It's easy to pick on law schools for imposing exorbitant tuition fees and driving its students into a lifetime of non-dischargeable debt. Law schools pay their professors cushy salaries, fill their lecture halls with obscenely expensive chairs, and always seem to be in some state of renovation or new construction - ostensibly in an attempt to bring the school up to date with the "new era of legal education."
Without a doubt, many of the scam-bloggers who decry law school administrations' lavish spending practices offer valid questions to consider. Do law schools really need to pay their professors six figures when they already enjoy the perks of long vacations and an enviably flexible work schedule? Do we really need Aerons scattered about in the library and every classroom? Why exactly do we need another wing in the library again? How the law school spends its students' hard-earned - or rather, painstakingly borrowed cash - is always an important issue to consider.
But it's easy to get caught up in this trend of blaming the law-school-as-a-business and overlook the fact that there are certain structural factors that genuinely do make it difficult for law schools to reduce their expenses every year. In fact, the number one culprit that pressures law schools into keeping up ridiculous spending rates every year is ...
The US News law school ranking system!
That's right, the dubious yet all-powerful US News rankings rears its ugly head once again.
A close examination of the news giant's ranking methodology reveals a few questionable criteria. First and foremost, US News weights "expenditures per student" by nearly 10% which makes this vague and ambiguous category five times more important in determining a law school's final ranking than more trivial considerations such as its students' bar passage rate. Essentially, this means that schools are rewarded for decking out their libraries with expensive ergonomic furniture and starting up new capital projects - endeavors that may not necessarily benefit its cash-strapped students.
A school's expenditure on student financial aid is weighted an unacceptably low .015. Since financial aid actually benefits students, shouldn't this be the category that's more important in determining a school's standing among its peers?
Since the economy tanked a few years ago, law school rankings play an important role in determining whether students get jobs after they graduate. Therefore, law schools are pressured into spending more every year instead of looking for smart ways to cut its budget and curb rising tuition rates. If we are to see an end to the steadily rising costs of a legal education, US News must address its flawed methodology that encourages irresponsible spending practices at the students' expense.
Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) is an organization based at Stanford Law School. BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at www.betterlegalprofession.org.
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