When the "Best" Isn't the Best Choice:

My former colleague Andrew Morriss and William Henderson have an interesting article in the National Law Journal identifying some practical reasons some prospective law students should pay less attention to U.S. News rankings. Morriss and Henderson are not U.S. News bashers. They recognize that the rankings provide a useful sorting function, particularly given the lack of easily accessible alternative sources of comparative information about schools. Yet given the costs of law school, and the increasing stratification of private law firm salaries, they suggest that some prospective students would be better off attending lower ranked schools that are less expensive or more financially generous.

Despite its many flaws, the annual U.S. News & World Report law school ranking is cheap and easy to use, making it an important source of information for prospective students weighing their options. Unfortunately, the utility of these rankings is often distorted by an Internet-based echo chamber, where anonymous posters brag about their admissions to elite schools and job prospects at big firms.

To further complicate students' decisions, many law schools are engaged in vigorous competition to lure students who will boost the schools' status in key U.S. News metrics, such as median LSAT score or selectivity. All too often, the results are expensive, bad decisions about law school. . . .

For the vast majority of students who are not admitted to top tier national law schools, . . . Slavishly following the U.S. News rankings will not significantly increase one's large-firm job prospects. And the excess debt that students incur is likely to undermine their career options.

The article is accompanied by a wealth of data and interesting insights that prospective law students in particular should be sure to check out.