Law in Contemporary Society

The Ranking Sham

The human condition, in my opinion, is the desire to differentiate ourselves from our peers; the desire to be just a tad bit better than the Jones across the street. When I first began my law school application process I did the most “reasonable” thing a person in my position could, I resorted to the internet to see what the rest of the world thought was a good law school. The magic name, “T-14” kept popping up everywhere. It seemed the Internet savvy legal scholars were of the opinion that if one did not make it into a top 14 law school these days then the jig was up. We were in a rough economy and “supposedly” only those golden 14 law schools who had always held those top 14 spots in the rankings had the firepower to deliver jobs to their student. The higher up the list you landed the better of you were. I mean how else was the world supposed to know who the rising legal eagles were if not for this list?

The fallacy and loses

I am at Columbia Law School, ranked number 4 in the country. I have not flunked out of school, at least not yet. I made Law Review. Yet I still have anxiety about attaining a fulfilling job upon graduation. Am I good enough to be in position of picking a prospective job rather than hoping they will pick me? Will I get a good enough job? Will that job provide adequate exit options if I decide to leave? I checked every box I was told to so should I not feel all this anxiety. That is of course unless these rankings are a fallacy. The truth of the matter is that the legal market is over saturated and it does not matter what school you go to, some students will not be able to attain the sought after idiosyncratic Big Law job. There is no denying the fact that one at Harvard Law School as opposed to a John Marshall Law School, or similarly ranked institution, has a significantly better chance at landing the job they prefer but law schools now want to stretch this truth into meaning that if you make it into these top law schools then the world will bow at your feet.

The general ranking system has to be done away with. All it does is give those at high ranked schools a false sense of security and those at lower ranked schools a sense of anxiety of succumbing to failure and loans they will never able to pay back. This system is crippling the legal field. Students are not going to law schools who are well versed in aspects of the law they are interest in, or in areas they particularly want to practice in. Student are not picking instructions that they believe will make them a “good” lawyer, but rather institutions they think will open doors for them. The questions such as “what region do I want to practice in” and “what area of law do I want to specialize in” seem to matter less to law school applicants these days; at the very least it mattered very little to me.

This has a huge impact on the legal market. Students are racing off to the "best law schools" this country has to offer and are then subject to a higher probability of being locked into a geographical area. The vast majority of students that attend Columbia Law School end up practicing in New York, though many are not from New York. I find it a compelling argument that one from a place like Wisconsin may choose to stay there if they are provided with an "adequately ranked" school. Who is to say that this bright individual and their like minded buddies will not now start up a firm and start to develop the now underdeveloped Wisconsin legal market. The top law schools are grouped at the opposite poles of the US and shuffle their students into near by cities. There is huge amount of real estate that has been untapped due to the positioning of the "top" law schools.

Missing factor

The U.S News uses 12 factors to rank law schools but is missing the most important factor in my opinion. How many law professors at law schools nation wide have actually started and managed a successful law practice? Even if we were to set the bar a little lower and ask how many of the law professors at these law institutions have actually practiced law we would still be left with a disturbingly low number. “Legal academics are professors of law because they don't want to be lawyers” ( It is troublesome that the education of lawyers are left to those who have no experience in that field and have no desire to attain any relevant experience.

Extensive experience in the practicing in the legal field is even disvalued by professors traveling down the tenure route as well as law schools hiring “One 2010 study of hiring at top-tier law schools since 2000 found that the median amount of practical experience was one year, and that nearly half of faculty members had never practiced law for a single day. If medical schools took the same approach, they’d be filled with professors who had never set foot in a hospital” ( It is baffling to me that a professor, who has never argued in a courtroom under those stressful conditions or sat on the other end of a negotiation, is who is mentoring me to be a lawyer and advocate for another individual or institution. Law schools should begin to move away from seeking to be perceived as legitimate by their colleagues in the arts and sciences and provide their students the actual skills necessary to be a good law rather than the fallacy of being satisfactory because they came from a “top law school.”

Defining a good teacher

How we define a good law teacher has to develop and conform to what is required in the modern legal market. The legal field needs professors who helped pave the way for a number of different subsets of law but these academics should not be the ones teaching students who want to actually practice law and not merely do research. Legal training should be divided into two fields with legal scholars instructing students who seek careers in academia and professors with extensive experience practicing mentoring students who want to practice law. The level of aptitude of both types of faculty members should be a crucial and heavily weighted factor in the ranking of law schools.


The idea that a ranking system is a necessity has to be erased. Students should have a better ability to select higher-level institutions based on the quality of teaching they will receive. If we are going to use a system that subjects higher-level institutions to a grading scheme then they should be fairly assessed on all qualities. Future lawyers looking to pick a law school should be incentivized to select a school based on where they think they will be given the skills and knowledge they desire to do what they wish to do in the legal field rather than just picking a institution they feel they will then be able to get a job and begin the loan payment process.

This system will require mentors who have experience in the field they are teaching. In a more efficient legal institution, the majority, if not all, professors will have either practiced in a particular legal field or started some business of their own. I believe the reason I respect you more than the rest of my professors is because I actually believe I can call you up in a couple of years and actually learn how to further grow, whether it be in starting a business or positioning myself to attain the job I want. Something has to be said to have mentors with hands on experience. Furthermore, this new system will alleviate some of the pressures on the legal market. People will be more specialized and will not all be gunning for the same general entry-level associate position. There will be growth in underdeveloped legal markets. Future students will be more willing to stay in underdeveloped legal markets if they feel the legal institutions they are going to is providing them with the skills they need to succeed. They will build these markets up.

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r4 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:23:38 - IanSullivan
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