Writing by Katie Keenan
Video by James Grachos
Photos and Captions by Jane Morgan Scott
It’s been a long-held status symbol in the law school community to rank as one of the top 14 legal education institutions in the nation – a feat the University of Texas Law School has managed to accomplish, beating out Georgetown Law in the latest U.S. News & World Report’s ranking for 2018.
“The UT Law school has always been, at least in the time I’ve been here, thought to be in the top group of national law schools. I think that’s true whether it’s 16th or 14th,” said former UT president Bill Powers, who now works as a professor at the law school. He views the U.S. News rankings as important to certain key demographics – such as potential students or employers. In the long-run, however, Powers feels the significance of rankings has ultimately been overblown.
“I think frankly; we’d be better off without them,” said Powers. “If rankings are taken with not just a grain of salt, but a lot of salt, they can be helpful. One of the problems is that they’re very often based on statistical numbers.”
The arbitrary nature of U.S. News’ methodology, which includes assessments from law school deans, judges and other legal officials, in addition to median LSAT scores, GPAs, selectivity, and expenditures per student, can sometimes be overly mechanical, according to Powers.
An additional distinctive characteristic of the law school is its low cost relative to similarly ranked institutions, coming in at $33,995 per year as opposed to number 13, Cornell University, which charges $61,485 a year. Powers said this is a significant factor in the U.S. News ranking methodology, making UT rank lower than its counterparts. Instead of viewing this financial discreetness as a drawback, he sees it as a testament to the University’s ability to outperform schools that possess vast amounts of resources.
“University of Texas tends to do poorly on the per-student expenditure, or per student financial support,” Powers said. “You know, the law school tuition isn’t free, but it’s a lot below the other top 20 schools, at least for in-state students, and that’s something we’re proud of.”
Nonetheless, this wasn’t the first time UT Law had crept into the exclusive cadre of Ivy League law schools, tying for 14th in 2012 with Georgetown. For some students, including English major Anne Jensen, the symbolism of the T-14 ranking has taken a positive turn, with UT Law being the first public school to outrank a top Ivy.
“I think rankings are very important because…people want to hire from certain schools,” said Jensen, who plans on attending UT Law this Fall. “I think that was a nice assurance to know that I don’t have to be in the top 10 percent of my class because I went to a better school; I would still be hired.”
Out of 362 students graduating in 2016, 80 percent obtained employment that required passing the bar exam, supporting the sense of confidence Jensen places in UT’s ability to increase her chances of finding a job. 68 percent of law school graduates remained in Texas, with the rest pursuing careers in New York and California. Jensen believes this strong Texas connection may inhibit UT Law from achieving the same level of notoriety as its Ivy League counterparts, although reaching this status may not be the law school’s goal after all.
“Some people think it’s a national school and its taught more theoretically like a national school, but if I wanted to practice out of state, UT would not be my best option because ultimately, it’s pretty regional,” Jensen said. “Part of that is just being a public school and the amount of people from Texas who want to stay in Texas, so they just don’t place people out of Texas the way other schools of their ranking do.”