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The LSU Law School building on Tuesday, August 20, 2019.

Louisiana law school ratings fell like rocks in the one of the major rankings that compare the quality of education provided by colleges around the country.

Tulane University School of Law dropped six places from last year in the U.S. News & World Report ranking released earlier this week. LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center was down 13 and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law lost 18 positions over a year’s time. All are startling decreases in normal times.

Before local law school deans are packed off, though, the reasons for the drops have more to do with modifications to the formulas that calculate the rankings, changes that have roiled the law school scene over the past few weeks and has led U.S. News to alter – three times in the past two weeks – the weights assigned to various aspects of the hundreds of variables used to come up with a ranking for each of the 193 law schools fully accredited by the American Bar Association.

“This year has seen an unprecedented amount of last-minute tinkering in the rankings, which play an outsized role in the law school admissions arena and can get deans fired,” reported law.com, the online site for American Lawyer Media publications, which cover news in the nation’s legal community.

Top administrators of Louisiana law schools were quick to point at U.S. News & World Report.

“This year’s significant changes in methodology could be the primary or only reason why our ranking by U.S. News declined. Our performance as an institution and our graduates’ outcomes have remained incredibly strong,” said LSU Interim Dean Lee Ann Wheelis Lockridge. LSU law school actually scored higher this year than last, though its ranking slid.

“We certainly understand that rankings such as those from U.S. News influence how we are perceived by students and their potential employers. We are hopeful that our efforts to add additional faculty members and expand our education program in a few keys areas, among other initiatives already in progress, will result in a rise in our U.S. News ranking in the coming years," she added.

None of Louisiana’s law schools have ever ranked anywhere near the top.

Tulane is placed at 60 in this year’s report; LSU at 109; and Loyola New Orleans at 144.

The Southern University Law Center remains unranked among the last 50 schools because U.S. News decided against reporting individual scores and numerical ranks for the bottom quarter of the law schools.

“Unfortunately, in my opinion, the U.S. News and World Report rankings are overrated and biased against schools of access and opportunity," said Southern University Law Center Chancellor John Pierre. "The Southern University Law Center continuously provides a transformative and affordable legal education to underrepresented student populations, including women, first generation law students and low and moderate income students, so they can have a transformational career as attorneys and legal professionals." 

The elite law schools tend to be private institutions, such as Yale, Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia – the top 4 last year and again this year, even using the new methodology. Eight of the nine current U.S. Supreme Court justices went to either Harvard or Yale.

The private institutions, however, haven’t suffered from tight funding and lower state appropriations that nearly all publicly financed higher education institutions have over the past dozen years. The highest-ranking law schools on public campuses are at the University of Virginia, and the University of California-Berkeley, and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, ranked 8, 9, 10, respectively. But those states didn’t strip higher education of most of its funding, as Louisiana did starting in 2008.

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Forty of Louisiana’s 144 legislators, about 28%, identify themselves as practicing lawyers – all but four of whom attended a Louisiana law school.

More representatives and senators, 18 of them, received their law degrees from Southern. Two lawmakers got their law degrees from Tulane, eight from LSU, and eight from Loyola.

“Loyola is as strong a law school as it’s ever been,” said Dean Madeleine Landrieu. “These rankings don’t tell us anything about the quality of our teaching, the quality of our students, our contributions to the law, or our contributions to the legal field. They are but one metric. They seem to have no impact on those applying or coming to our law school. We have more demand than we can meet.”

Landrieu and the other deans point out that specific programs within their law school curriculum, such as legal writing or constitutional law studies, fared well as did students working in clinics and participating in moot court competitions.

Michael Strecker, director of Tulane University public relations office, pointed out that the law school’s academic reputation among peers, one of the more heavily weighted criteria, improved over last year.

“This year, U.S. News revised its methodology for calculating overall rank, resulting in unusually significant movements in the rankings (nearly a quarter of schools moved by five places or more and two dozen by double digits). The new methodology weighs new factors not directly related to the quality of education, such as the percentage of students who borrow to finance their education and the hours and number of seats in the library. Some of these metrics tend to favor public and religiously affiliated law schools, which subsidize the cost of education” Strecker said.

U.S. News stated that after 2019 it had adapted rules similar to the scores of criteria used by the American Bar Association, such as greater detail about law school post-graduation employment in jobs that having juris doctorate degree was a benefit.

The opinions of experts – including law school deans, top faculty, judges and hiring partners at law firms – amount to 40% of the overall ranking. How selective the law school is in choosing which applicants to admit contributes 21% towards the overall score. Bar passage, employment and debt among graduates is weighted at about 25% of the total. How much the faculty is paid, how much is spent on the specialized law library, how many students are in each class amount to about 14% of the overall score.

The numbers of the data, which is standardized to ensure comparability, is added together and the higher the sum, the higher the ranking.

"When choosing the right law school," said Southern Chancellor Pierre, "we encourage prospective students to look beyond the ratings and conduct personal research such as, taking a tour, speaking with members of the campus community such as faculty, staff, current students and alumni, and exploring the institution’s academic and career-training offerings.”


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.