Paul Caron at TaxProf, compiled a list of law schools whose rankings outperform that of their parent institutions in U.S. News Rankings: Law v. Undergrad (see the graphic there for the full list). The University of Houston topped the list with a wopping differential of 136 places. This isn’t really news to me since I did both my undergrad and law studies at Houston, but it’s interesting to see the phenomena quantified and note the other institutions in similar situations.
Daniel Solove picked up the thread at Concurring Opinions to pose the question of what effect the standing of the main university has on a law school. I’ve heard more than a few people at the law center speculate on the negative impact of its association with the University as a whole. I tend to think there’s probably more upside than down, but that’s predicated on whether one percieves the unique position and opportunities of the University of Houston as a whole, and the law center as a part of that.
I left my comment speculating on the reasons for this disparity at TaxProf, but I’ll reprint it here for the sake of convenience
Since I attended Houston for both undergrad and law, I suppose I moved up in the world just by staying put. From my observation here I would boil it down to three factors (1) prospective legal market (2) cost and (3) market for students.
Market for students v. cost is the main factor – for undergrads, Houston competes in essentially the same market for students as higher-ranked state institutions University of Texas and Texas A&M which therefore have similar price-points and with Rice as a more expensive, higher-ranked private option. For law schools only the University of Texas is in the same market among state institutions and South Texas and Thurgood Marshall are much more expensive, lower-ranked private institutions. From a cost-benefit perspective, Houston is up against more competitive schools at a equal price point for undergrads but less competitive higher price point schools for law school. The differential is probably exacerbated by the fact that the University of Houston is located in the deeply impoverished third ward neighborhood, which is generally seen as undesirable by prospective undergrads but is probably less of a factor for law students.
Then the legal market in Houston seems pretty healthy. Anecdotally at least, students who have done reasonably well (30% and up, approximately) generally seem to be able to land summer associate gigs without too much trouble. The school also benefits from a generally robust economy that lures unsuspecting future law students to the city for jobs, many of whom then choose to stay for law school. This also accounts for our fairly active evening program.
From that perspective, I would predict most of these high-differential schools are similar in that they are (1) located in a good legal market (Houston, Atlanta, D.C.) or the only market within geographic proximity (Las Vegas, Utah) and (2) are relatively low cost compared with institutions in the same market (3) those markets are much more competitive for undergrads than for law students. I would also predict that these schools would have robust evening law programs for the same reasons.