Don't trust those law school rankings

US News doesn't consider what law firms want to see in new graduates

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In the global legal industry, managing partners of large firms like mine are constantly asking, "What do our customers want?" "What do they think of our work?" "Are they going to continue to buy what we produce?"

Yet when it comes to producing the law students needed to build today's firms, many law schools don't ask the customers what we want, what we think of their work or whether we are going to continue to hire the graduates they produce.

No, rather than taking into account the views of the customer, how well the law school is doing is instead determined by the headline-grabbing US News & World Report statistical ranking, based on an array of arbitrary data points.

In this bizarro world, law school deans try to outsmart the US News algorithm and anxiously wait for the statistical verdict on whether US News says they are doing a better job than last year or not.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the customers, like my firm, decide whether to buy or not based on how recent graduates are actually performing, without regard for what the US News computer says.

Because they have performed well, my firm now has 94 graduates of my alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh School of Law -- 36 of them partners, including 10 in leadership positions. And we keep buying, even in these challenging times, having added 13 in the past five years alone.

Pitt's School of Law is the top-ranked law school in Pittsburgh and among the top four in the commonwealth. Should we care that Pitt Law's US News ranking slipped this year, or should we base our hiring on actual performance?

Well, it seems silly and unfair to stop buying when a school like Pitt is punished by the statistical rankings for admitting more diverse and underrepresented students. This is especially so when the largest customers are telling law schools that we need more diverse lawyers to staff our firms and corporate law departments in this increasingly multicultural world. And that is in fact exactly what is being said by the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity -- a group I am part of that comprises the managing partners of the nation's largest firms and the general counsels of leading corporate law departments.

Yet, instead of being applauded for hiring a brilliant young African-American scholar as its dean and admitting its most diverse class in a decade, with 23 percent of the students from underrepresented groups, Pitt Law saw its US News ranking go down.

Meanwhile, a few days ago, a top-15 law school announced that it was reducing its class size by 10 percent in light of declining applications. Commentators speculated that doing so will help protect the higher admission scores and data points coveted by the US News formula. Whatever the reasoning, it is not hard to guess that, if followed by others, a move like this probably won't help the Leadership Council achieve its objective of a more diverse legal profession anytime soon.

Beyond seeking diversity, firms like mine also want students educated to serve today's client needs -- for lawyers who understand America's booming energy expansion or technology entrepreneurs, to state but two examples. Not surprisingly, having a modern and innovative curriculum with programs in energy law and law and entrepreneurship wasn't worth anything in Pitt Law's US News ranking either.

Others can turn their buying decisions over to US News if they want. As for my firm, we are going to keep buying what we like and what works. After all, we're the customer.

opinion_commentary

Gregory B. Jordan is a 1984 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and the global managing partner of Reed Smith, a Pittsburgh-based law firm with offices in 25 cities around the world.


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