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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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The Law School Rankings Game

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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The University of Houston Law Center is featured in a cover article – “The Rankings Game” – in the National Jurist this month. U.S. News & World Report is ostensibly a weekly news rag, a la Time and Newsweek. The only significance it holds in the legal community is the annual law school rankings it has published since 1988. Houston and our former Dean, Nancy Rapoport, have become either a cause celebre and a cautionary tale in the great law-school-ranking-debate, depending on your point of view. The author begins the article with the cautionary tale part -

Deans leave law schools all the time, for varying reasons. But they don’t usually announce their resignations shortly after breaking into tears in front of an audience of more than 100 angry students, which is how Nancy Rapoport, former dean of the University of Houston Law Center, left her job last spring.

Rapoport had not embezzled tuition money or made promises she didn’t keep. Students were upset because the law school had slipped in the U.S. News & World Reports rankings, dropping to 70th overall. And they showed up at a faculty meeting to express their dismay.

That happened the semester before I started, so I know relatively little about it other than what I’ve heard from other students and from Nancy herself. Rapoport discusses the incident and the article on her own blog – Touching Nerve at National Jurist and Closure (?) on National Jurist article – and at MoneyLaw – Am I the poster child for why the USNWR rankings are bad?. Which brings us to the cause célèbre part because Rapoport is in fact the poster child for the USNWR ranking’s shortcomings. I took too much economics to dismiss out of hand the value of attempting to measure even subjective things. I submit that there is nothing at all wrong with the rankings, but only in how we (the legal community) treats them.

You Can’t Beat Something with Nothing

The Rankings are important because we pay attention to them. Like an annoying sibling or a schoolyard bully we know that if we just ignored them, they would go away, but we don’t; so they won’t. So why do we pay attention to them? Law students as a group are neurotic little prestige-whores with no clue how to evaluate the choice of where to go to law school. I am one so I can say that. Go eavesdrop on some of these conversations and tell me I’m wrong. I’m really glad I ended up at Houston. It’s the perfect place for me. Yet most of that was geography and dumb luck. The things I used to evaluate law schools then are not the things I appreciate about Houston now.

Factors I Considered Then…

  1. USWNR Ranking
    As I said, you can’t beat something with nothing.
  2. Salary Comparison
    The reason I’m not living in Missoula right now.
  3. Location, Location, Location
    The other reason I’m not living in Missoula right now.

vs. Things I Appreciate Now…

  1. Reasonable Tuition
    I know, I know, when we start out we’re all going to be first in our class, we’re all going to work for BigLaw for 8 gazillion dollars a year and the bonus is another 9 gazillion dollars. You know what they have to do for 8 gazillion dollars. Picking Houston meant a difference of about $60,000; probably twice that if I factored in other incidentals, then factor in interest. Oh and I can afford to eat something besides ramen noodles right now.
  2. Quality of Professors
    I can’t stress this one enough and by quality I mean the ability to teach. Civil Procedure was boring enough with a great professor, I can’t imagine what it would have been like with a lousy one.
  3. Quality of the Student Body
    My classmates are my single biggest source of inspiration and motivation. Their experience, passion and talent make me work harder than I ever thought I could.
  4. Sanity of the Student Body
    Your time in law school will seem like forever. Spend it with people you like.

Let’s ask the multiverse, shall we?

In a perfect world, if I were to evaluate the effectiveness of the legal education of various institutions I would clone myself a hundred times over, get a JD at all of them, wait 5 or 10 years and see how all my perm(luke)tations (sorry) were doing at a few years into their careers and see if Harvard-Luke was really doing any better than Houston-Luke. That’s impossible of course, and that’s my point.

More later….

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2 Responses

  1. Brown Boy says:

    Yes if one considers the Perm(Luke)tations ( I loved that one by the way) would you be happier.
    I like the North East but God help you if you want me to stay there in the winter. Must we be slaves to history because that’s what we are. Schools there are better known simply because that’s where America started and that’s where many schools started. An interesting case in point is Dickinson School of Law which is the fifth oldest law school in the country. It was a private small law school and then US News came out with its rankings and put it in tier 3 ( or 4) and then nobody wanted to go there. My Alma Mater, Penn State acquired it and now has a dual campus at Dickinson and at University Park. Is it for the better I don’t know.

    There is something Harvard Luke won’t have that Houston Luke certainly does and I’m sure Houston Luke agrees that something ( or rather someone…) as tangible as that puts a heavy thumb on the scale of comparison.

    As the Haaarvard boy Good Will Hunting once said: ” How you like dem apples!?”

  2. Sean John says:

    Truth be told we have more than our fair share of millionaire alum. John O’Quinn, and Richard Racehorse Haynes come to mind, (he did his undergrad at UH too). We have more than our share of judges and even members of Congress as well, (Former Judge then later Congressman Ted Poe comes to mind) A theme that our professors have mentioned more than once is that it really is a an honor to be a law student at UH and be able to make a difference later on, (and hopefully plenty of money too). I think that really is true.

    We have some really brilliant professors and I would agree that at least in the evening section we have a lot more humanity than you will find in just about any other law school despite the competitiveness that is just a part of any JD program. Our class plays well with others much better than most classes you will find. Many of our LLM programs are tops and there are also a lot of great joint degree programs, not to mention access to a rich legal job market just a stone’s throw from where we study.

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