years of 'hiding' where you can still find something else to do, so find an area that affords you opportunities to test the waters of your dream career. Don't assume you can launch your "beat-poetry revolution" in South Dakota or Oklahoma.

    3. Bragging rights
    Eventually you are going to come across some dewshbag in a bar and engage in verbal fisticuffs, probably over some girl with cleavage lower than her self-esteem. Inevitably, one of these times it will be with some law student at a different college. At the pinnacle of the debate you don't want to respond to his "yeah, well I go to U Penn!" with "Oh yeah, well... I got a decent scholarship at Cincinnati!" In fact, you should stock up once you know where you're going on t-shirts that feature your name, your school's name, and it's ranking.

    4. Professors
    The quality of their teaching. No, kidding. Are there any hot professors? And not just in the law department (though I'd probably give that Amy Chua at Yale a good one), but the entire school. In high school teacher/student relationships are illegal. In undergrad, they're frowned on. In law school, they raise the bar. (Triple entendre! Score!)

    5. Dollar bills, yo.
    Remember- the more money you can eek out of the school in scholarships, the more money in your pocket. Money that could be used for beer, video games, sporting events, dates, etc. And if you have enough, you could even spend some on unimportant things, too. The "poor college kid" routine sounds romantic and fun in theory, but you don't want this to be you. Strippers won't take future promises of free legal advice for their work- they need straight cash. And cocaine.

    There you have it- the seedy underside of choosing a law school. For those whose primary concern is a "high quality legal education," I'm sure you stopped reading after the word "whore." If you've made it this far however, you're probably like me and want the 3 years of your legal education to kick some ass. If so, consider these suggestions carefully. Don't let me find out that you read this, then decided to take out massive loans to live in some small town in Montana to attain an all-online law degree while having no sex. Because I WILL find you, and I WILL pwn you.

    Best of luck to you all!


    PS If you are a hot, funny, and sassy chick: please let me know what school you are attending and I'll take that into account when choosing my own law school.

  2. Steve, can you post anything you may know about how each Tier corresponds to employment prospects?

  3. Hi Steve,
    do you have any plans to classify games from PT 1-18? I have these older PTs and they are not part of the "Grouped by" books. It would make life much easier if you could help. thank you for everything steve!!

  4. Hi Caleb,
    I'm a hot, funny and sassy chick and I go to NYU. Would love to hook up. I'm very affordable.

  5. Well hello.

    You minx- don't think that your use of "DD" in Rhonda went unnoticed. Well played.

    That being said, I'm going to need you to talk to NYU, tell them to accept me with full scholarship, and I'll see you there this fall. I'll be the guy in cowboy boots and a "Don't Hassle Me I'm Local" t-shirt on.


  6. Caleb, you sound real classy and my type of client. Are you having a hard time applying to NYU? I'll talk to our director of admissions so you get head (I mean ahead) in the process. Then pretty soon, you'll be banging out the rest of your application in short order. I look forward to seeing you in cowboy boots and nothing else.

  7. Your use of innuendo, while a bit overt, was very welcome. I thrive on innuendo like plants thrive on sun.

    That being said, it took awhile but I eventually got my entire package in on time. I know they receive a lot of packages this time of year, but I'm hoping they view mine as exceptionally impressive and let me in.

    Seriously though- if you know someone there go drop my name and tell them to "LET CALEB IN!" In fact, I think a pro-Caleb demonstration in front of the law building would be appropriate.

    Just don't mention that, if I get accepted to NYU and Chicago, I'll be going where the Cubs be. Keep that on the DL.

    Nice work on the matchmaking, Steve! I've registered a new domain name for you:

    You can move things over whenever you want.


    Oh, new post up last night. Pretty good one.

  8. Hi Caleb,
    Howz it hangin'? Yes, we did receive your application, and you certainly have a big package. Your package stood up (I mean stood out) right away. You would make a valuable male member of our student body.
    That being said, my friend Misty would also like to meet you, and I am jealous. Would you feel upset if Misty and I physically fought over you? We'll wear lingerie so we don't dirty our clothes in the Jello tub we use for fights.
    I am Hornos Calientes for you.

  9. Wow then. I'm starting to feel a little... awkward. Like, maybe we're steaming up Steve's blog a bit much. This is an LSAT study blog, after all.

    That being said, I will answer your questions in the order you wrote them:

    Low. No.

    And, to your last statment, si.

    Google translate didn't have any luck with it, but I'll just imagine what it means.

  10. Oh, and Steve, I researched the Gladwell piece (I love his books).

    He didn't come out with a ranking system as much as he studied (and lambasted) the rankings themselves. Read the full article and you'll see that he was merely manipulating data to get different results, merely to show how arbitrary and misleading the rankings can be. In fact he came up with many 'lists' in his article, just be changing the weight of certain criteria or eliminating some of Robert Morse's criteria all together.

    Check it out!

  11. Caleb,
    I agree, sorry. I was being innapropriate. Am just stressed waiting for the Feb results and wanted to blow off some steam. By the way, I am a dude.

  12. "By the way, I am a dude"

    Most shock-per-word statement ever uttered.

    Going to shower now.

    No but seriously- make NYU accept me!

  13. pls guy i need to know the validity of gpa in colleges in africa to apply for lawschool

  14. dead at the comments. D E A D

  15. ROFLMAO. The back and forth between Rhonda-DD and Caleb is by far the most entertaining banter I've come across in a random internet comment section in years.

  16. Nice blog.
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