Law School falls from national top-20 ranking

Some of the factors taken into consideration include GPA and LSAT scores of the incoming class.

After spending the past 12 years in the U.S. News & World Report’s top 20, the University’s Law School dropped from 20 to 22, according to rankings released Friday.

David Wippman, dean elect of the law school, said the factors of the drop in rank were mainly technical; for example, the LSAT scores of the entering class.

“It took (the ranking) down a little bit,” he said. “We are looking at how to address those factors so that we can reverse that decline, but more importantly we’re really focused on continuing to build the quality of the law school, overall.”

Some of the factors taken into consideration include GPA, LSAT scores of the incoming class, surveys from judges and lawyers and surveys of other academic institutions.

For the past two years, leadership at the University has been in limbo after the 2006 resignation of former dean Alex Johnson, who had a year left on his contract. Wippman is scheduled to officially begin his position in July.

Third-year law student Bree Richards said the lack of a stable dean could be a reason for the drop in ranking.

“It’s not surprising,” she said. “We haven’t had one dean for how many years now? I don’t think we are admitting stupider students or anything like that.”

However, Brett McDonnell, law school associate dean and professor, said he would be surprised if the flux in leadership is the main reason for the drop.

He said “any one factor can do it,” when there are so many areas looked at as part of the process of determining rankings.

Although the rankings are often deemed influential, University faculty agree that the system isn’t perfect.

Wippman said some of the factors are “skewed toward specific types of law schools” or don’t correlate to academics – like the number of books in the law library.

“There is probably almost a universal agreement among academics and educators that the rankings are flawed,” he said. “Everyone agrees it is almost impossible to come up with a system of rankings that everyone would conclude is appropriate.”

McDonnell said the U.S. News & World Report “doesn’t get at anything but a few percent changes.”

But rankings can affect the types of jobs current law school students are eligible for.

Richards said the rankings can play a part, depending on whether students want to practice in Minnesota or work for a larger national firm.

“If they are staying in Minnesota, it’s not going to make any difference at all,” she said. “The University of Minnesota has a really good local reputation, so nobody’s really going to care we are down two slots.”

On a national level, Richards said, there could be more importance placed on the rankings.

Eric Caugh, hiring partner with the Minneapolis law firm Zelle, Hoffman, Mason & Gette, said that when looking at recent law graduates for a position, more factors come into play than the ranking of the law school from which they graduated.

“The rankings really have very little bearing,” he said. “We’re concerned with the student as a person, first and foremost.”

Some prospective law students, however, do rely on rankings to choose a school.

Pre-law senior Libby Smith, president of the pre-law society, said she used the rankings when she looked at law schools.

“I think rankings are a good place to start if somebody is wanting to kind of get an idea of what types of schools will allow them to seek jobs nationally versus schools that are more focused with alumni in the region,” she said.

To reclaim the University’s top 20 status, Wippman said he will look at how to improve the U.S. News & World Report factors, but he doesn’t want to over-emphasize their importance.

“I think we have to have our own assessment of what makes a quality law school and quality legal education,” he said, “and really need to maintain our focus on keeping and maintaining that quality as we define and understand it.”